Sunday, 14 February 2021

The Long Necks of 22nd September 1933


Illustrated London News 13th January 1934

Was Friday the 22nd of September 1933 an auspicious day for Monster Lore when something happened for the first time? According to Loch Ness expert, Adrian Shine, this was when the classic long neck made its first appearance in the loch waters (see link). Sure, some couple from London had previously reported a grotesque sight with a writhing neck on land, but in the monster's prime domain, it had finally raised its imposing long neck and small head.

And not only that, witnesses were treated to not one but three reports of long necks that day. Or was it one long neck? The story begins at about 9:30 in the morning. Water Bailiff, Alex Campbell looked out on the loch from near his cottage to behold a sight he later described as prehistoric. 

Suddenly my attention was drawn to a strange object that seemed to shoot out of the calm waters almost opposite the Abbey boathouse ... the swan like neck reached six feet or so above the water at its highest point, and the body, a darkish grey glistening with moisture was at least 30 ft. long. I gauged this carefully in my mind's eye by placing two ordinary rowing boats of 15 ft. overall length end to end, and I don't think I was far wrong, because I have had lots of experience of that sort of thing, because I have lived on the shores of the loch all my life - apart from the last war years.

Still watching and wondering if I would have time to run for my camera, I heard the noise of the engines of two herring drifters (they call them trawlers in England) which were proceeding down the lower basin of the Caledonian Canal, which enters the loch almost alongside the Abbey boathouse. The animal certainly must have heard, or sensed, the approach of these vessels too, for I saw it turn its head in an apprehensive way, this way and that, and, apparently being timid, it then sank rapidly out of sight, lowering the neck in doing so, and leaving a considerable disturbance on the mirror-like surface of the loch. The animal would have been some 400 yards from where I stood, possibly less, and I had a very clear view of it which lasted several minutes.

The sketch above of what Campbell saw was drawn for reporters who came up some weeks later. But the monster was not finished for the day as it submerged and swam up the loch in close tandem with the two trawlers, apparently not so frightened by them as it kept to its natural element deep below. By 11 o'clock in the morning, one and a half hours later, it stopped and surfaced for whatever reason these dark denizens feel the compulsion to stop. This was just north of the village of Invermoriston almost in a line with the Halfway House, a tea room built by the Altsigh river to take advantage of the increased traffic on the now widened and improved Inverness road. That's about seven and a half miles from Fort Augustus as the monster put in a leisurely four and a half knots (about 5 mph).

Time for another display as more than half a dozen witnesses stopped their activities to gaze from the balcony upon this awesome sight as the sun continued to shine brightly upon a calm loch. The Inverness Courier reported the events four days later as follows:

Miss Fraser, the proprietrix of the tea room, the "Halfway House," which occupies an excellent position overlooking the loch. near Altsigh. told a Courier representative that on Friday, about noon, she and upwards of half-a-dozen people, including two ladies from the Parsonage, Glen Urquhart, who were having tea at the time, watched the creature disport itself for almost fifteen minutes. The loch being dead calm and the sun shining strongly, they watched the "monster" raise its head, then its back (which seemed to consist of two very pronounced "humps") above the surface of the water, and calmly proceeded to amuse itself by swimming about the loch.

Two steam drifters, which were passing, did not appear to cause the creature any concern, and from this it seems possible that the "monster" is now becoming quite reconciled to their presence, for up to within the past few weeks its always seemed to take fright and disappear on the slightest provocation. 

Other eyewitnesses were Mr and Mrs Simpson, who live at Altsigh, and their daughters and Mr George Macqueen, an A.A. scout, who patrols the Fort Augustus-Invermoriston road, and who saw the creature opposite Port Clair. Mr Macqueen said that when he saw the "monster" it was just like an upturned rowing-boat but it was travelling at a great speed.

It is interesting to note that on almost every occasion on which the "monster" been seen the weather conditions were the same as on Friday - calm and bright. It would be interesting to learn whether the crews of the drifters which were proceeding to Inverness noticed the "monster" on Friday, as the Altsigh witnesses think that they could not possibly failed to have seen it.

Miss Fraser's Sketch

Miss Howden's Sketch

Mrs Fraser's Sketch

To these we can add the following sketch done for The Scotsman newspaper dated 15th November 1933 where one of the Halfway House ladies describes a frill or mane attached to the neck.

Lt. Cmdr. Rupert T. Gould tells us in his 1934 work on the monster that the creature was about 1000 yards from the witnesses, or about halfway across the loch and somewhat to their right with the sun behind the creature. Eyewitness sketches are shown above and his interview with some of them adds more detail and he refers, as usual, to the monster as "X":

[X] remained in view - without much change of position, but rising and sinking slightly from time to time - for some ten minutes. The head and neck rose almost vertically out of the water. Miss Fraser concentrated her attention upon these; and their general appearance, by her account, was that of "a mythical creature." The head was slightly "dished" - "like a terrier's," she put it - in front; and at the junction of the head and neck, when facing her, she noticed a kind of frill, which she described as like "a pair of kippered herrings."

She also noticed what appeared to be a large glittering circular eye in the head, in the position in which one would expect an eye to be situated. X moved its head from side to side, and the "eye " appeared to move with the head. [I am of opinion that this "eye" was produced by irradiation, or reflection - see above, as to the sun's position.] The head and neck rose and sank periodically; moving more or less vertically in doing so.

Miss Fraser only remarked the head and neck; but Miss Howden also noticed two humps, and " something indefinite" which might be a "tail." The colour of head, neck and humps was dark; but in the bright sunlight it might have been anything from dark-brown to dark-grey. Mrs. G. Fraser also saw the head and neck, two humps and an indefinite tail. She first noticed a splashing in the water, at one end of what appeared to be a "long stretch of glittering silver," showing up against the (comparatively) dark surface of the water.

Then the head and neck rose slowly out of the water at the opposite end, remained in view for a minute or so, and then sank. They reappeared, and slowly rose higher, than before, while two humps appeared close behind them. The splashing from the tail end had ceased by this time, but the " silver streak " was still visible. The head turned slowly from side to side. X did not appear to be discomposed by a vessel passing on the far side of the Loch, but ultimately headed towards Invermoriston, moving quite slowly. 

It finally sank and did not reappear, having been almost continuously in view for over a quarter of an hour. Mrs. Hobbes (and a friend, Miss Mullock) saw what she described as "two shining eyes, separated by a dark perpendicular line." She took it, at first, for a steamboat with its lights showing. They left the balcony, and drove in their car to a point from which they hoped to get a closer view; but by that time X had finally submerged.

Mrs. Fraser told Gould that she noticed one of our trawlers near the monster but Gould failed to track down the vessel. The Monster pressed on northwards, leaving a clutch of bemused people in its wake. Three hours later, at about 2 pm, it was the turn  of Mr. D. W. Morrison and others to be dazzled. These people were at the Balnafoich residence perched high on a hill near Dores. The house was about 600 yards from the shore and 250 feet above the loch. The animal was a similar distance from their shore as the sun continued to shine and it was at the end of its hike, turning back the way it came. Gould continues again, quoting Morrison's letter to him:

It was heading towards Fort Augustus, and passed in front of the observers, from right to left, at a speed of some 15 miles per hour (13 knots). At its nearest approach, it was roughly 950 yards away; and it submerged when approximately 2,200 yards 241° from Balnafoich, having been in sight for some four minutes.

When it sank, a trawler was in sight about a mile away, steaming towards Inverness along the far side of the Loch. X looked like " a huge caterpillar," and appeared to move "with an up-and-down motion, and not the lateral motion you would expect in a giant eel. ... The portion of the body above water was in a series of humps, with water spaces in between. I should say that there were about seven humps, some possibly two feet above the water-line, and with Nos. 3, 4 and 5 more prominent than the others as if indicating the larger girth of the body amidships

I regret that I am unable to say how these portions of body compare in proportion with the water spaces, and there is no point in my guessing. My drawing, however, seems to represent it fairly, as I saw it. The head I should describe as 'snake-like,' similar to an adder and tapering. It would, however, be approximately the same bore as the neck, which appeared to be at right angles with the water when raised. . . . The head was not apparent unless raised. ... My camera had been left in my car at the top of the drive - about 300 yards away. ... I debated fetching it, but was unwilling to give up my view of the creature, which might in the meantime have disappeared, and again I knew that at that distance it would have appeared only as a speck, if that." 

Altsigh to a point parallel to Balnafoich is 12.5 miles, so our creature was again averaging about four knots (4.5 mph). It is at least consistent in this one thing, though it put in a final spurt of 16 mph according to Mr. Morrison. In some ways, this day was the real debut of the Loch Ness Monster - in terms of its iconic pose, thrice seen for emphasis. Within a short time, the national press was picking up the story and sending their journalists north. The legend was beginning to solidify into a certain form.


The location of each sighting is denoted on the map below from Alex Campbell's at the bottom to D. W. Morrison's at the top with their times in parentheses. The question you may be asking is whether this was indeed the adventures of one large thirty foot creature? 

The main objection leveled against this view would be that the sketches of the eyewitnesses look different enough to suggest different creatures. However, when one considers that the four different sketches to the Halfway House incident refer to the same creature, then this argument is not compelling. If eyewitnesses to one event cannot produce the exact same sketch, then why should others to potentially the same creature at other locations and times?

I would further suggest that if the witnesses were asked to sketch the boats which were in the vicinity of their sightings, these would be recognisable as boats, but they too would have degrees of variation to them. Such is the imperfection of eyewitness testimony; but let us not allow the sceptics to own this subject. Yes, eyewitnesses are imperfect recording machines, but not to the extent scepticism wishes to impose upon them. At 400, 1000 and 1250 yards respectively, there is certainly increasing scope for some error. But we must also remember that the presence of the trawlers in all three events provided useful frames of references for our eyewitnesses to make a determination of the large size of the creature.

But what about the sketch by Mr. Morrison which shows six humps? It is perfectly acceptable for us to go from Campbell's single hump to Howden's two humps, but reconfiguring from two to seven seems a stretch. I thought about this and noted that Morrison's sighting was the furthest at over 1200 yards. Was it possible he had misinterpreted some of the water turbulence behind the monster as low lying humps? I think that is a possibility, though what was behind the long neck could also have been a combination of one or two humps with waves.

Then we come to the matter of Alex Campbell. Poor old Alex Campbell, he does get some flak from the critics. When Adrian Shine stated that this was the first long neck in water event, he was referring to the women at the Halfway House as the first witnesses to the long neck of Nessie in her natural habitat, he would have discounted Campbell's account as cormorant misidentification, because that is what Campbell himself admitted to at one point before recanting. Mind you, Adrian would be classing every other sighting that day as misidentification.

Constance Whyte's 1957 recounting of Campbell's sighting places it on our date of 22nd September. The fact that he mentions two trawlers and the Inverness Courier account from the Halfway House also mentions two trawlers tends to corroborate this date. So Alex Campbell appears to be the first person to see a long neck in water, perhaps. I have written a previous article on Alex Campbell's sighting and why it should not be dismissed at this link


Having noted Adrian's statement that the women at the Halfway House were the first witnesses to a long neck in the loch and my counter that Alex Campbell claims the prize, it turns out we are both wrong. As I came to the end of this article, I double checked some old paper printouts I had made from the microfilm rolls of the Inverness Courier held by the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. A clipping was discovered from the 2nd September, which relates how Mrs Barbara Macdonell and Mrs. A. Sutherland at Port Clair watched a 30 foot creature from less than one hundred yards away with a huge flat head and "wriggly" neck plus a single humped back.

So the prize goes to to these two ladies, but it only takes a little gloss off that special day about three weeks later when the Loch Ness Monster went on a tour of the loch before a dozen or more gaping humans. The earlier sighting was just a dress rehearsal, the big show came on the 22nd September.

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