Back on the 17th October 1933, The Scotsman published an account of some sightings of the new phenomenon of the Loch Ness Monster. The story had been running for about five months previously up in the Highland newspapers, but the Scotsman's increasing coverage from that point raised its profile throughout the nation. So it was on the 23rd October that a selection of letters from readers with their varying opinions were published which we shall now have a look at. First we have a letter from Captain Munro.
All the accounts that I have seen point to this "monster" being a large grey seal. Seals have been known to make long trips inland, generally over frozen ground. A seal may have ascended the Ness during a spate, and gone overland when he came to rapids. It might also be a large sea otter, or a pair of them. Whatever it is, it is no new animal to the zoologist, and it is certainly not a fish. Seals are often caught by drift-net fishermen on the West Coast, and a drifter might have had one on board and dumped it in the loch as a jest and to get rid of a troublesome shipmate. If a seal, when he has dived he would come up again some distance off, and also the same with an otter; but in either case, probably only the nose and eyes would be above the water. It is strange that no stalker with his glass has sighted this "stranger." Whatever it is, it should not be interfered with or killed.
D. J. Munro, Captain, R.N. October 20 1933
Now we already know about Captain Munro as he was the first person to try and place camera stations around the loch via a share offering in 1938. Monster Hunter, Ted Holiday mentioned him in his "Great Orm of Loch Ness" book in 1968 and I wrote about him in an earlier article linked here. The Captain first appears in this letter and is sceptical of anything mysterious about the whole affair, suggesting seals or otters. That attitude evidently softened in the years ahead as the monster proved stubbornly unsolvable and he turned to camera stations. The next letter is from a Mr. Morrison.
Sir, Allow me to make a suggestion which may be an explanation of the phenomenon which apparently is causing such a scare among people in the neighbourhood of Loch Ness - the so called "Loch Ness Monster." Many years ago a man in my father's employment, whom I knew very well, saw a creature of an appearance similar to that described in the Press in a fresh-water lake in one of the outer islands of the Hebrides. He got such a fright, that it was said that it left its impression on his eyes till the day of his death. The matter was investigated by others who saw this apparition on the lake afterwards, and it was found out that it was nothing more or less than a number of otters following one another in a line. This episode may help to clear up the "mystery"of the "Loch Ness Monster".
Here we have a somewhat tongue in cheek story of a man being fooled by a train of otters, mistaking them for a frightful creature. Now we have blogged on monster lochs on the Isle of Lewis and Harris a couple of times. There was the creature of Loch Ulladale (link here) and more monster lochs here and here. Mind you, I can't see any link between those and this story, and it may not have even been that island, but we note otters are getting trotted out again as a solution. The next letter is more interesting.
Sir, Amongst many letters to your paper I have not observed a contribution from a believer of the plesiosaurus. To any such believer who has not come forward - I should like to present the following information. Some years ago a skull was taken in the salmon nets at the mouth of a West Coast river. The Gaelic inhabitants of the district called it a crocodile, but I have an idea that their own name for it may be vastly different. I have examined this skull on many occasions, and it undoubtedly possesses the teeth and approximately the jaws of a crocodile. So far as I know, the skull is still in existence, and if any believer in a family of old-fashioned monsters would like to spend two days and some money in visiting the place, making inquiries and seeing the skull, I believe that I can arrange the matter. A knowledge of Gaelic is almost essential, and the visitor must not blame me if he finds the skull of a crocodile thrown into the water by an ex-sailor's wife when spring cleaning.
I am &c. C. W. INGRAM.
You will see Mr. Ingram is an early contributor to the plesiosaur theory and tries to link it to an odd story about a skull pulled in with salmon nets at the mouth of a west coast river. Assuming the skull was indeed pulled from the estuary, it obviously could not be a crocodile. What other candidates should be considered? There are no doubt several, it could be a Beluga whale which strayed from the northern waters to be stranded on the west coast of Scotland and die. The picture below shows how its skull looks crocodilian with teeth and a narrow jawline.
This may not be the solution, but these animals should be considered first before introducing plesiosaurs. Where that skull from 1933 resides now is anyone's guess, but we do not think it has anything to do with the Loch Ness Monster. The next letter brings us back to stories of giant eels.
Sir, The "oldest inhabitant" has been strangely backward, and has not yet been trotted out to state the facts of this most interesting subject. Well, here is one of them, at last brought up in Upper Stratherrick, near Loch Ness, of a family located there for well over 400 years, and in close contact with the people of that district. We knew, and, accepted without question, from tradition and common knowledge, that there were and always had been "monster eels" (plural) in Loch Ness and not a "Loch Ness Monster" (singular), for there were many, and of various sizes.
We accepted as a certainty, based on experience that the body of anyone drowned in would never be found. To talk of underwater currents in is nonsense. There are none. Anyone can dispose of an obscure question which lie cannot solve by saying that it is all a myth, good enough for the ignorant and credulous. He may even deign to explain it in some paltry and superficial way; posing as one too wise (shall we say too materialistic?) to be taken in by fairy tales. Such negative or destructive criticism is futile. The critic has not even begun to understand the subject.
Let us get some competent naturalist from South Kensington to interview all these who can give direct evidence, to collate their statements, and give his own skilled conclusions for the benefit of the public, now peculiarly interested in this question.
One might suggest as a hypothesis that, at some remote period when the world was young, eels, migrating from the Garry, the Moriston, the Foyers or Farigaig rivers, through on their way to spawn in the deep Sargasso Sea, have thought it unfit for them to go so far while the depths were available so near their home.
Hence a race of land-locked eels may have evolved. Some of these may have survived the spawning crisis and developed into the "enormous eels" always traditional in Stratherrick, Some such abnormal creatures may possibly be the foundation of our tales of the "each-uisge " (anglice "kelpie'') or of the "seilcheag" (great water-snail), or even of the sea serpent, all of them interesting monsters upon which we need not now dilate, but realities to unsophisticated person: in whom materialism has not yet bred blindness to natural phenomena.
I am &c - OLD STRATHERRICK
As you can see, the idea of a eunuch eel staying in the loch and growing progressively larger over the years and decades is not new. It is a theory as old as the monster and in fact predates the Nessie era by an indeterminate span. So this letter is itself not new in content but re-affirms such stories. However, as pointed out in previous articles, one searches the old Highland newspapers in vain for any stories of large eels of any notable size being caught in Loch Ness.
We get stories of large marine eels being caught or found along the Highland sea coasts nearby and one can be sure that if a seven footer was landed at Loch Ness, it would also make the news with no effort. Note that "Old Stratherrick" does not expand upon this "common knowledge" to back up his claims, apart from the statement that the loch doesn't give up its dead, which is not really related to the issue of oversized eels.
But it cannot be denied that the locals believed in such things, but based pretty much on anecdotal evidence in the same way as our modern monster. That they were called eels is more based on speculation rather than one being dragged ashore for classification. In fact, I would suggest "giant eel" was one descriptive term for them like "plesiosaur" was during the 1960s and 1970s. It was basically considered a good candidate by 19th century locals. One such sighting from 1885 by a Roderick Matheson would have helped propagate this tag for the monster:
Mr. Matheson was part owner of the schooner Bessie, which frequently made passages from the West Coast to the East via the Caledonian Canal and, of course, Loch Ness. On one of these journeys Mr. Matheson, who was mate of the vessel, saw in Loch Ness what he described as ‘the biggest eel I ever saw in my life. It had’ he said ‘a neck like a horse, and a mane somewhat similar’
Moving on from eels, comes a letter from T.J. with some florid and prosaic language.
Sir, - With monsters so much "in the air" - to say nothing of the lochs - it seems rather strange that none of your correspondents should have drawn attention to Mr J. St J. Graham's delightful thriller, "The Wee Loch", in the current number of Chambers' Journal. Compared with the creature therein "featuring," surely
the monsters of the prime
Rending each other in their slime
Where mellow music matched with him!
while the editorial instinct, in anticipating the present visitation, is almost as marvelous as the marvel itself. Mr Graham's monster is not seen; it is smelt, and it occurs to me, to wonder whether anything 'uncommonly "ancient and fishlike" been encountered in the atmosphere of Loch Ness? I would also suggest that the healthy excitement aroused by this "'questionable shape" - alas, in Shakespeare's sense, unquestionable! - calls for addition to our numerous anthologies, a collection of stories of monsters.
Why not call it - shade of John Knox! - A Monstrous Regiment? Anyway, permit me to make your readers a present of the suggestion.
I am &c - T. J.
I am not sure the author has much to say here apart from one wondering what that short story entitled "The Wee Loch" was all about? Apart from that, he asks a question as to whether the monster has been detected by the sense of smell. That would seem an irrelevant question as most sightings of the creature are so far away from the witness. Indeed, a search of the sightings database confirms there is no such data. The only sense that really matters here is sight with the rare addition of sound. The last letter addresses the issue of sea serpents.
Sir,—Some of your readers may be interested to hear that as far back as between 1858-60 I heard a minister of the Scottish Church assert that he had seen a sea-serpent. I cannot recall whether he said it was in the North Sea or elsewhere. He had lived for some time at Lochaber. He was afterwards minister of the Parish Church of Golspie and librarian to the Duke of Sutherland: Dr Joass, a geologist and antiquarian. Of course, he was laughed at.
This morning I had a visit from the daughter a minister in East Ross-shire. I asked her if she knew him. She did; she remembered about it. She had seen a drawing of it made by him. There may still be some in the north who remember about it and where he saw it.
I am &c - A CONSTANT READER
The Reverend James Joass did indeed claim a sea serpent sighting but dated to 1873 and the sketch below is taken from Bernard Heuvelman's great work "In the Wake of the Sea Serpent".
The relationship between the Loch Ness Monster and Scottish sea serpents was covered on this blog in a previous article (link). There is no doubt in my mind that Nessie is a sea serpent either marooned in the loch or an itinerant visitor ... or both. That ends this series of interesting letters and they continued to flow into all manner of newspapers for years to come. Some entertaining, some informative and some just frustrating. But everyone is entitled to their opinion.
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