Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The Georgetown Sea Serpent, 1888

     Did a sea serpent turn up in Georgetown Harbour in 1888? On page 573 of The Great Sea-Serpent (1892), A. C. Oudemans features a list of hoaxes, culminating at the bottom of the page with:
The sea-serpent is distinctly seen in Georgetown Harbour, on the 20th. of August, 1888, sleeping on the surface, &c. - Chambers' Journal, 1888, Nov. 24. - (R. P. G.)
    The three last initials stand for Mr. R. P. Greg, who provided him with his whole collection of clippings. But why was it classified as a hoax? Did he know something he wasn't telling?
    Needless to say, Bernard Heuvelmans followed it up, but also thought little of it. On page 227 of In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents (1958), he writes simply:
     There was also the sea-serpent which was seen sleeping peacefully in Georgetown Harbour in British Guiana on 20 August 1888;
to which he adds the footnote:
The date is as doubtful as the sea-serpent, since I have not been able to find the original report. The issue of Chambers' Journal cited by Dr Oudemans mentions Georgetown but no sea-serpent.
    It doesn't look good, does it? However, in Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2002), George M. Eberhart states:
On September 25, 1888, Captain  Springs of the tug Henry Buck was towing a schooner in Winyah Bay, near Georgetown, South Carolina, when he spotted a 50 foot animal swimming on the surface with its head 3 feet in the air. The head was vermilion, and the neck was covered with a long mane. The captain's story was corroborated by others.
    For this, he cites "The Sea Serpent", St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 27, 1888, p. 6.  This sounds like a reference much closer to the actual event.
     Never fear! The original reports have serendipitously fallen into my hands - albeit unmoored from their original source. I have seen this happen before. A story is published on the other side of the world, picked up by newspapers in the general locality, and then, by a process known only to journalists of the era, vanishes into the ether, whence it is again picked up, months after the event, by some obscure rural Australian newspaper, which was presumably more up-to-date with events in its own vicinity.
     This story therefore comes from  the Western Star and Roma Advertiser of Toowoomba, Queensland, on page 4 of the issue of Saturday 1st December 1888.
The Sea Serpent
A MONSTER OF THE DEEP IN FRESH WATER.
CAPTAIN A. A. Spring, of the steam tug H. L. Buck, brings a strange story from Georgetown. On Saturday his tug had in tow the schooner Jessie Rosaline, on her way to the bar, and had just passed the wreck of the Harvest Moon, which lies in the edge of the channel, when a little boy, seven or eight years old, son of Mr. C. W. Forster, directed his attention to something in the water over the port bow, and asked if it was a bird. Being in charge of the wheel, he paid little attention to the child's question, merely glancing in the direction indicated. He noticed what at a glance seemed to be some large bird floating in the water. He heard the mate of the tug whose attention had evidently also been attracted, remark that it looked like the back of a drowned black. When passing abreast of the object his attention was again called to it. The boat was moving rapidly through the water, so that when he had secured his glasses the object was about two hundred yards away. He examined it intently and carefully, and made out nearly its entire shape. It seemed resting or sleeping, the head and body being more or less exposed to view as the waves rose and fell about it. The mouth appeared to be beak-shaped, the head oval and quite large. The body looked to be as large as a flour-barrel, and lay upon and in the water in the curves common to snakes while swimming. The tail was not at first entirely visible. While looking intently at the monster something - possibly the noise of the tug - seemed to arouse it, and in an instant it threw its tail into the air, exposing fully fifteen feet [4½ metres] of its length, and lashed the water into foam. It swam off in the direction of what is known as Muddy Bay and the Mud Flats, where it was impossible for the tug to follow it. The colour of the monster was very dark. As well as could be judged, the portion of his tail lifted from the water was eight or ten inches [20 to 25 cm] in diameter, and his estimated length thirty feet [9 m]. The captain of the schooner, who got a much nearer view, estimated the monster's length at fifty feet [15 m]. As the point where it was seen the water is fresh, as it is several miles below, and Captain Spring thinks the animal was made sick by it, and if he does not find his way back to salt water very soon his life will be the forfeit his rash visit to port, and science may yet have an opportunity of fixing his identity.
     You will note that the article has been taken, without any alternation, from some publication for which the context was obvious, but which provides no indication as to the precise date it occurred, or at which Georgetown. For all the reader might have know, it could have happened the previous Saturday at George Town, Tasmania!
     More than two months later - on Saturday 9 February 1889 - the same story, but told by a third party, appeared on page 4 of an even more obscure Australian newspaper, the Kadina and Wallaroo Times of South Australia. This time it was clear that the event took place in South Carolina, because of the proximity of Charleston. This time, too, it tells its source: some mysterious publication called Iron.
A NEAR VIEW OF THE SEA SERPENT.
     We wonder how many more times the sea serpent will have to be killed before it is finally exterminated. The latest apparition of the hydraheaded monster has this time been in American waters, where it made its debut on Thursday, August 20. Captain Hubbard, of the steamer Planter, plying between Charlestown and Georgetown, reports that the sea serpent was seen in Georgetown harbour on that day, half-way between the port and the bar. This is what he says:- "The tug Henry Buck passed within two hundred yards of the monster, and the captain examined it carefully with his glass. Be says he made out nearly its entire shape. It seemed to be resting or sleeping, the head and body being more or less exposed to view as the waves rose and fell about it. The mouth appeared to be beak-shaped, the head oval and large. The body looked to be as thick as a flour barrel, and lay upon in the water in the curves common to snakes while swimming. The tail was not visible. While looking intently at the monster, something (possibly the noise of the tug) seemed to arouse it, and in an instant it threw its tail into the air, exposing fully 15ft of its length, and lashed the water into foam. It swam off in the direction of what is known as Muddy Bay and the mud flats, where it was impossible for the tug to follow. The colour of the monster was very dark. The length is stated to be about 50ft. That portion of the tail lifted above the water was between 8in and 10in in diameter. At the point where it was seen the water is fresh for several miles below, and Captain Springs, of the tug, thinks the animal was made sick by it. It is thought that the monster cannot get out of the harbour. As soon as the news was received an expedition as made up to go in search of it, and it is possible that the sea serpent problem may yet be definitely settled." Up to the time of going to press we have received no solution of the problem; so we suppose the expedition is still in search of the "varmint." - Iron
     You will note there is no mention of the mane, or the vermilion head 3 feet in the air, as reported by Eberhart. By and large, the animal does not appear to have been particularly outrageous as sea serpents go, and I suspect that the label of "hoax" was premature.
     You will also note some discrepancy as to date. The first article says Saturday. The second says Thursday 20 August, but 20 August fell on a Monday in 1888. (It fell on a Saturday in 1887, if that is relevant.) And, in case you are interested, 25 September 1888 was a Tuesday. Perhaps when someone finds the original source, we will be able to work it out.

5 comments:

  1. Hi Malcolm,

    It appears there is not one primary, single source for the story. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 27, 1888 edition was one of many American newspapers that carried the story in the days of September 27 to 29. Here's a partial list from my sea serpent sightings database of other American newspapers that ran the account:

    27 September
    ‘Corralling The Sea Serpent’, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, Thursday, 27 September 1888.
    ‘The Sea Serpent Described’, The Sun, New York, New York, Thursday, 27 September 1888.
    ‘The Sea Serpent’, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Ohio, Thursday 27 September 1888.
    ‘That Sea serpent Again’, The Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, Thursday, 27 September 1888.
    ‘The Sea Serpent Seen’, The Times-Democrat, New Orleans, Louisiana, Thursday, 27 September 1888.

    28 September
    ‘The Sea Serpent Described’, Evening Star, Washington, District of Columbia, Friday, 28 September 1888.
    ‘Our Old Marine Friend Again’, Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, Friday, 28 September 1888.
    ‘Still Living’, Lincoln Evening Call, Lincoln, Nebraska, Friday, 28 September 1888.
    ‘The sea Serpent’, The Leavenworth Standard, Leavenworth, Kansas, Friday, 28 September 1888.
    ‘The Sea Serpent’s Trip South’, The Wilmington Messenger, Wilmington, North Carolina, Friday, 28 September 1888.
    (brief mention) Fort Scott Evening Globe, Fort Scott, Kansas, Friday, 28 September 1888.
    (brief mention) The Decatur Herald, Decatur, Illinois, Friday, 28 September 1888.

    29 September
    ‘The Sea Serpent Seen’, The Weekly Times Democrat, New Orleans, Louisiana, Saturday, 29 September 1888.
    ‘A Monster sea Serpent’, Waco Morning Star, Waco, Texas, Saturday 29 September 1888.
    (brief mention) The Herald-Despatch, Decatur, Illinois, Saturday, 29 September 1888.

    Best regards,

    Theo Paijmans

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Terrific! It sounds like they all came from some central source. That leaves three questions open. (1) Was the date of the encounter reported? (It seems unlikely to have been 20 August.)
      (2) Was any further information provided? I'm particularly interested in the vermilion head and the mane.
      (3) Is there any reason to suspect a hoax - apart from the fact that it deals with an unknown animal, of course?

      Delete
  2. Here's a supplementary addition to my previous bibliography:

    ‘The Sea Serpent’s Trip South’, New York, New York, The New York Herald, 27 September 1888.
    ‘Letter From Charleston’, Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, Friday, 28 September 1888.

    October
    North Carolina, Durham, The Durham Recorder, 3 October 1888.
    Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, The Times, Tuesday, 2 October 1888.
    ‘The Sea Serpent’s Fame’, South Carolina, Georgetown, The Georgetown Enquirer, October 17, 1888.

    December
    ‘A Near View Of The Sea Serpent’, Milton Bruce Herald, Milton, Otago, New Zealand, Tuesday, 18 December 1888.

    The Iron, 'the mysterious publication' that you mention, is the England, London newspaper named 'Iron'. It published the sea serpent account under the header 'Occasional Notes - A Near View of the Sea Serpent' in its Friday, 26 October, 1888 edition.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have checked all the archives available to me - and the first appearance of captain Hubbard's story in those archives is in several newspapers on 27 September 1888.

    A number of the accounts (27 September and later dates) mention the vermillion head and mane - others do not. Captain Hubbard was a further source of news items it appears, as for instance in this 1 October 1892 New York Times item: https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1892/10/01/104147644.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wonderful post You have done a great job.

    ReplyDelete

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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