Saturday, 26 August 2017

Anitpodean Sea Serpents, 1932-9

     In the past, I have written a number of posts on sea serpents, gleaned from Trove of digitalised Australian newspapers. I had thought I had covered them all, but a recent visit to this article by Andrew Nicholson started me on the quest again. Once more, the provisos mentioned in earlier posts apply. The reports were usually copied from one newspaper to another, with the result that I have chosen to quote what appear to be the earliest and most detailed account in each instance. Also, investigative journalism was not in vogue; the reporters simply repeated the information volunteered by the witnesses, without questioning it, and without asking for any more. But, in any case, they took them seriously. It makes one wonder how many sightings occur today and are never recorded.
     With this in mind, let us take a peek.

      Ocean Grove, 1934. 1934, as I recorded previously, was the Year of the Sea Serpents, but this is one I appear to have missed. Ocean Grove, Victoria, is close to the major city of Geelong, and is situated at approximately 38° 16' S, 144° 31' E. The following comes from The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) of Friday 2 February 1934 on page 12.
ANOTHER SEA SERPENT 
At Victoria Resort 
MELBOURNE, February 1. 
      A mild sensation has been caused at Ocean Grove, a popular seaside resort in the Geelong district, at a report that a "sea serpent" was seen a quarter of a mile [400 metres] from the beach yesterday. The monster, which was seen by eight persons, had, they say, two dark grey fins, which rose 4ft. out of the water. Several holiday-makers were swimming when the monster rose to the surface. The part of the body that could be seen was dark grey or black, and a portion flashed white in the sun.
     The proprietor of a local guest house told an interviewer to-day: "It was the strangest thing I have ever seen in my life, I am sure we were not deceived by a school of stingrays. I had a good look at the monster. It appeared to me to be long, and had a sinuous body like sea serpents that are so often described. The fins were clearly visible between 3ft. and 4ft. [90 - 120 cm] above the monster's black back, and lower down the body it appeared to be white. It dived several times, and then reappeared. I am sure we did not see the whole of the monster, as it kept diving."
     The monster did not reappear to-day, but a close watch is being kept.
      It need hardly be mentioned that estimates of distance and size at sea, without a known object as reference, are likely to be unreliable. Just the same, I find the report intriguing. Were it not for the double fin, I would identify it as a killer whale. Even so, I am not prepared to rule out some known species.

     Anglesea, 1934. Anglesea is just a short distance down the coast, southwest from Ocean Grove, at 38° 24½' S, 144° 11' E. This report is very weird, and I don't know what to make of it unless, of course, it is an outright hoax. This also comes from The Courier-Mail (Brisbane), Thursday 22 February 1934, page 13.
 STRANGE SEA MONSTER
 Victorian Fishermen's Experience
 MELBOURNE, February 21.
     The sea serpent which startled a number of holiday makers at the popular seaside resort of Ocean Grove recently has been seen again. At least local residents believe that another monster, which was seen off Anglesea, further down the coast, at the weekend, is of the same type as the Ocean Grove monster.
When emptying crayfish pots off Anglesea fishermen found that the ropes of three were entangled round a huge fish. They described it as being about 9ft [2.74 m] in length, with a 6in [15 cm] neck, and a head measuring about 15in [38 cm] in length and 10in [25 cm] in breadth. There were two fins or flippers near the head, each measuring about 3ft 6in [107 cm] by 1ft 6in [46 cm]. The body, which was of a dirty black colour, was 4ft [1.2 m] across and about 2ft 6in [76 cm] in depth. There were five distinct spines showing down the back. One of the fishermen struck several blows on the monster's head with the tiller, but the timber bounced off without making an impression. The monster then slipped from the ropes and disappeared.
     This, may I humbly suggest, is a pretty poor specimen of journalism. We are not told how many fishermen were involved (?three), and I am willing to be bet they weren't questioned separately. In fact, I doubt if they were questioned at all. It should be obvious that the animal was not measured while alive, and the measurement estimates in feet and half feet confirm it. I am therefore suspicious of the estimates of 10 inches and 15 inches. This is not how people normally estimate size by eye. Also, I would have thought that any witness of  basic education can distinguish between a fin (a fine membrane stretched between thin rays) and a flipper (solid flesh around a bony frame). Nor are we told whether the fin or flipper was attached to the body by its long or its short axis. Were there any scales or tail fin? The "five distinct spines" suggests a fin but, although I am no ichthyologist, and am aware that there are a lot of bizarre-looking fish out there, I find it difficult to imagine a fish with a neck and a swollen body. On balance, I think this was a hoax.

     Burnett River, Queensland, 1934.  This is another one of the 1934 contingent which I missed in the earlier article. The Burnett River, as every Queenslander knows, is the site of the major city of Bundaberg. However, these sightings took place upriver, close to the mouth, which is located at approximately 24° 15' S, 152° 13' E. Note that the Round Hill mentioned refers to a local site, not the modern town much further north. The report was published in The Telegraph (Brisbane), Thursday, 11 October 1934 on page 19. It even refers back to the Mourilyan Harbour, Townsville, and Bowen sightings of that year.
SEA SERPENT?
Seen Near Burnett River
     A strange sea creature, which is stated to resemble closely that reported at intervals during the past few weeks as having been observed at the Barnard Islands, near Mourilyan Harbour, and at Townsvllle and Bowen, has been seen on several occasions recently off the coast in the neighbourhood of Round Hill, a short distance north from the mouth of the Burnett River.
     The creature was last noticed on Sunday morning by a fishing launch, which was travelling south, those on board having an opportunity of observing it at fairly close quarters for nearly half an hour. Several times it approached the beach so closely that to those in the launch it appeared that it was in danger of being stranded.
     The description of the monster, both as to size and details, corresponds roughly with that of the sea serpent first seen at the Barnard Islands, in Northern Queensland, by Mr. W. Chung's party, on August 12. It had a peculiarly-shaped head on the end of a long and thin neck, which at intervals was raised above the water in a sideways sweeping motion, but it seemed to be more active, it being stated that it kept moving along the surface of the water with great rapidity, travelling in wide circles. After about 20 minutes it suddenly moved out to sea, remaining on top of the water until it was lost to sight.

     Portland, Victoria, 1935. Portland lies at 38° 20' S, 141° 36' E. Five or six kilometres from the town centre stands Point Danger, the southern extremity of Portland Bay, and Black Nose Point is a small nubbin just to the north of Point Danger. The following is from the Portland Guardian of Monday 24 June 1935, on page 2.
THE LOCH NESS MONSTER.
Appearance at Portland.
     In Saturday's "Star" appears the startling announcement, headed by a grotesque sketch of the monster, that a sea serpent has found its way into Portland Bay. We have heard of its appearance, but will give the credit to the "Star" of vouching for the authenticity. Here is what that journal says:-
     He's turned up again.
     Who ? Why, the old sea serpent of course.
     Which goes to show that you can't keep a good sea serpent down. Since almost the dawn of Time he has been popping up in all corners of the globe. The trouble is he never stays long enough in one place to let us have a good look at him - the mean thing. Now he has honored Portland with a visit - a bit late for the Henty landing celebrations last year, but, as every good sea serpent knows, better late than never. Anyhow, sea travel still has its hazards, and one can never be sure of reaching a given port at any given time, even if one is a sea serpent.
    A report from Portland states that while strolling along the beach beyond Blacknose Point one day this week two lads saw what they thought was a school of porpoises When the object came closer they were so startled they climbed to the higher ground, where they had a better view, and were also further away, because, as they said, "They did not know if it had legs."
     The body, it is reported, was a slaty blue color, from 80ft. to 100ft. [24 to 30 metres] long, with a neck between 15ft. and 20ft. [4½ to 6 metres] long, the head being something the shape of a giraffe's. The head was high in the air, the body had a dorsal fin and a wide tail, something like that of a whale, with serrations on the end, and slaty grey stripes along it. The object was travelling parallel with the shore.
    It then turned and went out to sea. The head and neck were visible high in the air for several miles out. As the tail thumped the water in travelling along, great masses of spray arose. Now, one can only wonder where the old gentleman will turn up next.
    That sighting would tend to quash Dr. Heuvelmans' theory the "long necked" sea serpent is a species of (tailless) seal.

     Barwon Heads, 1935
     Barwon Heads is just a stone's throw from Ocean Grove, and not far from Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff. The following report appeared in many Australian newspapers on Wednesday 31 July 1935. I have taken this from the Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld), page 7.
"SEA SERPENT"
EYES LIKE SAUCERS
Has Many Characteristics
BARWON HEADS MYSTERY
     MELB. RNF July 30.
     After lying low for many months the Barwon Heads "sea serpent" has reappeared. This mysterious monster, which has on previous occasions made well-authenticated appearances in this locality, is said to combine the characteristics of a snake, a whale, a sea lion, and a seal, with other features unknown to science.
    Two Queenscliffe fishermen have reported that as they were sailing three miles [5 km] off Point Lonsdale, yesterday evening, their boat was threatened by an aggressively poised creature 20 ft [6 metres] long and 8 ft [2½ metres] thick, with a head four times the size of a diver's helmet, eyes like saucers, a neck 3 ft [90 cm] long and like  a snake's, and a coat of short, black  fur. The men fired shots at the monster, which dived suddenly as though wounded.
 "IMMINENT SWOOP." 
     One of the fishermen said that they first noted the monster about 3 yards from the boat with its head poised in an attitude suggesting an imminent swoop upon them. After the first shock of amazement had passed he picked up a gun and fired, whereupon the creature disappeared, only to return more belligerent than ever. A second attempt to shoot it brought a misfire, and the third shot apparently went home, as the serpent dived in a flurry of water.
     "I thought we were gone,'' the fisherman said. "I do not know what it was, but it was strange enough for a museum and ugly enough for a nightmare."
     Road workers about a mile [1.6 km] from Barwon Heads attempted early yesterday to capture a creature which they described as about 18 ft [5½ metres] long, of a grey colour, with a head and neck like a serpent's, an enormous mouth, a fur coated body, and a white striped chin. It slid from the rocks as they tried to lassoo it. It is considered that this was the creature which a little later appeared in the sea off Point Lonsdale.
     I wonder why they took a gun on a fishing trip. Anyhow, on the same day, on page 11, The Sun (Sydney) identified the fishermen as Arthur and Herbert Hoppen, and reported that scientific authorities identified the "monster" as a leopard seal, Hydrurga leptonyx, which can reach up to 3.6 metres in length, and the coloration more or less matches the description. I have no doubt they were correct - or, if not, it might be some other sort of seal, such as the southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonina, the males of which can be 4.2 metres long, but is brown in colour. Fear no doubt caused the brothers to overestimate its size. From other sources, it appears the event took place on 29 July, the same day as the attempted capture of a "monster" by some road workers. This is described in more detail in the News of Adelaide, 30 July 1935, on the front page.
STRANGE SEA CREATURE
Workmen Attempt to Lasso It
HAD COAT OF FUR
     MELBOURNE, Tuesday.
     WORKING on the new road between Barwon Heads and Torquay yesterday, a man looked over the cliff and saw what he thought might be a whale, a seal, a sea lion, or something from the sea not usually shown in museums or picture books. The foreman sent a number of men to the beach equipped with ropes and a draught horse to capture it. On the way down they decided to take the object alive, and to put it on exhibition for so much a head for charity or some other purpose nearer home, After trying to lasso the monster from a distance they decided not to curtail its liberty. In any case, the visitor ignored their attentions and waddled into the sea. A description supplied is:
     About 15 ft. [4.6 metres]  long, greyish color, snake-like head, with an enormous mouth, white stripes under the chin.
    It then went on to report the experience of the brothers Hoppen.
    The craze for mistaking seals for sea serpents wasn't over. Airley's Inlet is just a short drive down the coast from Barwon Heads, and an even shorter distance beyond Anglesea. This is from page 49 of The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton) of Thursday 8 August 1935.
WEIRD MONSTERS
Two From Victoria
MELBOURNE. July 31. 
      Victoria appears to be in danger of being overrun with fearsome monsters unknown to science unless something is done about it. Hard on the heels of the news of the reappearance of the Barwon Heads sea serpent near Queenscliff comes a report from Airey's Inlet of the appearance of a sea monster, which appears to be a younger and smaller relative of the creature seen at Queenscliff.
     J. Davis, of Airey's Hotel, who saw it lying on the fringe of the surf, said the body was about 10 or 12 ft. long, and about 2½ or 3½ ft. in girth. The head was a light grey in colour, and it had a sparse coat of darker coloured hair. It had big eyes like those of the Queenscliff monster, but there were no stripes on the body. The head was round.
     No doubt about it this time! It was a leopard seal. Airey's Inlet was, I might add, the scene of a real sea serpent sighting in 1973.
     The newspaper article then goes on to relate a story of a strange creature, like a grizzly bear, in Gippsland, and continues:
MELBOURNE, August 3. 
     The Queenscliff "sea serpent" has reappeared. It is 40 ft [12 metres] long, and has a snakelike fin on the back, 11 ft [3.3 metres] long, according to Messrs J. Mannix and B. Hoppen, who report having seen it four miles [6½ km] off West Head, near Flinders.
     Messrs. A. and H. Hoppen, both fishermen, who reported having shot an extraordinary sea creature on Monday, will not accept the theory that it is a sea leopard seen at Airey's Inlet. They say the creature they saw resembled a toothed whale, or a monstrous blackfish, and had some features of the Antarctic conger eel. It did not in any particular resemble a sea leopard or a seal.
     Mr J. A. Kershaw, former director of the National Museum, was unable today to provide any solution of the latest sea problem. He said that in his wide experience of deep sea species he had met with none the description of which would fit that supplied by Messrs. Hoppen and Mannix.
     One might find this a little confusing because of the multiple people called Hoppen. Essentially, the second paragraph refers back to the brothers Hoppen who shot at the monster off Port Lonsdale. The other was a B. Hoppen who, with a friend called Mannix, claim to have seen something different, and truly extraordinary. Flinders, where the event took place, is located some distance away, at 38° 47' S, 145° 02' E. Here is a more detailed description from The Mail (Adelaide), Saturday 3 August, on page 2. After three paragraphs with only slight verbal differences from the above, it continues:
     Mr. Hoppen said: "We have both become so accustomed to sea  serpent
stories that neither of us was startled much when the pale head of what seemed to be a great black snake came out of the water. We saw it first 500 yards away, then it reappeared 400 yards closer, and then again only 25 yards distant. At that range we could see that the black column which drooped realistic ally like a snake's head, was the tip of some form of growth or a fin on the back."
     On the following day the men saw the creature again in the company of another blackfish, which, however, carried no projection.
     Cronulla, 1935. Five months later something else turned up at Cronulla, at Port Hacking, which is now the southernmost part of the Sydney suburban sprawl. The following is from page 4 of the Manilla Express (NSW), Tuesday 10 December 1935.
SEA SERPENT
Seen at Cronulla
     Residents of Cronulla are discussing a remarkable story of a strange creature, "like a sea serpent," which is said to have appeared in the sea at Port Hacking early in the week. About five persons claim to have seen the creature, but nothing definite is known of it, except that it had a long neck, topped by a small, flat head. Descriptions given after the event vary considerably. One man said that what he had seen might have been a swimming deer, with its head held high out of the water. Another, the only person who obtained a clear view  was convinced that it was "the grandfather of all the sea snakes."
    According to the account given, about a dozen persons, five of them adults and the rest children, were bathing in the Oak Park ocean pool, near Cronulla, shortly before 4 o 'clock on Monday afternoon, when the "serpent" appeared close to the wall of the pool, near a school of porpoises. It swam strongly, and raised its head high out of the water four or five times before it was lost to sight as it made its way out to sea. It appeared grey in colour.
     "I will admit that I did not get a very clear view," said Mr. Cheetham, of Cronulla, "but the only, reasonable explanation is that we saw a deer. There are scores of  them in [the] National Park, and quite recently one was found in the  bay, and helped ashore by fishermen. "I heard a man, whom I now know to be Mr. Bransgrove, shout out, and about 30 seconds later saw a head and neck rise out of the water about 100 yards from the pool. It disappeared and reappeared, each time further away from the pool, about three or four times, until finally we lost sight of it. It might have been a deer lifting its head out of the water in an attempt to see the land."
     "It is ridiculous to say that it was. a deer;" said Mr. Bransgrove, another Cronulla resident. "I had a good, clear view. My shout attracted attention; but unfortunately no one else saw it until it was further out in the bay. I was looking out to sea when a long, tapering neck, with a head like a snake on top of it, suddenly shot up out of the water like a pole. There was at least eight feet [2½ metres] of the neck out of the water, whatever there was below it. It seemed to be  of  a mottled colour. The creature, whatever it was, was close behind a school of porpoises, and chased them out to sea. Apart from the size, no deer could possibly swim at that pace."
     And now let us cross the Tasman.

     New Zealand, 1932. In In the Wake of the Sea Serpents, Dr Bernard Heuvelmans records a sea serpent sighting by a Mr. Bellamy, and then adds a footnote to page 430.
He also mentions, almost equally vaguely, that a little while before 1933 Captain J. Munroe saw, off North Cape, New Zealand, a 150-foot animal as thick as a steamer's funnel.
     Well, perhaps Mr. Bellamy had access to a more detailed newspaper article. As for me, I am limited to the Newcastle and Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate of Saturday 25 June 1932, page 7.
SEA SERPENT?
Strange Monster off N.Z.
TRAWLER SKIPPER'S STORY
 WELLINGTON (N.Z.), Friday. 
Captain Munro, master of a trawler, declares that he and two members of his crew saw a sea monster between Three Kings and North Cape on Monday. The monster, said Captain Munro, rose almost perpendicularly from the water until 30 feet [9 metres] of its body protruded. There was no sign of fin or tail, and the body appeared to be as round as the ship's funnel. It broke the water 50 yards away three or four times.
      New Zealand, 1939
     The sea between the two islands of New Zealand became the focus of a number of sightings in the middle of this year. The following brief note comes from page 10 of The West Australian (Perth) of Friday 9 June 1939.
SEA SERPENT
Strange Object in N.Z. Waters.
WELLINGTON, June 8 - In a letter to the "Evening Post," Mr H. C. Christian of Terawa, Pelorus Sound reports having seen  what he took to be a sea serpent in Tasman Bay last Friday. It appeared, he said, to be be eight or nine feet [2.4 to 2.7 metres] long and eel-shaped. The tail protruded from the water about three feet [90 cm], being split or comb-shaped at the edges. The head had her appearance of a dog's head and had hair on the top. The serpent turned towards the launch when the craft approached. When the launch got within 40ft [12 metres] of it the serpent submerged.
       I'd love to see the original New Zealand newspaper. The story also ran the same day on page 8 of The Age (Melbourne), which added that Mr. Christian had two companions in the boat, and that the length of the animal could not be estimated, but that at least nine feet were above water. (If he saw both head and tail, surely he could have made a more accurate estimate.) The day before (8 June) the News of Adelaide recorded on page 11 that the other two witnesses were Mr. Christian's sister-in-law and a native (ie Maori) workman. It confirmed that eight or nine feet were above water, and that it "moved and submerged, later rising again."
      Next we have the following story from The Daily News (Perth) of Thursday 15 June 1939, on page 26.
SEA SERPENT BOBS UP AGAIN
WELLINGTON, Thurs.
     The dog-headed sea serpent, which a Terawa man claimed he saw week ago in Pelorus Sound has been testified to by others. A Dunedin man says he saw the beast some time ago but did not dare to face sceptics. A Wellington fisherman says he and a friend sighted the serpent in Cook Strait and agreed with the description given by Mr. Christian, of Terawa. At first it appeared to be a partly-submerged tree but closer examination showed it was some strange form of marine beast. He said the neck was about 5ft. [150 cm] long and the head like that of a dog with hair on top. It disappeared as their boat approached. 'We did not mention seeing it as people are inclined to be sceptical of sea serpent stories,' the fisherman added.
       Another brief note comes from page 7 of the Daily Mercury (Mackay) of Thursday, 20 July 1939.
SEA SERPENT AGAIN 
     The sea serpent off Nelson (N.Z.) has been seen again! A launch party reports that it has a small head covered with hair, two tiny ears, and a long neck which was rearing several feet out of the water. Some distance behind the neck, four feet of tail was seen. As the launch approached, the serpent disappeared.
           On Monday 31 July the Advocate  of Burnie, Tasmania, ran a longer article on page 2 about what appears to have been a different sighting, and it also provides some of Mr. Christian's exact words in his original letter.
N.Z. "SEA SERPENT"
 Hairy. Head and Tiny Ears
 TAIL CURLED OVER BACK NELSON
     (N.Z.), Sunday.- Once again a "sea serpent" is reported to have been seen by a launch party off Pepin Island, Cable Bay, but on this occasion it was no fearsome monster, but comparatively small, little more than 8 ft. long and about the same size round as a large conger eel. The creature was seen by Mrs. E. E. Kawharu, of Burville Island, and other members of a launch party which was proceeding past Pepin Island recently.
      Mrs. Kawharu said that when first seen the creature was some distance from the launch and about a chain and a half [20 metres] from the shore, basking in the sunshine, and was thought to be a piece of driftwood. As the launch drew near a small head with very tiny ears could be seen perched on a long neck about 2 ft. out of the water. The head appeared to be covered with a growth of hair. Curled over its back was a tail about 4 ft. long, fish-tail shaped at the tip.
     The launch got within 15 yards of it when the creature dived and disappeared. Mrs. Kawharu said that it was not fearsome in appearance, but she had never seen anything at all like it before.
     Early last month, Mr. H. C. Christian, of Te Rewa, Pelorus Sound, reported that while passing Pepin Island in a launch with his sister-in-law and a young native workman, they saw what appeared to be the branch of a tree sticking out of the water. It had a somewhat swanlike shape, and appeared to be 8 ft. or 9 ft. long. As they got closer to the object they found that it was alive, and it turned its head toward the launch.
     "We noticed that its tail, which protruded about 3 ft., curved back toward the centre of the fish, and was split or comb-shaped at the edges," said Mr. Christian. "The head was somewhat like that of an eel, but rather of the appearance of a dog's head, with hair on top, and was 3 ft. out of the water. A most peculiar feature was that when we saw it first it appeared to be quite still, although fully two-thirds of the fish was out of the water, and it remained in that position until I turned my launch toward it, and we got within 40 ft. of it, when it submerged. I have been 35 years in this territory, and have seen nothing like it before,"
     The small size initially suggested an eel to me, but the consistent references to tiny ears, hair, and now the neck protruding out of the water would tend to argue against this interpretation.

     And now for something light.


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The Possum Book

I am pleased to provide a link to a website of a friend of mine, Robyn Tracey, who has written a fascinating story about her dealings with brush-tailed possums in the outer suburbs of Sydney. You can download the book for free, or read it on the site. Go to: The Possum Book.

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