Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Harper Smith and his Periscope Nessie

Some time back, I wrote on that curious subset of monster reports that are likened to poles or periscopes. I had listed 17 eyewitness accounts or about 1% of the entire sightings database and 8% of all head-neck reports, but one eyewitness account was missing from that list which I include today. It was a report known from the literature but it came to my attention a while back when perusing old copies of the Scottish Field magazine. The sighting was by a Mr. J. Harper Smith on June 27th 1951 as he and his son fished off Tor Point. I reproduce his letter to the magazine below:




THE LOCH NESS MONSTER 

SIR, - On Wednesday, June 27th, I arranged to fish Loch Ness with my son, who is an officer stationed at Fort George. It rained heavily in the morning, and was still drizzling steadily when we set out after lunch for Dores, which is two miles down the Loch. We took a boat from Dores Inn and fished till 9 p.m. About that time we were taking our rods down in the boat about 300-400yds. off Dores Point. The weather had improved steadily and it was quite fine and visibility was good, but there was a flat calm which was useless for fishing.

My son suddenly said that he thought he could see a periscope off a headland about a mile further down the Loch, and on the opposite side from Dores. We both watched it carefully, and saw something coming up out of the Loch. After a few moments it clearly became a large black head with a considerable length of neck below it.

No body could be seen, but the object, immediately began to move forward towards the centre of the Loch at a great speed. We estimated the speed as similar to that of the average lake steamer (say 12 knots), and there was a great wash behind it. It went roughly as far as the centre of the Loch and then turned and headed straight towards us. We decided that if it came within about half a mile we would pull into the shore. It came to what we judged to be about that distance, but just as we were preparing to bend to the oars it turned round and went back in the reverse direction. Having covered about the same distance in that direction it then did a great sweeping circle (the centre of the loch being the centre of the circle) and finally moved off towards Whitefield Point, where it submerged.

We watched it with amazement for well over 15 mins. We were both agreed that it bore no resemblance to any creature known to exist today, but that it was very similar to some of the prehistoric monsters depicted for example in Conan Doyle's The Lost World. The size of the head (bearing in mind our distance from it), its speed, and the size of the wash all clearly indicated an enormous creature. Until then I was more than sceptical of the existence of " the monster," but I now know it exists. I hope to resume the hunt for it on some future occasion with a cine camera, which 1 unfortunately left behind this time because of the rain. For the same reason I even left my binoculars. 

J. HARPER SMITH 


As it turned out, this periscope sighting was hiding in plain sight in Nicholas Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story" and I had just forgotten all about it. This is the account from the first edition of the book:

We went over to the village of Dores to enquire about hiring a boat. After arranging this we had a chat with the old lady who runs the Dores Inn. I asked her if the locals believed in the 'Monster'. She looked at me very seriously and said: 'It isn't a question of believing in it — most of us have seen it at one time or another and we know it is there.' Unfortunately (for me) I still remained sceptical. The next afternoon we went out fishing but because it was wet when we set out I left my cine camera and binoculars behind.

By about 9 p.m. the loch was like a mirror. We were just starting to take down our rods when my son pointed with his arm and said: 'Is that a periscope over there?' I looked and realised something was coming up out of the water. Within a few seconds a black head was followed by a similar coloured neck several feet long. While we were eagerly looking for the body the head and neck began moving forward at a very fast speed followed by a huge wash.

As it came nearer we noticed some oscillations of the head and neck. We began to edge in nearer the shore but when it had come to within about 800 yards 'it' turned and went back up the centre of the loch and shortly afterwards submerged. We put the length of the neck at about five feet and the diameter at about a foot . . .

Here is my map of the event based on these two reports. The witnesses were located at the star symbol while the creature went from A to E in its various motions. One gets the impression the creature was heading across the loch but took a temporary diversion north to see what the boat was before resuming its original route. Of course, there is no way of ascertaining the truth of that speculation.




Needless to say, this kind of motion is hardly reminiscent of water birds which are known to inhabit the loch. Rapidly swimming across nearly a mile of loch at about 14 miles per hour does not remind me of any such bird. Going round in a circle before heading in a straight line again is also curious and makes one wonder if it had spotted something edible within that circle? As an aside, I note that the creature submerged very close to the point where Lachlan Stuart would take his famous three humped photograph only seventeen days later. 

Sadly, there is no sketch to accompany this report as one feels this sighting occupies the ground of pole like but also classic head and neck as Mr. Smith goes from "periscope" to "large black head". Was this a result of a change in the creature's shape as we also read the statement "we noticed some oscillations of the head and neck" in the Witchell account. If that is an accurate observation, are we seeing a very malleable head and neck, if they be head and neck at all?

Or was the creature initially seen with its head looking away from the observers only then to turn perpendicular to their line of sight? Could this change in perspective account for some of those sightings which are solely periscopal in nature and thus harmonise them with the classic long necked reports?

Watching the creature at a mile away is not exactly close up but when it came to within 800 yards of the boat, we are beginning to talk about a more meaningful event. Which naturally brings us to the reliability of the witnesses. I like stories which involve anglers as witnesses as I regard them as a better trained class of observer. Was Mr. Harper Smith a seasoned Loch Ness angler who would therefore be someone familiar with the so called deceptive nature of the loch and its various aspects?

The answer would appear to be "no" as he signs off his letter as coming from Bracebridge Heath, near Lincoln in England. That of course does not make him an incompetent witness as his angling skills may nevertheless have been honed elsewhere. So the best we can assume is that he probably had some competence gained as an angler, but the degree of it is not known. His son, who was from nearby Fort George, is a different matter. It is possible he was a regular angler on Loch Ness and in fact his son was first to spot the creature. Again, there is no way of knowing.

It should be added that the creature was in view for at least 15 minutes which allows plenty of time for normal candidates such as logs, birds and boats to be considered and eliminated from their on the spot enquiries and we have two eyewitnesses assessing what was before them. Ultimately, you either believe they saw a large five foot neck with a large head speeding across the loch or you believe they somehow misinterpreted what they saw or even lied. The choice, as ever, is yours.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




56 comments:

  1. Fantastic report, Roland, and especially well done for spotting the proximity to the Lachlan Stuart sighting. Great work!

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  2. Good article.

    The Lachlan Stuart sighting proximity counts for little if you consider that a hoax - which I do. What's interesting is that he asked a local about the beast and chastised himself for leaving his cine camera in the boat. That combined with the fact he was a tourist clearly indicates he was there to search for the monster at some point. So there may be a case of expectant... uh, I can't remember the exact term, sorry. I'm sure you know what I mean... He hoped he'd see it.

    All that negativity aside - this is a solid eye witness account and there are two witnesses. Roland lays the conclusions out perfectly at the end but I'd narrow it down further. It's not a misidentification. Two people don't confuse something like a 5 foot monster's neck with anything natural over a 15 minute period from a reasonable distance. As far as I'm aware there were no submarines in the loch at this time. It's either a conspiratorial lie or it's an unidentified loch monster.

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  3. It's strange how the object was taken for a periscope, then a large head and neck. These are two quite different shapes, and I can't think of any way you could turn one to resemble the other. To me, something must have either inflated or materialised. The oscillating description is one I've read before, but not one I can imagine from any know animal. To me, this is either a lie or the truth. It's too weird to be anything in between, and that's why it sounds like the truth to me.

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    1. I was wondering if the oscillation was a mirage effect but that seemed unlikely if rain had previously passed.

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    2. Mirage is very possible but probably not for 15 minutes. I've only ever seen them on roads in the dessert so I don't really know tbh.

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    3. Like a Black Forest Gateaux? Lol, sorry Kyle!

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    4. Hummm, yummy. Some mirage. LOL

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    5. Misspelling is only a trifling matter. No need to take me into custardy over it ;)

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  4. This to me sounds like a valid sighting, here you have two people with experience being on the water fishing. That angling experience would also benefit from knowledge of fish and wildlife around bodies of water. Also reading this sighting account tells me these are people with enough intelligence to distinguish between common and uncommon loch phenomenon. Also rain would be enough reason to not bring a camera, they must have regretted that afterwards as few people may take their 15 minute account seriously.
    As always what an unfortunate miss at documenting another incredible event - frustrating to read about these close calls. The amount of credible, reliable, honest, sane, intelligent people reporting nessie sightings yet providing no film or video proof is a frustrating paradox - some days it pisses me off!!! Just one good video please!!! No more dark dot from a far distance

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    1. Well, I am wondering what a 5 foot neck would look like at 800 yards on a photo. Depends on the camera Mr. Smith could have taken on the boat.

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    2. Actually there is a film out there of a supposably body and a five foot neck out the water filmed at about 400 yards away..It's on utube and easy to find..

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  5. Reports like this one are in sufficient numbers to close out the catfish theory. So many pole/periscope type sightings, none of which can be explained away as a catfish.

    Once again another superb article, Roland Watson.

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  6. ++++++ The amount of credible, reliable, honest, sane, intelligent people reporting nessie sightings yet providing no film or video proof is a frustrating paradox+++++

    You don't think it's more than just a paradox ?

    I find it almost impossible to comprehend that the number of
    reliable photos that corroborate a sighting can be counted on the number of fingers on a bad circular saw operator's hand.

    It's beyond bad luck or hoodoo, it must be, after a century of photography Nessie watchers have rarely caught a break.

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    1. The paradox is partly self-inflicted when **every** picture ever submitted is rejected. There are many pictures hidden away in drawers which will never see the light of day simply because the creature was too far away as befits the usual scenario of the LNM appearing mid loch and therefore half a mile away. As good as this sighting was to the human eye, an 800 yard picture is not going to be a game changer. And, yes, he forgot to bring his camera.

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  7. Paradox or hoodoo it is baffling. Successful and honest people willing to lose their reputation or face ridicule claiming sightings of a large unidentified animal in one particular body of water. Tens of thousands of lakes in the world and yet loch ness ...well you know the story and history.
    Scientists, priests, police, teachers, and many many reputable people convinced they clearly witnessed this creature is something to consider seriously - they are not conspiring together for fun or gain. Despite the lack of clear and close photo or video evidence I can't ignore the fact of so many eyewitness testimony.
    One minute I absolutely believe again in nessie and the next I'm thinking the whole myth is a blend of waves, animal misidentification, weather conditions, tricks of light, power of suggestion, scotch and whiskey, and simple folklore amplified by the scenic environment of a picturesque loch.
    And yet again something tells me the legend may be real by the conviction of credible people. Lots of credible people.

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    1. ***One minute I absolutely believe again in nessie and the next I'm thinking the whole myth is a blend of waves, animal misidentification, weather conditions, tricks of light, power of suggestion, scotch and whiskey, and simple folklore amplified by the scenic environment of a picturesque loch. And yet again something tells me the legend may be real by the conviction of credible people. Lots of credible people.*** That about sums it up as far as I'm concerned You hit the nail on the head.

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  8. Intrestin report GB!yeah sum reliable people have reported this type of sighting..didnt dinsdale have summit similar..and one of the fathers from fort augustus abbey? In my humble these people are not liars so its very intrestin and a big mystery as to what gives this pole like object in the loch..some sceptics say pole like trees washed in after a storm..possible but im not sure they wud move about in the way these reports do...very mysterious..great piece GB ..cheers

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  9. Not sure I’d describe one of the Abbey monks as ‘reliable’ given what’s come to light about that place these last few years.

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    1. Gregory Brusey? What is he accused of and how does that affect his powers of observations or ability to tell the truth?

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  10. I was being tongue in cheek Roland.

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  11. Well ya cant tar everyone with same brush i say. Reliable depends on the person himself i think..i think the father in question is reliable..that doesnt say its same for everyone! Just my humble! And the overall picture o think there is a lot of reliable people who have seen strange things on loch ness.cheers.Roy

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  12. I'd just like to mention that Mr. Harper-Smith was an O.B.E. and the town clerk of Lincoln. Not someone likely to have told a tall tale regarding the LNM as that could've damaged his reputation.

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  13. There has been a few of these type of sightings and going back a few years too.The Smith couple took a video of a pole like object in the 70's that moved up and down. I remember watching a reconstruction of this because some believed two young boys played a prank and at the end the bloke said he prooved thats what it was. I remember thinking yes you prooved you can make a stick bob up and down but doesnt say that is what happened.

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  14. One must be careful when giving the veneer of respectability, reliability and veracity to titled people and those holding public office.

    One only needs to mention Cyril Smith, John Profumo and Jeremy Thorpe.
    Because one has a MBE or a doctorate does not make a person a better or more reliable witness of natural phenomena, able to differentiate an air breathing mammal from a floating log at 700 yards.

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    1. Valid point which is true regarding people of public office and holding titles possessing better skills of observation, that is no different from any store clerk, line cook, disc jockey and so on.
      However when a former chief of detectives from Inverness along with a friend who happens to be a fisherman reports a large unknown animal in clear view - which is corroborated by a separate party one must consider a portion of LNM sightings to be reliable.

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    2. I agree that being a person is a high position does not guarantee truth, we have Dr. Kenneth Wilson as an example. But negative feedback is still a deterrent to them and makes them think twice before lying.

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  15. I think the points made are not what they saw but are they telling the truth.If we can establish if they are not lying then we are half way there.If its true that they saw a pole like object then we have to look at what could pass off for a pole sighting.

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  16. My thoughts exactly John.

    Look at the recent sighting at Dores where the article repeatedly needed to mention the fact the guy was a doctor. So what?

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  17. John, point taken, but my point was simply that a person of such standing would not be inclined to tell an LMN tall tale and run the risk of damaging their reputation. And the comparison to the big-wigs involved in the Profumo scandal is an apples & oranges comparison.

    Lastly, when an O.B.E. who also happens to be, along with his army officer son, an experienced fisherman describes a head/neck-like object surfacing, move through the water at speed enough to create a wake, execute a turn, then submerge I'm inclined to agree that such a description/activity is much more indictive of an animate object than an unrealistically acrobatic log, especially given the time the object was under observation.

    And who said anything about an air breathing mammal?

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    1. Human nature being as varied as it is I think a person could perpetrate a hoax and expect to be believed because of his or her standing in the community.
      The Surgeons photograph was given credibility because of it's association with a Surgeon.

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  18. I thought we were all agreed that Nessie is an air breathing mammal, Paddy did you miss that meeting ?

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    1. Not for me - water breather.

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    2. Yup, water breather definitely. Probably has gills or absorbs oxygen through the skin. If through gills that would make it a fish, if through the skin an amphibian Or maybe hybrid of both. Only comes up to the surface for a looksy occasionally. Otherwise it would be seen more often. You can discount a mammal or reptile.

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    3. Yeah that's definitely a good case for the category of creature nessie could be. No reptile could last long in that cold loch and a mammal would be sighted often. During the summer months there are the regular cruise tours and tourists along the loch shores which would notice anything larger than the resident fish surface.
      Has there ever been a nessie report mentioning gills? I can't recall.
      With the Spicer and Finlay sightings for example I lean towards giant amphibious...thing. The diversity of sighting description is varied, an unknown amphibious hybrid creature of massive size would be difficult to understand from any distance.
      Eels populate Loch Ness for certain, maybe an mutation or unknown relative from the sea found the loch habitable. Sea going eel relative of giant size that adapted to fresh water. At this point thinking outside the box can't hurt.

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  19. I think that the sea is connected to the Loch through the river Ness makes Nessie a water breather, something large made it's way in from the sea and grew larger over time. Possibly more than one animal but I think only 1-6 and no more.
    The river Ness floods on occasion and during the night something travelled into the Loch. This occurred around 1900-1930, or possibly in 1933.
    Anything air breathing would be discovered long ago. As for its identity I've no idea.
    Due to the variety of descriptions maybe it's an unknown eel relative that is rare but grows very large. The Loch connects to the ocean in a short passage, shallow yes but direct. There is much left unknown about the worlds oceans, even the seas around the Scottish coast could easily conceal undiscovered aquatic animals.

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    1. Had to have been there way before the 20 century. Stories of something strange in the loch going back to St. Columba and the 1800s.

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    2. The St Columba account is interesting but how can anyone rely on a centuries old story? There would have to be more chronicles or history between St Columba's encounter and up until 1800 recorded if a large beastie was in those waters. More than what is known. There are sightings but so few. From 1800-1900 there is nothing recorded that is fairly strong like a massive group sighting or event. If a boat crew claimed a clear sighting or 10-30 people together witnessed something remarkable that would be something. If a fishing boat was sunk mid loch under strange circumstances or a some people vanished at once for example that would be known. There is so little between 565 AD - 1930, just several accounts but no major or multiple incidents of reporting.
      That is another reason nessie may be a visitor from the sea, decades or centuries of absence may be the case.
      I do find the St. Columba account interesting, of all the many lakes, coasts, and rivers in Scotland....

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    3. This may explain the paucity of recorded monster sightings in the 1800s and possibly in centuries past.The loch was just not as populated back then as in "modern" times.

      http://lochnessmystery.blogspot.com/2014/08/sceptics-steamships-and-nessie.html

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    4. Damn! Just wrote a long reply to this but it disappeared...can't be bothered to write it out again, but checkout Zulu class fishing boat Pansy found in 2002 in 140m of water in Foyers Bay.

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    5. Nobody knew of Pansy until recent times, then there was the Wellington bomber that ditched in the Loch. Also the movie prop Nessie was only discovered a few years ago - after sonar had been scanning the Loch for decades.
      The vessel Pansy is a mystery in itself, very intriguing because there was no record of her sinking I believe. Also was there not a boat that had sunk in Urqhuart bay? I recall two divers had a spooky occurrence when they both felt something solid midwater touch their legs and the only possible thing they could guess it might be was the sail mast on an angle in the water of a sunken boat known to be around that location. Imagine that for a moment...scuba diving in Loch Ness and feeling a solid object touch your leg in midwater.Apparently the divers had locked arms to ascend to the surface and they both felt their feet hit something.

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    6. GB mentioned this wreck in this article of a diver of the 1880s encounter with the LNM.

      http://lochnessmystery.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-rediscovered-divers-tale.html

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  20. Or maybe the monster is a silt sifting giant invertebrate that journeys to the surface of the Loch for fleeting moments to absorb sunlight. Something resting under a layer of bottom silt would elude sonar. Maybe it has appendages and is unlike most known fauna.
    Then again that is probably a stretch, then again, is it?

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    1. Ogopogo burrows into the silt.3 foot wide holes in which a diver fell into.monsterwuest

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  21. I never saw anyone agree on an air breathing mammal. I would say most people on here think it breathes in water, one way or another.

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    1. The environmental DNA ( eDNA ) results are to be released in January let's hope there is no delay because they might reveal something unknown or maybe narrow the guess work to mammal, reptile, amphibian or other.

      Got to admit I'm curious to find out! My prediction is that something inconclusive will occur - still the mystery will live on

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  22. I was only kidding re the air breathing thing, I think we can all agree the exact family of multicellular eukaryoticing organisms within Animalia that Nessie belongs to is a matter of wild and enjoyable speculation.

    Surprised at Glasgow Boy opting for a water breather, his passion for Nessie land sightings would have suggested he opts for an oxygen sucker, unless we are talking mammoth slithery eels of course.

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    1. Yes, the LNM has some ability to absorb oxygen in air, enough for brief excursions on land. Whether this is done thru the skin, retained water or primitive lungs I could not say.

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  23. I'm on the fence as to whether the LNM even exists, let alone how it breaths! But if there are Nessies I would strongly lean to a primarily water breather with some amphibious capability ala eels. But what do I know; some people would consider me a "mouth breather."

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    1. Yeah, I know the feeling...*sigh* Sometimes I have serious doubts about the whole affair, but I just can't let the possibility of something strange in the loch go. But, there is sufficient reason to believe "something strange is going on here", to quote Adrian Shine LOL What to do, what to do? I'm on the fence too.

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  24. Its great to see such a variety of opinions though, air breather, skin breather, amphibians or fish, and so many different opinions of what it could be.Roland favours an amphibious fish, Steve Feltham a catfish,Steve Plambeck a salamander, throw in Roy's tullymonster and we have a fabulous pick of opinions.Its all great reading if you believe that something does indeed lurk deep down in the loch.

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    1. An amphibious big fish, big Catfish, big salamander or big tullymonster? Lions and tigers and bears Oh my! Hmmm...Oh well, just as outlandish as my monstrous, mutated eel.

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  25. I agree gezza its a great mystery of opinions..though ive never actually said i think tullimunstrems are behind the mystery i just use it as an example of something that has same sort of shape and look as a lot of sightings( not as big of course) im a big believer that we havnt found a lot of things that lived on our planet in the past and some that still do..everyone assumed nessie was a plesiosaur cus thats what the descripton of the sighting was!! But an eel looks like a snake...but it isnt one lol.I think loch ness could hold a creature we dont know about or a creature thats evolved a bit... great mystery i agree and a beautiful place to have one....and as dinsdale said....its such great fun lol...cheers Roy.

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  26. How big was this Tullymonster?

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  27. I have just looked it up and it says they could have grown up to a foot long.It could be a case of where there are small ones there could be big ones like the squid, and i have just read that they think now it could of been a fish! A fish with a long neck? Now that could open new horizons.I also took a quick look on youtube and i have to say there is a couple of photographs on there that do look like the classic nessie description if the thing was a lot bigger of course.Interesting indeed.

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