Tuesday 9 June 2020

Captain Fraser's Nessie Film

There are three classes of films which allege to show the Loch Ness Monster. The first are the ones which have been published and are still generally accessible to varying degrees. The second are those which have been seen by only a select few with little in the way of stills or clips. The final class are those which are discussed, but no one can even confirm the existences of such items.

Examples of the first group are the Dinsdale, 2nd Irvine, Raynor and Smith films. Those which we could place in the second group are the 1st Irvine film, G.E. Taylor, Beckjord and various LNIB films. Finally, the esoteric third group include the mythical McRae and Currie films. The film taken by Captain James Fraser comes into the second category.

Captain Fraser was part of the first serious surveillance operation mounted by Sir Edward Mountain in the summer of 1934. In fact, Fraser was the man that Mountain put in the charge of the whole operation. From his base near Urquhart Castle, he would coordinate the twenty men employed to watch the loch from various points armed with supplied cameras. At the end of each day, they would log their results with Captain Fraser and his immediate team back at base. The expedition was due to last four weeks, but the poor conditions that prevailed in the second fortnight led to a one week extension. 

The result was over twenty photographs taken of which five were considered of interest. The fact that none were taken in the second fortnight shows how difficult surveying the loch can be. Captain Fraser was invited to continue the watch with a colleague from a vantage point above the castle with a cine camera fitted with a telephoto lens. The entry in Roy Mackal's "The Monsters of Loch Ness" summarizes the taking of the film.

F 4: 0715, September 15, 1934; made by James Fraser and an assistant on Sir Edward Mountain's expedition. No stills published. [positive evidence] The film, 10-20 ft. in length, was made at a distance of about 3/4 mile with a cine Kodak and 6" telephoto lens. It appears that the film has been lost, but when it was viewed by experts in 1934, the consensus was simply that some kind of animal was being observed. 

But going back to the oldest sources, The Scotsman for the 17th September 1934 below is representative of the various clippings I have found for that period. Fraser was about three quarters of a mile from an object he at first thought a boat which was itself half a mile east of Temple Pier and fifty yards from that shoreline. The object was described as fifteen to twenty feet long and about two to three foot out of the water, no head or tail visible and it traveled for about one minute before submerging.

The letter reproduced below adds some more detail, though it was typed decades later for use in a publication. The passage of 30 years or more had led to some fading of memory as he now states he thought he was initially looking at a rock, as opposed to a boat in the 1934 account. Such discrepancies are common when the years have lengthened between event and recall. Unlike the oldest report, Captain Fraser does mention a possible head-neck being seen at the start, but he is not sure it could have been a flipper as well.


Towards the end of June 1934. I was approached by a representative of Sir Edward Mountain who had taken over Beaufort Castle from Lord Loost for the salmon fishing. I was asked if I would like charge of some men he intended to place round Loch Ness with cameras to see if they could find evidence of an unusual animal that had been seen from time to time by locals and visitors. 20 men were engaged and I placed them at strategic points on both sides of the Loch, 14 men on the North side and 6 on the South side. Several snaps had been taken but not sufficient evidence to establish the identity of the animal. The search was continued for about 6 weeks when the men were withdrawn.

Sir Edward then asked me if I would stay on with one man to carry on the search. This I did, which meant that I had to take up residence which I did. in a Bell Tent on the hill above Urquhart Castle.. The procedure I adopted was at dawn I took up my stance at the roadside to the East of the Castle, I had with me a 16mm Cine Camera also a pair of powerful binoculars. I was relieved for meals by my assistant.

On Saturday about midway through August I took my usual stance at dawn. There was that morning a thick haze hanging over the Loch, it afterwards turned out to be a very hot day. I carried out my usual procedure, that was to scan the Loch Westwards then turn to scan the Loch Eastwards; then to my surprise I observed what I thought was a rock about 100 yards from the shore East of the Urquhart Bay. This object which appeared inanimate I had under observation for over a minute then I remembered that there was no rock that far out from the shore. I then took up my camera and trained it on this object and started to film it, when to my surprise the object raised out of the water either its head and neck or a flipper then lowered it, raising quite a volume of water, then it disappeared.

I then phoned Sir Edward Mountain who laid on to take the camera to Inverness and have the film taken out by a competent person and have it carefully packed and sent Registered Parcel Service to Kodak. The train was met in London and the film taken to their Laboratory and developed.

The film was shown to several Scientific Societies in this country and abroad but unfortunately the film did not give sufficient evidence of what the creature might be. Opinions by the experts were divided on what it could be but I had the pleasure of showing the film in-Inverness to interested parties. I regret that my film was not able to identify the animal but only to prove that there is something unusual in Loch Ness. 

Trust you find the foregoing account of interest. Thanking you. 

J.W. Fraser.

And here is a picture of the man himself, taken in the 1960s. So runs the encounter and a rough map of the encounter is added below. The film was dispatched for processing by Kodak in London whereupon it was viewed by various experts at a showing organised by Sir Edward Mountain on the 3rd October at Kodak House. It seems that James Fraser, who lived hundreds of miles away in Ross-shire, was not there and it is not clear if he ever saw the film himself at any time.

Shortly after, the Field magazine for the 13th October 1934 published the various views of some who had attended that showing. From the clipping below we see that W. T. Calman, Keeper of Zoology at the Natural History Museum, offered the opinion that it was likely to be a seal and deems this important evidence in identifying whatever the creature was in the loch.

Mr. Calman also makes reference to a recently taken photo of a dorsal fin-like object in Loch Ness which he attempts to reconcile with his seal interpretation, suggesting the "fin" could be a seal flipper. The photo he is referring to is the James Lee picture published the previous August and which I covered here.

Meantime, David Seth-Miller, Curator of the Zoological Society of London, was also of the seal opinion as was a Mr. A. Ezra; though he did not discount some other creature yet inhabiting the loch. Burgess Barnett, Curator of Reptiles at the same Zoological Society also plumped for large grey seal while Francis Fraser of the Natural History Museum finally joins the ranks with .... a seal ... which makes one wonder if they had all coordinated their responses beforehand. 

Were there any dissenting opinions from the mainstream scientists? Yes there were, as this seal discourse led to some sending in their letters to The Field editor with some contrary comments. A Major Radclyffe of Thurso, who had spent long times observing and hunting seals in the Arctic, suggested the eminent scientists did not know what they were talking about. The text of the major's letter suggests he had also seen the film and he was adamant it was no seal and it was his opinion seals did not swim like that object as they dive and submerge before swimming and do not swim in a wake-like manner. He also quite rightly pointed out that seals would soon be seen in and around the loch if they had taken up residence there.

A Mr. Gilfrid Hartley also chipped in saying in like manner that seals would soon be spotted as well as their predilection to follow boats, as he attested to their behaviour when seen in Loch Awe. He also mentioned a friend who had seen the monster in its four foot long neck aspect and it was no seal. Thus was a similar opinion ventured by a C. M. Hope; who I assume had not seen the film either. The matter of whether a seal was in the loch from May 1933 to September 1934 is unlikely as they would soon be shot as they attacked the salmon stocks. No such seal shooting has been reported from that period.

The film was shown again a few weeks later to the Linnaean Society at Burlington House who specialized in natural history. Famed Nessie author, Rupert T. Gould was there and in the light of the previous meeting, he quoted the editor of the Inverness Courier that some of the London scientists seemed to think the locals were half-witted and did not know a seal when they saw one and rather they probably saw more seals in a month than the scientists saw in a lifetime! The views of the society's members turned out to be more diverse, with two expressing the seal theory, one an otter and another who said he did not know what it was but it certainly was not seal or otter! Sir Edward later opined that it was better that the scientists had just said they did not know what it was.

The final item to consider in this investigation was found in an obscure Loch Ness Monster pull out folder entitled "Orbit reports on the Loch Ness Monster" published by Wiggins Teape in 1969. I bought this back in 2009 and it has largely lain low until I scanned through it for relevant material. I do not consider it as a book, so it didn't make it into my blog article on past books on the phenomenon. But by way of a review, the publication is a folder with four pullout sections which cover three eyewitness reports, three famous photographs (Wilson, Stuart and MacNab), the geography of the loch and various theories to explain the creature.

The three eyewitnesses covered were Alex Campbell, Captain James Fraser and loch keeper, John Cameron and it seemed evident that the publishers had interviewed the three men (or used a proxy). The photo above of Captain Fraser was scanned from the Orbit report. So what was of interest for this case was the facsimile reproduction of two documents which it seems belonged to Captain Fraser. The first was a typed letter from the captain in which he describes the event which largely follows the accounts of older newspapers. The other item is more fascinating and is a letter sent from famed Nessie researcher, Rupert T. Gould to James Fraser. It is dated 3rd December 1934 and is shown below.

Woodfield Lane,


Dear Capt. Fraser

I am exceedingly sorry that, owing to pressure of work, I have not written sooner to thank you for so readily sending me particulars of the posting of your men round Loch Ness. They will be of great value for reference.

I don't know whether you have yet seen the film you secured - I mean, the earlier; I understand you secured two. I saw it a few days before I met you at Urquhart Castle; and I have since seen it exhibited at a meeting of the Linnean Society. The meeting was chiefly remarkable for the diverse views expressed by various zoologists. Mr. Hinton, of the Natural History Museum, stated he was entirely certain that, on the evidence of the film, the "monster" was a seal. Dr. Kemp, of the "Discovery' investigations, who had seen enormous numbers of seal in the Antarctic, said that he had never seen a seal move in such a manner as the film showed. Another, whose name I didn't catch, said that he was absolutely satisfied, on the evidence of the film, that the "monster" was a large otter!

Actually, the best I could make of the film was occasional glimpses of a head and neck, with indications of something which looked like a dorsal fin close behind the head. Here is a very rough sketch of the creature as the film presented itself to me. 

With renewed thanks and all good wishes, believe me sincerely yours, 

Rupert T. Gould

We had already stated that Gould had seen the film and there are three things to take from this letter. The first is that Gould actually saw the film twice and formed the opinion that there was indications of a head-neck with something like a dorsal fin behind the head-neck. An enlargement of his sketch is shown below showing Gould's impression of the head and neck. I presume that the small peak at the far left is Gould's dorsal fin impression. Gould does not explicitly state it is the monster, but he certainly does not side with seal and otter interpretations.

Secondly, Gould talks of a second film by Fraser which seems to have been taken between the first one in mid-September and this December letter. My search of the newspaper archives revealed no mention of this film and so I must conclude it was of an inferior quality to the first and therefore did not gain any significant attention. Thirdly, Gould was at the loch between the two film showings, the only time I was aware he was at the loch was on November 1933 when he was gathering material for his June 1934 book. What information he garnered on this second visit is now long lost along with this film which it seems has now perished.

Which is a great pity as only a select few have ever seen it which brings us to the photograph at the beginning of this article. It appeared in Peter Costello's "In Search of Lake Monsters" back in 1974 when he discussed the Fraser film and reproduced the still as a sketch (presumably because he could not get permission or the cost was too much). However, the image was later reproduced in full in Henry Bauer's "The Enigma of Loch Ness" published twelve years later in 1986. Where did Henry get the picture from? As it turns out, it was taken from a Danish book on the monster entitled "Gaden I Loch Ness" ("Riddle of Loch Ness") written by Palle Vibe in 1970.

So is this a genuine still from the Captain Fraser film? Henry contacted the copyright holders of the photograph in an attempt to find its provenance, but they could not help him. As a result, Henry dubbed it of "extremely dubious provenance". I also attempted to make contact with Palle who actually republished his book last year, without success so far. However, having considered the description of the object made in the previous accounts, it hardly seems likely that this still has anything to do with the film. 

What we see in the still is something that looks very much like a dorsal fin. But if this had been so plainly visible in the film, I doubt anyone would have gone for a seal explanation as seals obviously do not have dorsal fins. Neither do otters and one scientists dismissed cetaceans as an explanation. It seems more likely that this still is a photograph of something like a basking shark, of which we reproduce a picture from the Illustrated London News published only four months before the Fraser film. How Palle Vibe came by this picture is a story for him to tell.

So, this is a film, which from its description, reminds me of the 2007 Gordon Holmes video. But all we have left from this episode are verbal descriptions and a sketch made by Gould. Roy Mackal declared it as positive evidence, despite never seeing even a single image from the film. We can discount the seal interpretations, but are left in a cryptid limbo wondering what this long gone film actually shows. I still hold out hope that Sir Edward Mountain went to the trouble of making some still images from the film which now lie in a dusty box somewhere in some descendants' attic, unrecognizable to their new owners. Only time will tell if that avenue produces any fruit,

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com