Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Readers' Letters to the Newspapers in 1933


  



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".

I am etc. ALEX C. MORRISON.

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.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com





56 comments:

  1. Great stuff, Gb, and also a very telling example of how illiterate modern society has become compared to barely 90 years ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There might be a selection effect there. How many of the truly illiterate would have written letters to the editor90 years ago, and how many of those letters would have been accepted? Whereas now the evidence that illiterate people can write to web sites is all around us, with very little editorial moderation.

      Delete
    2. Good point, I reluctantly admit!:-(

      Delete
  2. Another belter, thanks GB. Always interesting to read contemporary reports from during the heyday :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting how those ole Giant eels as nessie keep popping up even back then!

      Delete
    2. It is Wednesday, so it must be time to believe in giant eels. Long necked seals tomorrow ...

      Delete
    3. Oh God...why did they have to mention eels! LOL

      Delete
    4. That seems to be a consistent theme, why do some seem to resist Nessie being a really large eel?

      Delete
    5. Quite simple, eels cant raise their necks out of the water.

      Delete
    6. JesusFan, you want Nessie to be a giant eel? Read Steve Altens novel "The Loch" about a big nasty mutant eel terrorizing and eating people at Loch Ness. That's about as close Nessie is going to get being an eel.

      Delete
    7. Roland how do you know eels cant raise their heads out of water?

      Delete
    8. Mainly because I haven't seen any evidence of it. Perhaps they could race to the surface and breach for a brief period, but this looks nothing like the sustained descriptions of eyewitnesses.

      Delete
    9. So your statetment of ' quite simple eels cant raise their heads out of water' was a bit misleading then? Tut tut Roland lol

      Delete
    10. Any amorous whales visiting the Loch?

      https://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/-a-surprising-number-of-sea-monster-sightings-can-be-explained-by-whale-erections/

      Delete
    11. Well, Gezza, it is a bit of a push to say breaching is raising the head/neck above water since it relies on the momentum and speed of the animal rather than its own innate ability. But I haven't seen a video of an eel breaching the surface to expose enough of its head and body.

      Delete
    12. I have seen a snake moving through water with his head held up high, so why not an eel.I dont think we can say 100% that an eel could not do it.

      Delete
    13. Yes to snakes as they have a muscular-skeletal system built for land, no buoyancy aids from water.

      Delete
    14. But we have seen underwater videos of eels with their front end sticking up.We cant say 100% they cant do it out of water.

      Delete
    15. Show me a video of an eel erect out of the water for a considerable amount time and I will take you seriously. Otherwise you are just being argumentative for arguments sake. I guarantee 100% you wont find one and it's not possible.

      Delete
    16. Thats rich coming from you Alvarado!Taking someone seriously !

      Delete
    17. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    18. GEEZA Second thoughts on my deleted comment. I may have been a bit to rash in my response and you misinterpreted what I meant. My meaning is that I would take your comment about eels seriously if you can show some evidence that eels can hold their heads above water giving the appearance of a neck. Having said that and corrected myself, I still maintain that you can't show any such evidence. Prove me wrong!

      Delete
    19. Take a look at planet earth videos on youtube and you might be suprised what eels can do. I didnt say they could hold their heads out of water but i think its possible.You said i was arguing for arguments sake which is not true at all.I think its possible a big eel could poke its head out of the water thus give off a head and neck. sighting.

      Delete
    20. Maybe, maybe, but how do you account for the Gregory Brusey pole like sighting?

      Delete
    21. Might have been a pole? A log? a stick? A lie? ( not that i think he would of lied) We cant say he 100% he saw an animal.If you look at the head and neck sightings there arnt 2 many that are swan like or pole like, lots are described at different angles ie turtle like or sticking straight up. We cant go on one sighting that we dont even know what it was.

      Delete
  3. (belugas )should be considered first before "trotting out" the plesiosaur.??
    no,i dont think so.
    a plesiosaur should be considered first based on the close up divers encounters

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The skull was not found at Loch Ness....

      Delete
    2. Actually big eel, Amphibian, and long neck adapted seal!

      Delete
    3. In other words, you have no idea what it is!

      Delete
    4. Think one of those, maybe even all of them at one time or another being seen!

      Delete
    5. Why do I get the impression that JesusFan and john are the same person? Oh well. LOL

      Delete
  4. I find this early period so fascinating - it leaves you wishing you could go back to when it all must have been so fresh and mysterious! As you say GB, interesting to note that the giant eel theory actually goes back all this way and beyond. Certainly nothing new!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People think the 60s was the best time to be around, but the 1930s with all those land and water sightings suggests the odds of seeing it were greater back then.

      Delete
    2. Checks many boxes, as can move about on land, can stay submerged, and can grow really large and live very long time!

      Delete
    3. On land, a creature with a bulbous body, long tail and neck and webbed feet is described. Eels do not have bulbous bodies so described.

      Delete
    4. That is why think that Nessie more then just one type of creature, see 2 or 3 different animals being seen over the years in the Loch!

      Delete
    5. No, this is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

      Delete
  5. I agree. I guess the 60s has the romantic pull of the Dinsdale film and the LNIB era but 1933/34 certainly seemed more eventful!

    ReplyDelete
  6. JesusFan: "Actually big eel, Amphibian, and long neck adapted seal!"

    I don't understand. Are you saying there are 3 previously unidentified species in Loch Ness right now?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yes,plesiosaur/elasmsairus
      giant salamander
      giant eel

      Delete
    2. "john" answers a question directed at "JesusFan"?

      Delete
    3. Thanks John/JF. You don't think that 3 different "monsters" is a bit of a stretch?

      Delete
    4. I have suspended comments from john/jesusFan until I figure out what it going on.

      Delete
    5. "Will the real john or JesusFan please stand up" LOL

      Delete
    6. Was that a Todd Rundgren reference.

      Delete
    7. If you're referring to “Will the real X please stand up” it's from an American TV program where they have thee contestant claiming to be the same person. They are quizzed by a panel who vote as to who is the real person. The host then instructs the contestants with that line and the real person stands up

      Delete
  7. "Nessie is a sea serpent either marooned in the loch or an itinerant visitor ... or both. "
    Good point, looking at reports of British sea serpents could be helpful. Do you have any plans to look at the Morgawr photos (allegedly taken by 'Mary F')?

    https://www.pinterest.se/pin/480900066433574528/

    https://www.cornwalllive.com/news/cornwall-news/story-sightings-mystery-sea-creature-4092252

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is generally accepted the "Mary F" pictures were faked by Tony "Doc" Shiels and Michael McCormick.

      Delete
    2. Those "photos" on the first link look so intuitively fake and not even too good to be true. Blobby Nessie closeup.

      The one in the second link is inconclusive at best, another blob.

      Delete
    3. There's a hilarious transcript of Doc Shiels talking about planning it. It even transcribes his cheeky laughing as "heh heh". I think GB did an article on it once.

      Delete
    4. I think that was in my photos book.

      Delete
    5. Remember watching some UK series about the unexplained that did a dramatization of the Morgawr sighting by that fisherman George Vinnicombe, as he himself is featured describing the incident.
      They even had a mock up of the creature, which if iirc, was more serpentine... head, neck and a couple humps.

      What was funny about the representation of it, as Vinnicombe says, as I remember, "was looking at us as much as we were looking at him", that they made the eyes really big, and looking like those clear plastic eyes they put on stuffed toy animals with the black disc inside that can move about. Probably what was used for the mock-up actually...

      Apropos to nothing, I used to (sadly not in 5-6 years) dream about going to Loch Ness a lot. One of my fav recurring dream scenarios.
      In one, I was standing by a river that flowed towards the loch. In the woods, rather shallow and roughly the width of river ness (which just may have been my dream version anyway)
      The odd thing was that smack dab in the middle, was a plain brick, rather small rectangular apartment building of about 4-5 stories. I stood fascinated as the river flow created large waves splashing against the one side of the building.

      The weird bit. I followed a link from an article here a ways back to some nessie or some such facebook page. I immediately went to check out the photos it had. I flipped out when I saw a picture of, albeit with a bit smaller footprint than my dream building, some rectangular tower sitting smack dab in the middle of the same river and setting as the dream.

      If it was in the photo section it must have something to do with the LN area. Does anyone know what that structure is and is used for.... any why the heck is it sitting in a river?

      Jon (formerly of long island NY)

      Delete
    6. Wow!...sounds like a bit of astral travelling going on!...can't think of such a building, unfortunately, but then I don't get out much these days...sorry.

      Delete