Sunday 5 October 2014

Early Depictions Of Nessie

The way men have represented the creatures of Loch Ness has varied over the centuries, be it in oral or visible form. I wrote on the basics of this process in an earlier article. But today, I would like to concentrate on some tangible examples.

I was researching some old newspapers which are not available online and came across some interesting media uses of the Loch Ness Monster over the period of weeks between December 1933 and January 1934. Now we should understand that the Nessie phenomenon was still quite young at this time. In fact, it was only seven months old as of early December.

In terms of influences on how people perceived the Monster, these were few and far between. There was the Spicers case which gained traction over the months since August 1933, Rupert Gould’s report to the London Times on the 9th December and the King Kong film.

But for the Scottish Daily Record and competing papers, things took off when the first purported photograph of the creature was published by the Record on the 6th December 1933. This was the Hugh Gray picture which (to some) showed a long neck lying low in the water. In fact, the impact of this picture should not be underestimated in assessing the public evolution of the monster.

The Daily Record was onto a good thing here and began a series of articles. In fact, the Spicers’ land sighting was printed the day after the Gray picture was published. After this followed various reports and visits to the loch. Indeed, the normally quiet cloisters of Fort Augustus Abbey were invaded as the Record’s correspondent was allowed in to photograph the monks at their daily activities.

Furthermore, once the Record published the Gray photo, readers were invited to draw their pictures of Nessie in a national competition. The entries flooded in and some of the drawings printed are shown below.

Quite an assortment of imaginative representations, and not all as we may expect. But then again, when folklore (ancient and modern) begins to weave a tapestry, the original truth can begin to fade somewhat. Going back to my initial comments about how people represented the Loch Ness creatures, it is evident that people were either not quite sure what was in the loch or were employing a wide diversity of artistic licence. Clearly, we have a mix of short neck, long neck and serpentine monsters here. 

Did Hugh Gray's photograph have an influence? It undoubtedly must have as people, with pen in hand, pondered what this strange beast must look like. The professional cartoonists employed by the newspapers seemed to be a bit more resolute in representing the monster. In fact, the long neck creature seems to be moving up in preference quite quickly. Here are two political cartoons from that short time period.

The first is from the Daily Record of 27th December 1933 and depicts the then British Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, towing some political monsters of his own. The cartoonist's curious Nessie looks like a cross between a plesiosaur and an anteater. Why it should emit dog-like barks is another idiosyncrasy (I am aware of no reports to that time which mention the monster making such a noise).

The Loch Ness Monster was often employed in political cartoons to add some light heartedness and topicality to the message behind the drawing. The second one below is from the Glasgow Evening Times on the same day. Again it shows that Britain had its own economic and political monsters to contend with during the Great Depresssion. I like the depiction of St. George the Dragon Killer being confronted by a Nessie like dragon. Was this Scottish paper implying that the various social problems had to be solved by England (Scotland's Patron Saint is St. Andrew)?

The long necked theme continued in foreign publications as we see here from the American Salt Lake Tribune of the 14th January 1934. The Hugh Gray photo is again mentioned as well as the Scotsman's propensity for whisky and its after effects. Clearly, the images that began in the British Isles were easily propagated abroad as other cartoonists considered how to depict the Loch Ness Monster. The trend was now very much in evidence.

Moreover, commercial advertisers in newspapers saw an opportunity to recruit Nessie without any fear of invoices over image rights being sent to them. Two advertisers from the Daily Express for the 9th, 13th and 25th January 1934 carried these images of the beast.

Meanwhile, other witness testimonies continued to be reported and inform people as to the nature of the Loch Ness Monster. It was not just the Hugh Gray photo that promoted the long neck theory. Other papers published sketches of what witnesses were claiming to see. The example below is from the Singapore Strait Times of the 29th December 1933. What long necked sightings it is referring to, I am not quite certain as it does not supply enough details. Readers' suggestions are welcomed.

So, by the time the famous Surgeon's Photograph appeared three months later in April 1934, it seems the die was cast. The Loch Ness Monster had a small head perched on a long neck. The lasting image of the Surgeon's Photo did not create the long neck stereotype, but it was certainly the hook upon which the particular coat was hung. 

I have not yet found any media representations of the Monster in the May to November 1933 period prior to our study here. It would be interesting to see how diverse the interpretations were or whether the long neck candidate was one which took the lead from the start. That will await a future article.