Saturday 6 April 2019

Harry Finlay and the Loch Ness Monster

The picture above will be familiar enough to Nessie fans being a sketch of what Greta Finlay and her son, Harry, saw back on August 20th 1952 from Aldourie Pier during a caravan holiday. I wrote on this seminal sighting back in March 2011 with a follow up the next month. Greta Finlay was interviewed by Nessie researchers Constance Whyte and Tim Dinsdale for their respective books in 1957 and 1961 but Harry Finlay was not quoted, mainly because he was thirteen years old at the time. The above sketch was his creation for Whyte's book while the one below from Dinsdale's book was likely based on it.

That is until now, when I managed to track down eighty year old Harry and telephoned him for a conversation back on the 3rd April. I was wondering how the conversation would go. Would it be a Harry who didn't want to talk about it or who would reveal it was all blown out of proportion or something else? Well, it turned out to be the something else as Harry told me he had indeed seen the monster close up, swimming past him on Aldourie Pier to the astonishment of himself and his mother.

Sixty six years on he was sticking to his story as he recounted to me how he recalled the events of that Wednesday lunchtime. It began innocently enough with Harry fishing on the pier with a recently acquired rod (photos of area taken by myself a year ago). Meantime, his mother was by the caravan parked just before the pier. Presently he heard what sounded like a boat approaching to his right, not the sound of an engine but the breaking of waters associated with its motion.

Turning his eyes to the "boat" revealed an astonishing "jet black" creature cruising past him until it was in line with the pier 25 to 30 feet away and then off south towards the main body of the loch before submerging in a "heavy surge of water" that broke upon the shore. It was a big, long necked affair with two humps each three feet long and three feet apart with two curious projections on a head not much wider than the neck. He reckons the neck was 4 to 5 feet high and the total length was about 20 feet but there was no discernible features one would call a mouth, nostrils or eyes on the "head".

He told me he called to his mother, who had also heard the water commotion, and rushed to see the sight which he said left them "rooted to the spot". I dare say I would have become statuesque as well. During the minute or two of this spectacle, they snapped out of it and raced for the box camera in the caravan. Harry said he got to the camera first while his mother watched and it was one of those old cameras which required you to look down into a viewfinder to bring the subject into view before snapping

He told me he was struggling to do this in his excitement and his mother took over the camera but by then it was too late as the creature was seen to submerge back into the dark depths. I asked how it went down and it was a curious affair as he said it went down without any new positioning from the head, neck or humps. They all went down in fixed unison and that was the end of that as a final surge of water broke upon the shore.

Afterwards, they told their story to his Dad, who was working in Inverness, and he was the one who reported it to the newspapers. Apparently, some unspecified time afterwards, Sir Peter Scott, the naturalist and Nessie advocate, offered to send some TV cameras to their house to interview them about the story in their front garden. But this was declined as they didn't want any further publicity.

He didn't know when this was, but my own thought was that this may have been for the 1957 BBC documentary, "The Legend of the Loch" which did include interviews with other eyewitnesses. They may have approached them based on the inclusion of the account in Constance Whyte's "More than a Legend".

Thereafter, Harry visited the loch a few more times but never saw the creature again. He grew up, did his National Service for the RAF and moved to Perth to work for the Royal Mail. Greta Finlay died around 1990 and Harry now tells his tale to his grandchildren. I suspect Harry is currently the witness to the oldest monster sighting on record who is still alive, though he wonders himself if the monster is still alive to this day as he doesn't hear much about his type of sighting. I suspect the particular monster he saw is no longer alive, but he can be assured that there have been other close up sightings of the beasts since 1952.

Now in assessing the whole affair with him, I brought to his attention the sceptic, Maurice Burton, who in 1961, suggested Harry and his mother had only seen a deer swimming past. He didn't know who Burton was and his reaction to this explanation consisted of "Nothing like that!", "Piffle!" and "No question" that is was not a deer. He said he knew what a deer was and that this was no deer. I could hardly agree more. Why can't these people accept what people are telling them? Especially from a range of twenty five feet.

The main reason sceptics pick up on the deer explanation is due to the "horns" Harry saw. He didn't actually know what these were and any similar word such as projections, tufts or stalks would have been just as suitable.  I wrote a previous article on this peculiar feature of the monster and there are not many such reports. I would point out the above drawings may give the impression that the creature had stopped to look at the Finlays but that is not true. It swimmed on past them and presented a side profile to them as indicated by the arrow on the map below. Also note that the original account from his mother put her at twenty yards from the creature and not Harry's 25-30 feet, but his shorter distance was from the front of the pier and not the caravan where she was.

Harry has, not surprisingly, been ridiculed for his story but he doesn't mind what people think. It is not so much a case of he believes he saw the monster but he knows he saw the monster. He does recount how his mother found it a frightening experience though when the literature says this made him give up fishing, he admits that he had barely taken it up anyway!

Now some allowances have to be made for the passage of sixty six years on the finer details of the account, but that does not take away from the reality that a large creature passed by them on that day. But Harry did also tell me that several hours later, a group of school children had reported seeing the monster in Dores Bay just about a mile and a half away down the coastline. This was another report I was not aware of.

A perusal of the online newspaper archives proved Harry's memory was perfectly intact on this matter as this report from the Dundee Courier from August 22nd below confirms. So are we to believe an outsized jet black deer decided to go on a swimming tour of Loch Ness, occasionally swimming underwater when the mood took it? Of course not and I am grateful to Harry Finlay for allowing this important account of the Loch Ness Monster to be revitalised, reconfirmed and brought back to public attention.

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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.


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.


"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.

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