Wednesday 19 March 2014

The Vagaries of Loch Ness Monster Journalism

Paul Cropper sent me an interesting article from 1934 on the Loch Ness Monster as it was covered abroad. Paul himself is focused on more antipodean cryptids such as the Yowie, but he occasionally sends me anything he finds of Nessie interest. So, thanks again, Paul.

The article itself is from the Californian Fresno Bee publication of March 4th 1934 and is a syndicated article from London.

I am not sure if you can read the article (click to enlarge) but the gist of it concerns a monster hunt, the Arthur Grant land sighting and a few more sightings. The man in the kilt is Lord Scone, Member of Parliament and son of the Earl of Mansfield. Since we are told that the Loch Ness Monster was the talk of the Upper Classes and Lord Scone was a Fellow of the Royal Zoological Society, he was the perfect man to cover as he headed north to seek out the monster for himself.

Though he never caught sight of our famous beastie himself, Lord Scone apparently interviewed upwards of fifty locals and tourists who had claimed to have witnessed the monster in its various aspects. We are told about Alexander Ross, the master of Temple Pier, who saw the monster on three occasions the previous August, November and December.

But the piece de resistance was the famous (or infamous) Arthur Grant, who had seen the creature cross the path of his motor cycle earlier in January at the midnight hour. The picture below from the article says "Men examining prehistoric bones on shores of Loch Ness", but this is complete nonsense. The man on the right I would suggest is the now notorious Marmaduke Wetherell who was around during the Arthur Grant event, conducting his own search for the Daily Mail. 

Wetherell went to the location of the land sighting and examined some bones found at the site which were no doubt nothing more interesting that those of a sheep or similar. The photo below gives some context to what I am saying. Clearly, the author of this article is being economical with the truth and he further embellishes Grant's account with stories of eyes bigger than street lamps and roaring belligerently.

What was most interesting was the article's talk of the "Society Monster Hunters" and a photograph of them flying over the monster swimming away at "30 miles per hour". We are pointed to the plane with the right arrow and the monster in the loch with the left arrow. Who is this mysterious organisation and what is the provenance of this photograph?

Things get stranger when an enlargement of the creature is provided in the next photograph below. On closer examination this turns out to be the Malcolm Irvine film of December 12th 1933. This is the first ever alleged motion film of the creature, but all we have left now is this still. However, Irvine claimed he took it from a hillside opposite Urquhart Castle on the other side of the loch. Clearly, this one is alleged to have been taken from a road by the Castle.

But when I saw that picture of the plane, beast and castle, I thought "Where have I seen that picture before?" and a look at Nicholas Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story" revealed the photo below (page 73 of the 1974 edition).

It is the same photo, but a close examination of it showed no plane and no monster! Overlaying the two pictures confirmed there is nothing at the same location on the original picture. The photo had been retouched to give the impression of a plane flying over a monster in the loch. It seems the editor of this article was not prepared to wait for the arrival of Photoshop. Note the monster hunter in the car is not even looking in the direction of the "monster"!

What are we to say to these things? Shoddy journalism in search of a bit of sensationalism is nothing new. I doubt this particular article had any big effect on the overall scheme of things, after all, who today knows about this alleged photograph?

But in the light of my recent modern folklore article, here we see the modern storytellers adding their cultural layers of "interpretation". Eyes like street lamps, roaring monsters and the mysterious band of "Society Monster Hunters" all were added to the mix and copied across various countries to present a picture of the monster which lacked the realism of what the witnesses claimed to have seen.

Fortunately, not all recorders of cryptid history are so fast and loose with the facts. But it is to be recognised that one has to sift and assess to a certain degree, though certainly not to the degree that everything is tossed into the bins of hoax or misidentification. The Loch Ness Mystery is much more subtle than that simplistic approach.


  1. Aha! It would appear that even back then they were engaging in tabloid journalism, but instead of cut and paste, I would imagine they would have used image superimposition with photographic plates. Vagary is putting it lightly; it was an outright sham and sensationalism. Somethings never change! The scale of the plane to monster would make it a truly gargantuan creature. Godzilla anyone?

    Arthur Grant and Wetherell examining bones and sheep remains reminds me of the tabloid stories of a few years ago where a deer carcass with a supposed tooth embedded in it was found on a remote loch shore called a “ ‘kill zone’ by locals because it's where Nessie hunts deer and stray dogs”. Wetherell and Grant must have thought Nessie was out hunting sheep. The story of the tooth turned out to be a cheesy promotional stunt for Steve Alten's novel “The Loch” and the tooth was identified by experts as belonging to a muntjac. Shame on them!

  2. Every time I think I've seen/read everything written on Our Favourite Creature, you manage to come up with more. I adore you. Just sayin'.



  3. The article states that all we have left now is a still from the Malcolm Irvine film of 1933, but a YouTube search tuned up this:

    1. I believe that is his 1936 film.

    2. Thanks for the clarification; I didn’t know there were two! Lucky Malcolm had two filmed sightings then.

  4. "Men-Examining Pre-historic Bones on Shores of Loch Ness", made me laugh. It's a shame that people in my opinion have genuinely seen something, and others have made a mockery of it for so long just to get their little bit of fame. This sort of buzz and hysteria had an impact on the whole world, as it reminds me of the old newspaper stories about the so-called "Rottnest Monster" as they called it, on Rottnest Island off the coast from where I live in Perth, Western Australia. It was only a dead whale but with all the buzz about a Loch Ness Monster they cleverly called it the Rottnest Monster and wasted everyone's time with the carcass.

  5. Arthur Grant's sighting report suffers credibility contamination only because Wetherell raced out the next day to create and horn in on any publicity. Wetherell had just been discredited in the press the day before, when the Museum NH released the news Wetherell's footprints find was hoaxed. There is much more to Grant's sighting than Wetherell jumping into the picture afterwards.

  6. GB i think you should do a piece on multiple sightings! Multipulel sightings are one of the best bits of evidence in my opinion. We can cut out liars and hoaxes if more than one party witness the sighting. Ian cameron in the 60 ' was probably the best alongside a sighting in 94 ( i think) witnessed by 3 diffrent sets if people which was featured on the discovery channel.

    1. Jake, GB already did an article on multiple sightings. Check it out here:

      Although, you might mean multiple concurrent Nessie sighting by multiple people on different locations on the loch.

  7. Tidy !!! Well i hope to get a sighting for u next wee on my latest voyage up the ness . Ya never know lol. I always get a new story of a sighting or 2 off my friends in fort augustus :)