Monday, 27 November 2017

A Scottish Sea Serpent from 1635




I picked up this interesting article from the Aberdeen Press and Journal, dated 20th December 1933. The Loch Ness Monster was rising in media coverage, doubtless bolstered by the recent publication of the first photograph of it - the Hugh Gray photo. I quote the relevant portion here:

DURING those daily discussions and reports as to the Loch Ness Monster, readers of old John Spalding's "History of the Troubles" may have recalled that Aberdeen three hundred years ago had a visit from a monster of the deep.

Spalding, whose name and book give title and character to the work of the three Spalding Clubs which have in succession had their headquarters in Aberdeen, was Commissary Clerk in the city. The records he left in the " Troubles" are the day-by-day notes he took of contemporary events during the twenty-two years of the Covenanting and Civil War struggles,. 1624-45.

Spalding writes in the character of a loyal churchman and royalist, to whom the events of the time represented the wicked rebellion of a froward people in the rest of Scotland, with Aberdeen in the main loyal and suffering for its loyalty to the old ways. His disapproval of the tendencies of the time causes him to regard all unusual occurrences as "tokens" of still worse things to follow.

Under date " Anno 1635" he writes :- 

"In the month of June there was seen in the river of Don a monster having a head like a great mastiff dog, and hand, arms, and paps like a man, and the paps seemed to be white: it had hair on the head, and its hinder parts was seen sometimes above the water, which seemed clubbish, short-legged, and short-footed, with a tail.

This monster was seen body-like swimming above and beneath the bridge, without any fear. The town's people of both Aberdeens, came out in great multitudes to see this monster: some threw stones, some shot guns and pistols, and the salmon fishers rowed cables with nets to catch it, but all in vain. It never sinked nor feared, but would duck under water, snorting and bullering, terrible to the hearers.

It remained two days and was seen no more; but it appears this monster came for no good token to noble Aberdeen, for sore was the same oppressed with great troubles that fell in the land."

The monster is not, as it would be now, a natural curiosity, a problem in  marine zoology, but a "lusus naturae", a freak not to be placed in any category of fishes or animals, but a creature without ancestry and destined to be without progeny. In short, a "token" having a supernatural warning significance. 


As to what this creature may have been is a matter of conjecture and doubtless varied opinions. Dolphins and the occasional stranded whale would have presumably been familiar animals to those on the east coast of Scotland, though the non-flipper like description of the limbs does suggest it belonged to another species.

Perhaps a walrus, you say, or the now extinct Steller's sea cow or perhaps the legendary sea serpent, a creature distinct from those classified to date by science? The mention of bellowing does suggest an air breather though. Describing the head as being like that of a mastiff dog begs the question as to what a 17th century Mastiff dog looked like. This engraving from the 16th century gives some idea as to how the head of this creature was perceived.





Furthermore, the white underside is a feature sometimes spoken of by witnesses to the Loch Ness Monster, though this creature does not seem to come across as Loch Ness Monster like as it there is no mention of a long neck. Comments as to this creature's possible identity are invited.

One aspect that does dovetail with the Loch Ness Monster, or should I say the Loch Ness Water Horse, was the attitude that the appearance of such unidentifiable creatures were a bad omen or "a token having a supernatural warning significance". As has been discussed on this blog before, appearances of the Water Horse that inhabited Loch Ness were often events that were hushed up or rarely spoken of lest this tempted a bad outcome.

Certainly, such an attitude was a subtext to the initial reports of the monster in 1933 as older folk spoke of the supernatural aspects of the entity once held in dread by locals. These attitudes probably peaked at some point prior to the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century and was certainly noted in the literature of the time as on the way out by the end of that century.

By 1933, it would appear only the older locals would have remembered these traditions. Refer to the Cameron-MacGruer land sighting of 1919 where the children "had been warned not to go near the loch by our grandparents as there were these wild horses in the loch". The story of the Loch Ness Monster has now moved from the supernatural to the biological ... or has it?



The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

 


15 comments:

  1. From the description it cannot have been any known animal. There's no doubt in my mind that this was one of the many undiscovered animal species which our vast oceans harbour to this day. Fascinating account, thank you Roland.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would say it cannot be any animal, known or unknown. A dog's head and human hands just don't go together. There has to be some misreporting or embroidery in the mix.

      Delete
    2. I would say you're wrong. Are you familiar with the universality of the pentadactyl limb? http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pentadactyl-limb
      Take a look and consider all the options for evolution, including divergent evolution. If you think it's impossible for a non-primate to develop primate-type hands, you're not researching well enough, David.

      Delete
    3. I should not have emphasized the dog's head. What I feel highly unlikely is that an aquatic mammal would evolve a human-shaped hand and arm, which are clearly less than optimal for swimming.

      Delete
    4. Seals' heads are not too dissimilar from those of dogs. Ok now you're talking about "highly unlikely", which is exactly how anyone would describe a duck billed platypus, yet they actually exist. People didn't believe they were real at first mention.

      I think you're limiting your mind to what you think SHOULD exist, rather than considering whether there's a niche in the ocean that might just benefit from humanlike hands.

      Delete
  2. As weve seen before, old stories get mixed up, and this is an old story. Nice find again Roland.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Paps", what be they then ?

    It's only within Folklore and Mythology where exotic animals are a nightmarish blend of established species, Centaur, Minotaur, Mermaid, Griffin.

    However the Aberdeen sighting is interesting, what could it have been ?

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Paps" are teats, or breasts, John. This is obviously a seal. Remember, this is in a river, not on "the east coast of Scotland". In the 1600s one did not go far beyond one's village, and certainly not to the shore for Holiday. If you lived on a river, miles from the ocean, you would probably never see a seal. But if one swam up a river from the coast, how would it be described? Seals have arm-like front flippers, they have whiskers like a dog, they bellow/vocalise, they would even engage in the behavior described. Case solved; good night boys and girls...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If only it were so easy. Definitely not a seal this one.

      Delete
    2. The sighting was under a bridge and clearly you don't know your Aberdeen-geography. The only bridge over the Don that would be close enough to both Old and New Aberdeen (The town's people of both Aberdeens, came out in great multitudes) was the Brig O'Balgownie which still stands today. This bridge is about 800 yards from the Donmouth Estuary where seals would have been regularly seen sunning themselves (as they can today). In addition, many of the community around Brig O'Balgownie and nearby would be involved with inshore and coastal fishing so all in all, they would absolutely know what a seal looks like! Something like a Walrus or Manatee would be a different story but seals would be seen daily if you cared to get within a 100 yards of the sea and 100% of Aberdeen then would have lived and worked within 1 mile of the sea.

      Delete
  5. If you were close enough to a seal to see its teats you couldn't possibly think that it had human-like hands and arms.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. It's far too easy in some sceptics' minds to casually sweep away reports by stating it was a known animal. There should be a little more depth of thought put into play IMHO.

      Delete
  6. Yes, a seal is a more than likely contender.

    Seals have occasionally been seen flopping about in the Tay at Perth, taking the scenic 16 mile swim from Dundee and, being fairly sensible, swimming all the way back again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Short legged with a short tail'? Observed for two days without anyone recognising it as a seal? No chance. This was no seal, inconvenient as that might be to the sceptics.

      Delete
  7. Anybody would recognise a seal.

    ReplyDelete