Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Four More Forgotten Sea Serpents

      Once again I shall continue with my program of publishing old "sea serpent" reports which had evaded the attention of earlier researchers, such as Oudemans, Gould, and the redoubtable Heuvelmans. As before, my sources are the old Australian newspapers digitalised by the Australian National Library under the title of Trove. No doubt, as more and more nations digitalise their newspapers, more and more incidents will come to light, if other researchers take the time to unearth them.

North Atlantic, 1873
     I'm assuming the Western Islands in the article refer to the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Therefore, the site of the incident must have been a bit west of Ireland, perhaps about 55° N, 15° E, give or take a few degrees. A major problem is that it wasn't reported until 18 years after the event. This comes from the Tasmanian (Launceston), Saturday 12 September 1891, on page 4.
The Sea Serpent
     Yet another sea serpent story has come to light, this time through the columns of an Adelaide journal. A contributor signing himself W. J. Horawell, relates his experience of this much discussed monster as follows:- In the year 1873 and the month of September, whilst on the return passage from the coast of Chili [sic] in the bark Glanrafon, 472 tons, J. Sharp, master; owners, Messrs Richardson and Co., Swansea; and being about 300 miles [500 km] W.S.W. of the Western Islands, therefore subject to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The ship was not making more than three knots per hour, although the wind was several points free and the yards checked in. During the morning we had seen many large pink objects near the surface and around about us, but none close enough for observation, or to ascertain what they were without going out of our course. About 11 30 a.m. I was sent aloft to arrange the gear for settling the maintopgallant studding sail, and seeing one about quarter mile distance and few points on the starboard bow, I reported it to the master, who ordered the helmsman to luff up but keep the sails full, with the object of passing close to it. Unfortunately this order did not permit of our passing within sixty feet [18 m] of it, although some of the sportsmen on board were prepared to harpoon it, with a hope of making a closer acquaintance and solving a mystery. Being still aloft and on the upper topsailyard at the time of passing it, and from this elevated position I was situated most advantageously for observing its form and size and on sketching it afterwards to another apprentice (W. White) who was on the mainyard, said it appeared somewhat different and this difference was accounted for by my being about 25ft [7½ m] above him. The general impression of those on deck was that its length was 40ft, but I think this was in excess of what should be seen by them, for they were unable to discern what I presumed to be the tail turned back over the body for about a third of its length. Therefore I am safe in saying its full length was 47ft [14.3 m], and at the broadest point 10ft [3m]. The master and all hands regretted we had not passed close to it.
      With as little detail as this, at least it is unlikely he was making it up! Personally, I would not regard a width to length ratio of 21% to be very serpentine. This alone would suggest it was some sort of whale. It would not have been the last time a whale had been confused with a sea serpent. But what are we to make of the tail flipped back over its body for a third of its length? That doesn't sound very whale-like. And was it really pink? I haven't heard of any whales, or sea serpents, for that matter, of that colour. And how come there were not one, but "many large pink objects"? It is all very mysterious.

Puget Sound, 1891
     The following case involves a more conventional, honest-to-goodness serpentine shape - in a very conventional setting. Similar sightings off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington have been frequent right up to the present day, so much so that the animal has received the whimsical name of "Caborosaurus". This report comes from the Petersburg Times (South Australia), Friday 11 December 1891, page 3. Note that the story apparently took four months to reach this obscure antipodean newspaper.
A Pacific Sea Serpent
     A sea serpent in Puget Sound is the latest sensation. On Sunday, August 2, while rounding Port Williams about 7 o'clock in the evening the Sehome was passed by a huge sea monster from 30 to 40 feet [9 to 12 m] long and about a foot [30 cm] thick. It was seen by H. B. Street, the boat's quartermaster, and George W. Doney, the pilot. Street was standing near the pilot house when he saw the huge serpent swimming rapidly past the steamer. He did not realize what it was at first, but when it rose to the surface of the water he was rooted to the spot. He says the boat was running about twelve miles an hour [19 kph], but the serpent was swimming so rapidly that it passed immediately in front of the bow of the boat and went down on the opposite side.
     In describing the scene Street said:
    'I first thought it was a seal when I saw its head, but as it rose to the top of the water and I saw about ten feet [3 m] of it clear out of the water I knew it was not a seal. Then when I noticed how it lashed the water with its tail I saw that it was a sea serpent thirty or forty feet long, and it left a hundred feet [30 m] wake in the water behind it. As it passed around the bow of the boat it lowered its head and spread out a big fin on the upper part of its neck, just back of the head. It swam just like a snake and twisted itself through the water in regular snake fashion. I have been on the water a long time but never saw such a monster before. As soon as I saw what it was I called the pilot's attention to it, and he said at once that it was a sea serpent."
     Both Street and Doney are reliable men whose word cannot be questioned, and the fact that they say they saw the monster beyond all doubt establishes the fact there is or was a sea serpent in the water of the sound among the many other wonderful creatures that are found in this arm of the sea.
North Atlantic, 1894
     I don't like this story. In the first case, the distance appears to have been very great. In the second, as far as I can ascertain, the sighting took place during the morning twilight. But most of all, I don't like its style. It reads more like a short story than a news report. In the course of my investigations, I have come across "sea serpent" stories which do appear to have been intended as fictitious short stories. Nevertheless, this one was presented as if it were intended to be taken seriously as a news report, so I shall leave it to you to make up your own mind. After all, it might just that the journalist decided to insert his tongue into his cheek when he wrote up what the witness said. The source is the Evening News (Sydney), Saturday 23 June 1894, page 5.
Another Sea Serpent
STATEMENT ON AFFIDAVIT
MONSTER WATCHED FOR FIVE MINUTES
     The sea serpent has been seen again, and by a teetotaller. Discreet and circumspect is First Officer Peters, of the American. The steamer is a "tank". He keeps his tongue from deceit and his lips from grog. So when he said that he had seen a chocolate sea serpent moving over a citron colored sea everyone believed him.
     The American left Rotterdam on November 22, bound for New York, with her compartments full of water ballast. The morning of December 2 dawned with lowering clouds and a frost-laden air. A heavy sea was running, and yeasty waves bustled over the scene like the white capped cooks in a hotel kitchen at dinner time.
     According to the patent log the tank was in latitude 43deg 55min and longitude 56 deg, which is south-west of the Banks of Newfoundland. At 1min past 7 o'clock Mr. Peters grasped the bridge railing convulsively and craned his neck three points to the port bow.
     "Vas ist los mit Peters?" muttered the helmsman.
     "Shut up!" roared the first officer. "Look behind you, man, and see that drunken zigzag wake you're making. Lose anything when you came over here the last time?"
     "There, sir," said Mr. Peters, "about half a mile [800 m] away, three points off the port bow, I saw a great snake more than 100ft [30 m] long and as big around as a sugar hogshead. I could just see his back rising and falling in the sea. His head was under water and so was his tail."
     "I could see," said Mr. Peters to a reporter, "little of this big fish, and I am sure that it was not a wreck, a whale, a school of porpoises, or a lot of seaweed. I have been at sea, man and boy, these 21 years, and I know that what I saw was a big fish or a snake. He moved with a wavy motion. He bent his back into arches until he looked like a lot of crankshafts. You could see the humps plainly. They rose and fell with a steady beat.
     "The steamer  was steering west by south and the sea serpent was headed for the south-east. He was of a dark brown color. For five minutes I stood on the bridge watching this great chocolate colored snake wriggling and squirming. When we sighted him he was on the port bow, as I was telling you. When I started down to tell the captain about it the sea serpent was just abeam.
    "The captain and I came on deck a minute later and the sea serpent was gone. He had dived and disappeared. We looked for him a long time. All we could make out was the long trail of foam which he had left behind. He seemed to moved moved through the water as though he was urged on by a propeller. He left a wake like a naphtha launch.
     "What makes me certain that it was a sea serpent? Well, he was not a whale, or he would have come to the surface to blow. He was not a porpoise, for he was not the right color. It could not have been a derelict, for it would not have sunk or left a wake."
     Mr. Peters says that one of these days he will capture the sea serpent and discomfit the doubting Mr. Thomases by towing it into port.
    Needless to say, if the animal had been swimming in vertical arches, it must have been a mammal. Snakes and eels flex horizontally.

Scotland, 1896
    This story comes from an obscure rural newspaper, the Glen Innes Examiner and General Advertiser of Friday 21 August 1896, on page 4. Note that, although it dated the event to "Friday night", this could have been any Friday in the previous few months. As for the setting, Redhead is a prominent headland near Arbroath, a town on the east coast of Scotland at approximately 56½° N, 2½° E.
NATURALIST
THE SEA SERPENT
     The sea serpent has again broken loose, and seems to be disporting himself off the Redhead, near Arbroath, Scotland. The crew of the fishing boat Diligence, which arrived late on Friday night at Arbroath from the deep-sea fishing, reported having encountered a sea serpent off the Redhead on the same evening. One reporter interviewed the crew, and elicited the following narrative of what actually occurred. - the skipper of the boat is Hugh Smith, residing in South Street, Arbroath, and the other members of the crew are Hugh Smith, jun., David Shepherd, Joe. Cargill, and Robert Smith. The skipper states that between five and six o'clock on Friday night, when the Diligence was about seven miles [11 km] off land, with the Redhead bearing N.W. by W., Shepherd, the Steersman, called attention to an object which he at first took to be the sale [sic] of another boat. The object stood straight out of the water about eight feet [2½ m] high, and the head, which was of considerable dimensions, was slowly turned round in the direction of the boat. The skipper, with great boldness, shouted to steer the boat straight for the animal, but this had hardly been done when the monster suddenly disappeared. A minute or two later, however, it again appeared, this time somewhat closer to the boat, and it stood out of the water for a couple of minutes or so, giving the fishermen ample opportunity of seeing it more closely. The body was about 14 inches [35½ cm] in diameter and its head was shaped like that of a serpent. What appeared to be the tail was seen at a distance of about 30 yards from the head. The animal appeared to be timid, and no sooner caught sight of the boat than it disappeared. It was, however, seen more than half a dozen times afterwards. As may be imagined, the fishermen were somewhat put about at the strange sight, but they are firmly of the belief that the animal was a veritable sea-serpent.
     The fact that the whole crew was interviewed - but probably not separately - suggests this was not simply one man's hoax. The text is difficult to read, but it appeared to state the animal's diameter as inches. This, of course, is absurd, and I note that the identical story in a later newspaper gives it as 14 inches, which I have followed. Even so, this precision is not normal for people estimating size at a distance, and I wonder if it were not a misprint. It also sounds surprisingly small for something with a head "of considerable dimensions", and with a tail 30 yards [90 feet or 27½ metres] from the head. What a pity the reporter did not ask a lot more questions!

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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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