Sunday, 1 June 2014

Loch Ness Monster Sighting from 1889

I was in the library going over some old newspapers from the 1940s and followed up a reference to a sighting made over 120 years ago. The reference was made in The Encyclopaedia of the Loch Ness Monster by Paul Harrison who in turn refers to the Inverness Courier for the 16th January 1948.

It concerns a letter mentioned in the Courier from a man called H. J. Craig who was then living in  Western Australia. At the time of writing, Mr. Craig was probably around 70 years of age and recounted a tale when he was a boy fishing with his brother in a rowing boat near Urquhart Castle. The original clipping is reproduced below for your reading (click on each image to enlarge).




The original letter was published in the West Australian of 27th September 1947 and had been prompted by a recent sighting of the creature by two separate motoring parties, the Forbes and Macivers (published in the Inverness Courier on the 1st August 1947). A thumbnail of that Australian article is shown below with a picture of Urquhart Castle and a model of the ubiquitous plesiosaur.




What prompted Mr. Craig to write was how the witnesses had described seeing this dark object with multiple humps and a head cutting through the water at great speed in a manner similar to that day in 1889. Donald Maciver had described how "amazed they were at the amount of spray which rose off the water" as they kept pace with it in their car near Foyers. The whole affair lasted about ten minutes and the idea of a motor boat was dismissed due to the lack of noise and the certainty that no boat could attain that speed (presumably they were thinking of one of the normal boats and not a John Cobb type affair). Needless to say, there were no motor boats racing down Loch Ness in 1889.

Meanwhile, the Forbes were sitting by the shore east of Inverfarigaig when  they heard a splash and saw the creature heading south at speed. In similar words to the Macivers, Mr. Forbes saw "the water shearing off them (the humps) and sparkling in the sunlight". I am quite certain the two parties were witness to the same event on the loch.

At this point, I will intercept one sceptical comment that they merely saw a string of merganser birds or similar flapping hastily along the surface. However, to demonstrate the power of what they had seen, the "wash could be seen lapping the edge of the loch".  Moreover, the witnesses compared the object against the buses on the far side of the loch and concluded it was of a similar size. Those birds sure grow to some hefty sizes on Loch Ness.

But fifty eight years before a similar display of unsettling power sent a couple of Victorian boys speedily rowing for shore. Amazing what a hold simple birds had over local folk even before Nessie became a mania. I hope you being to see the inadequacy of such an avian explanation. Others may not, but they have no choice if they do not believe any large animal inhabits Loch Ness.

Well, that is not quite true, they could always default to calling all these people just mentioned liars. But any explanation which "sucks less" than the monster one is not necessarily an explanation either. Better to say nothing at all in those circumstances.

Finally, and in a manner similar to the Dinsdale hump, our monster seems to take pleasure in swimming in a most inefficient way by ploughing through the water. By what manner of propulsion this is achieved is a bit of a mystery since we have no monster to examine.

Such raw displays of dissipative power are rare and they have to be else the Loch Ness Monster would exhaust itself in short measure. For sure, no laws of physics are being broken in such an act  for submarines do this all the time when they travel at speed on the surface with a sizable portion of their bulk above water. But one wonders what motivates the monster to undertake this more difficult movement? Is it a defensive tactic against another Nessie? A courtship display to prove one's fitness to reproduce or just chasing fish?

For sure, animals will expend energy in often seemingly useless ways. I am still undecided whether this motion was flipper based or something akin to a squid's propulsion technique. Who knows, but between 1889 and 1947, it seems our favourite creature had not lost any of its natural force.








24 comments:

  1. Hello P.C.,

    Can you tell me more about this painting?
    Contact me at shimei123@yahoo.co.uk

    ReplyDelete
  2. Have you seen this GB?
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2647154/Google-MONSTER-maps-Service-reveals-long-travel-dragon-flight-hitching-ride-Nessie.html

    I wonder how they calculated Nessie's speed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Must have consulted sightings like these!

      Delete
  3. Just realised the father in the clipping was toeing the sceptical line: a creation of their fevered childish minds.

    Mind you, the old stories of kelpies had people not wishing to discuss such things further ...

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm reminded of what Richard Dawkins says about it being statistically impossible that all members of the US congress profess to be christians.... Some must be atheists, albeit in the closet.

    I'm of the same mind regarding eyewitness accounts. They all cannot be mis-identifications. Hmmmm.

    It helps makes up that 5% of me still wanting to believe there's 'something' going on there.

    Jon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think Dawkins is wrong here. It is entirely possible for members of a group which is self-selected in some way to be statistically different from the population at large. Members of Congress are likely to be richer than the general population, and have more faith in the US political system. Maybe that goes with more faith in God (who is, after all, on the currency and in the pledge of allegiance)

      More to the point, if Nessie witnesses cannot all be mistaken, how about those who report seeing ghosts and experiencing alien abductions?

      Delete
    2. Some are mistaken. Those who say all reports all valid go too far - just as they who say all reports are invalid also go too far.

      Delete
    3. Oh my oh my my David..... you're not from the US then are you? ;-)

      Moving on, are you saying that paranormal and ufo phenomena are totally invalid?

      Jon

      Delete
    4. I wasn't being entirely serious about the US, but the general point remains valid. A small self-selected group can easily lack some feature of the general population. In particular, the group of people who claim to witness some improbable event may all be unreliable witnesses.
      I'm open to the idea that some paranormal and some UFO reports are of real, unknown phenomena. I don't find the typical alien abduction reports at all credible. But if you disagree, just replace those examples with others which you believe to be totally impossible but for which eyewitness reports exist. My list would include witches (of the Satan-worshipping variety), mermaids, statues bleeding real blood....

      Delete
  5. "...the certainty that no boat could attain that speed" - they didn't therefore logically conclude that this *could not be* a large living creature? Unless Nessie is a misplaced killer whale and was hunting seals near the shore (sarcasm over) I've never seen a large aquatic animal move faster than a powered boat, especially with a significant portion above the water line (under water a different story, perhaps a swordfish or mako shark). Didn't that fact also doom the Dinsdale filming, since calculations showed it was moving at a pace - over a great distance - completely in line with a boat w/engine?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, faster than a powered boat prompts the question as to what was the typical speed of a powered boat on Loch Ness in 1947? It could be argued this could be less than 10mph.

      Speed is one of the more difficult parameters to judge in a sighting. Long neck, humps, wash are all direct visual observations but speed is more indirect. If a witness timed the creature between two points then something can be made of that, otherwise these carry larger error ranges. That's why I don't take too seriously some of the high end speed estimates for the monster (such as 55mph).

      You've just contradicted yourself, surely the Orca rushing in on shore with a large amount of its body inefficiently shearing above the surface is an example of an animal exceeding our motor boat speed?

      You sound like those people who think bumblebees ought not be able to fly!

      Delete
    2. Surely speed of the object can be determined as it moved parallel to the shoreline, no? Surely that'd be a rather simple math problem for those whose job it is to figure those sort of things in life.

      Jon

      Delete
    3. In Nicholas Witchell's book there's a report of a 1957 sighting by one Roderick Bain. He said (of a head, neck and 30-foot long body): "I paced the beast with my car but I could not keep up with it although I was travelling at 35 mph. Sometimes it would slow down and I would catch up with it and then it would dash off again." It disappeared near Urquhart Castle.

      *AnonStg*

      Delete
    4. Jon, I have thought about those "simple math problems" in analysing sightings. The best shore-based report we could hope for would be of the form."object moved from being in line with landmark A to being in line with landmark B, in N seconds". So we get out our map and can measure how far the object moved in N seconds, if we know how far away it is. But that's just what we usually don't know - which is why birds are often reported initially as monsters, until someone gets out the binoculars.

      Delete
    5. That is a minor study in itself, David. We know the well known effect of how a distant object seems to hardly move as we travel by car. That does not mean it is travelling at the same speed!

      So there has to be some compensating for that in assessing the 35mph claim and others. But this does not detract from the other components of the sighting. As I said, speed is one of the most difficult parameters to estimate.

      Note that in the Bain sighting, the object disappeared near the Castle. Birds don't do that.

      Delete
    6. Birds flying over water disappear very easily, once they change from having a featureless water background to a textured land one. Any birdwatcher knows that.

      Delete
    7. Yes, but your explanation is too simplistic. If the birds are visible enough to be perceived as a large monster, they will be easily seen as taking off and the deception is revealed to the witness (and we never hear about it).

      Delete
  6. @AnonStg - maybe a flock of geese as per Raynor's website - http://www.lochnessinvestigation.com/SeaSerpents.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, some people do mistake birds for monsters and it is very much a case of proportion. The further out the sighting, the briefer the sighting and the more obstacles in the way of the viewer, then these factors come increasingly into play. But it is not a simple case of black and white and each case has to be evaluated on its own merits.

      The link referenced shows birds further away than what the Forbes and Macivers saw, perhaps as much as twice as far away. The blobby nature of video stills also does not do justice to what the superior human eye would see and evaluate.

      The witnesses described seeing a wake and water being sprayed up. The wake was also described as lapping against the shore.

      I do not think these are observations commensurate with birds just flying above the surface. No doubt some explanation will be proffered as to why these were also optical illusions.



      Delete
    2. Note also our main 1889 story, the object broke surface near them. Lines of birds don't do that.

      Delete
  7. I remember reading in an old Fortean Studies that there while there were reports of Nessie prior to 1933, no published accounts exist. I had my hopes up when I spotted your headline, but hopefully next time.. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is one from 1868:

      http://lochnessmystery.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/the-folklore-of-niseag.html

      Delete
  8. @Anonymous
    Given the "stop / start" nature of this report wouldn't "it/they" have changed their position relative to the observer and sometimes have appeared more birdlike and less monstrous?

    *AnonStg*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Macivers watched it for ten minutes. Do birds fly in a line pn the surface for that long without taking off and giving the game away? Not that I think that is a game changer, see previous comments.


      Delete