Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The 19th Century Monster

On this blog, we don't just look forward to the latest reports of strange creatures in Loch Ness but also like to look back at what has gone before. In fact, way back before anyone alive today. I am pretty sure the 1880s qualifies in that respect. To put that decade in context, Queen Victoria was sovereign of a British Empire at its peak, the first Boer War occurred, Krakatoa exploded killing thousands, electric lighting was beginning to appear in towns and the first automobile was created. There was also rumours of a strange creature in a Highland loch south of Inverness as this clipping from the Daily Mail of 1st May 1934 exemplifies.




LOCH NESS MONSTER'S AGE PROBLEM
BRIDLINGTON MAN'S RECOLLECTIONS 

Recent reports that the mystery monster of Loch Ness may be quite 50 years of age are fully believed by Mr Arthur B. Browne, of St. Andrew's, Bridlington, who lived near Loch Ness over 50 years ago. Mr Browne told a "Mail" reporter that in 1881, when he was 25 years of age, reports were frequently heard of a grotesque creature's presence in the loch. Mr Browne added: "Although I made no special effort to see the creature others commented upon its existence.

RECALLED IN LETTER FROM CANNES

"Since then the thing has apparently been lying dormant, but only last week I had confirmation of a strange creature's existence in the loch 50 years ago, In a letter which I received from a lady living in Cannes, and who in 1881 was in Inverness. "I was at the loch two and four years ago, but then there was no mention of the creature. In the appearance of the present monster, the most significant thing which strikes me is the imprint of its track. l cannot commit myself in a description of the creature of 50 years ago because, although I visited the loch at the time, I did not personally see it." Mr Goodbody, of Invergarry, who with his two daughters, has seen the monster longer than any other eye-witnesses, is a personal friend of Mr Browne.

So we have claims from two people who were at the loch in the 1880s that reports of a strange creature were being promulgated amongst the locals. Neither person claimed to have seen it and one seemed to have been impressed by tracks found at the loch recently. I presume these were the hippo tracks "found" by Marmaduke Wetherell six months previously. Why she was struck by this is not stated, why would this be "most significant" above other reported features?

Perhaps she had experiences of strange tracks at Loch Ness before? It is to be noted that there was one land sighting of the creature reported from that period in 1880 by an E.H. Bright in the estuary of Urquhart Bay. This involved three toed tracks being left behind and one speculates whether the Wetherell story triggered memories of such stories fifty years before?

Either way, I add this story to the panoply of Victorian anecdotes. It takes its place amongst what was a busy decade for monster stories. We have the story of diver James Honeyman and his underwater encounter as well as the better known story of diver Duncan MacDonald's "huge frog" seen by a wreck. There was also the tale of Calum MacLean and the aforementioned E.H. Bright.

We can further add the tales of the Benedictine Nuns and that of historian David Murray Rose and 1885. H.J. Craig claimed to have seen it in 1889 and we can finally add the claims of Roderick Matheson and Alexander MacDonald with his giant "salamander". But whatever one may make of monster stories in the 1880s, my search of online newspapers for that decade produced nothing in the way of such claims.

Yes, there were one or two tales of the Loch Ness Water Horse legend, but I am not minded to discard the testimony of multiple claimants just because the newspapers either were not told or did not bother going into print with them. But I have discussed the reticence of such newspapers during that time elsewhere. Perhaps Murray Rose has been vindicated in his assertion that the 1880s were a busy time for the monster?

One may also add that back in the 1930s when most of these people came forward, we were pushing back the limits of living memory as anyone of adult age in the 1880s would be in their 70s or more in the 1930s. To wit, there may well have been as much activity in the 1860s or 1870s, but there were few living from those days to say as much. Such people are now long gone and any chance to investigate such stories with them. In that regard, we have the likes of Rupert T. Gould to thank for recording their testimonies and putting them down in paper for future generations.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



15 comments:

  1. Intriguing. I'm always fascinated when you delve into the deepest lore surrounding the monster's origins. My biggest question would be: why wouldn't such a monster capture the public imagination sooner? As an example look at the fever that surrounded Jack The Ripper or even Spring Heeled Jack who many considered supernatural. I think we'd have loved it then just as much as we did in the 30s.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There were already tales of a monster in the loch tied up with the water horse legends. These are frequent enough in the literature of the time. As such anything seen in the loch would get downgraded by association with such "fairy tales".

      Delete
    2. To take GB's point a bit further - there were always tales of the water horse et al. They were part of the local fauna like deer or salmon. Jack The Ripper inspired "fever" because it was a new, unknown, threat. It was when the report of the Loch Ness animals appearing in the local papers and picked up by others that the capturing of the imagination really began; people who had no knowledge of a water horse heard about it for the first time...

      Delete
  2. I'd be more impressed had we had more examples of sightings from the 1880s actually being printed in local or national newspapers from the 1880s.
    What we have is lots of remembered childhood sightings from victorian times recalled in the 1933/4 boom period.
    Interesting but flawed as bona fide evidence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes contemporary reports would be better but good enough for me. Unfortunately, even if they were contemporary the pseudosceptics would still reject them. How do I know this?

      When a contemporary report of so called multiple porpoises in Loch Ness was made in 1914, this was dismissed as impossible by someone known to us who promptly put it down to standing waves. So from that I deduce that even if we found new contemporary 19thC monster reports, they would be dismissed as known phenomena.

      Delete
  3. Thank goodness for Eoin O' Faodhagain and 21st Century crappy webcams.

    https://www.coasttocoastam.com/article/webcam-watcher-spots-nessie-again/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very blurry, but it moves like a water bird, and it is fairly white, not your Nessie grey/black. There even appears (as best as I can tell) some wing flapping movements...

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I'm not falling for this one. Worst than a dark blobby Nessie. Totally unconvincing and inconclusive.

      Delete
    3. Sorry i was looking at the other webcam image.The other one indicates something large lurking.

      Delete
  4. If I remember rightly ,most of these sightings were reported to the police not the press. I wonder if there are accessible copies of police reports from those days? Just a thought.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think for anyone who studies the mystery or has an intrest in it then these pre 1930 stories are a must...im baffled how some sceptics still deny them...GB you have prooved they are there...intrestin stories that go back a long way of something unusual in the loch and frankly any sceptic who denies it isnt worth the time of day in my humble ( and thats off sumone who thinks sceptics are important to the mystery)...great work GB.....cheers

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think the transformation of whatever creatures are in loch Ness into the media's favourite plesiosaur type 'lost dinosaur' have caused almost 100 years of confusion among a lot of folks. Maybe it's not completely impossible, but it's highly improbable, and therefore the sceptics come out in force. Obviously it's all the fault of the King Kong movie, and shows how easily a huge issue can be subverted in the minds of the public. There were reports before the 30s, as Roland has done so well to dig up and present, that bear no resemblance to a plesiosaur. This is true of other lochs. And I'm sure the Highlanders very strong religious beliefs and sense of community kept a lid on a lot of sightings back then.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Exactly. I think the use of the word "monster" has seriously damaged the attempts to identify whatever species is there. Roland has dug out quite a few 'creature on land' reports. It's hard to ignore multiple eye witness sightings, particularly when school children are involved.
    Perhaps a local man's response to the question as to whether he'd ever seen the monster best sums up the issue - "No,but I've seen the water horse ".

    ReplyDelete