Saturday, 3 November 2018

Forgotten Sea Serpents, 1880 - 1886

     I am back from America now, so I might as well get back to work. Just over a month ago I recorded four forgotten sea serpent reports from 1879. This time I shall introduce three incidents from the years 1880, 1885, and 1886 respectively. Once again, please note that these are new cases ie reports which have apparently never been discovered by earlier researchers, but which were picked up by various Australian newspapers from overseas sources. Presumably there are a lot of forgotten cases "out there" in local newspapers in all corners of the world.

Newfoundland, 1880. The following is taken from The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld) for Saturday 31 January 1880, on page 15. Nevertheless, I cannot be certain that the event actually took place in that year, because there was frequently a significant lapse before the Australian press picked up the reports. The Capricornian appears to have been the only newspaper to carry the report, and it attributes it to an "American Paper".
THE MONARCH OF THE SEA.— When off the Newfoundland banks recently, an officer of the steamship Anchoria noticed a disturbance in the water about a mile [1.6 km] distant on the port beam. At first he thought the commotion was caused by a school of porpoises, but, on closer observation he changed his mind. When he looked through a pair of strong glasses be saw the head and body of the sea serpent rising above the water. Portions of the back of the creature could be seen rising out of the sea at intervals as it propelled itself along on the top of the water. Its motions were similar to those of the land snake as it moves along on the ground. The water in the wake of the creature had been lashed into foam by its tail. Its head was large and contained an enormous mouth, which opened frequently and spat out large quantities of water. Its tongue, which was extremely long, could be seen at times, but no teeth or fangs were observed. The body of the serpent was round, and its colour was black. It was moving in the same direction as the steamship, and at a greater rate of speed. When the creature had got a little ahead of the vessel it sank down into the water and disappeared. The officer estimates it to have been fully as long as the steamship, which is 408 feet [124 m] in length. — American Paper.
     The length has clearly been exaggerated - or else, the wake was confused with part of the tail. The enormous head spitting out water suggests to me that it may have been a baleen whale, despite the reference to an extremely long tongue.

Orkneys, 1885. This brief report was apparently taken from the Scotsman, and published in the Weekly Times (Melbourne) of Saturday 5 September 1885, on page 4.
The Sea Serpent Again.
The sea serpent has been seen in Orkney waters. A number of men well known in Kirkwall, and whose veracity is above suspicion, upon going over to the point at Scargum, near Kirkwall, to fish, saw moving in the water a huge monster, which they described as follows : It was about 100ft. [30 m] long, round in shape, and covered with brown hair. When seen it was swimming with great rapidity, and those who observed it were so frightened that they ran away. The report has caused great excitement in the town; but a local naturalist gives it as his opinion that the supposed monster must have been a shoal of seals following each other in Indian file fashion, which, he says, is not an uncommon sight during the breeding season. —  'Scotsman,'
    I suspect the  "local naturalist" might have been right, because very few sea serpents are described as being covered with brown hair. However, a shoal of seals would give the impression of a row of humps rising and falling. It was a pity the witnesses weren't asked such obvious questions as how the "monster" swam, what the head looked like, the distance, and the duration of the sighting - all of which appear to be of little relevance to certain journalists.

Massachussetts, 1886. At this period the "New England sea serpent" was gaining a certain notoriety. Heuvelmans had apparently heard a brief, second hand account of this case, because on page 290 of his book occurs the following footnote:
Some witnesses were respectable: G. P. Putnam, principal of a Boston grammar school and a namesake of the well-known publisher, saw one off Gloucester . . .
     Here, then, is the full account, taken from page 2 of The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA) of Tuesday 12 October 1886, which is the earliest record I could find.
A Fine View of the Sea Serpent
A Boston Schoolmaster Gives a Detailed Account of the Animal.
The Serpent Seen by 50 People.
Renewed evidence has been given during the past week (says a recent issue of the Philadelphia Weekly Press) by trustworthy persons that something like a  sea serpent is off the Massachusetts coast. Mr. G. B. Putnam, master of the Franklin School, Boston, writes from Pigeon Cove:—This afternoon about 1.15 o'clock a lad, the son of Calvin W. Poole, was seated upon the rocks near the "Linwood" when something in the water attracted his attention. He immediately ran to his father, who was surveying near by, and, pointing to the object, called out—"The sea serpent! The sea serpent!" Mr. Poole brought his powerful glass to bear upon it, and was at once satisfied that it was the veritable sea serpent. He was about one-fourth of a mile [400 m] from the shore and about two miles [3.2 km] from where he was seen last month. He was moving slowly in a northerly direction. It was a dead calm, a smooth sea, with a bright sun shining, so that there was the best possible opportunity to observe his motions. The distance passed over while visible was at least a mile [1.6 km], and the time occupied not far from twenty minutes. Mr. Poole called my attention to his snakeship at once, and as he passed directly by my cottage I was able with an excellent marine glass to observe his movements, which corresponded exactly with those described by Dr. Sanborn last month, as well as those given in Harper's Monthly some years since, also the accounts given of one seen in Gloucester Harbor about 1817. The head was frequently raised partially out of the water, and the movement was a vertical one, showing some 10 or 15 ridges at once. I should say that he was at least 80 feet [24 m] in length. There were perhaps 50  persons who witnessed the passage in part at least, among whom were  Samuel Bullock, master of the Bunker Hill school, Boston; Professor Stephen Emery, of the N.E. Conservatory, with his family; Capt. Jackson, the artist, James Hurd, and several guests at Linwood, as well as four members of my own family. I shall never doubt that the sea serpent is a fact.

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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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