Wednesday 15 January 2020

1903 Was a Good Year for Sea Serpents

     1903 was a good year for sea serpents. Heuvelmans, in his classic compendium, listed a dozen cases for that year. However, here are a few which he missed. The first one is rather strange even by sea serpent standards.

Off Brazil, 1903 (?). It is always useful to check the co-ordinates in an atlas, because some hoaxes have been known to provide latitude and longitude co-ordinates for land, just to see if they can get it past the proof-readers. This location of this one appears to have been just off the coast of Brazil. This report comes from World's News (Sydney) Saturday, 28 February 1903, at page 7.

     Captain W. E. Staveley, of the steamship Clumberhall, sends the "Daily Graphic" a sketch of "a large sea monster, sighted in the South Atlantic, in latitude 21deg. 39 min. south, longitude 40deg. 12 min. west." The vessel was on a journey from San Francisco to London, and the following entry relating to the event was made at the time in the captain's private log: - "At 11.20 a.m. my attention was called, by the second officer, to a large sea monster, of an oblong and whale-back shape. In part it was of a light sand color, and partly grey, with large blotches of black. The monster measured approximately 150ft. to 180ft. [45 to 55 metres] in length, the highest part of the body to sea base measuring from about 15ft. to 20ft [4½ to 6 m]. It was in motion, and for at least five miles [8 km] in its wake the water kept perfectly smooth, as if something of an oily nature were issuing from its body. When first seen it appeared to be heading towards the steamer, and when within a cable's length [185 m] of her it headed away in a south-westerly direction. The head I could not make out distinctly, as it would only now and again show the extremes of the body." A few days after seeing this monster the captain was shown a copy of the "Newcastle (Eng.) Chronicle," containing the account of a large sea monster which had been seen in the neighborhood of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and, as the description tallied, he suggests that it may have been the same monster.

     Since making a false entry in a log is an offence, it would seem unlikely that the captain would have gone to that extent just for a joke. The story is thus probably genuine. But the creature was huge! Admittedly, its approach was no closer than a cable's length, but the witness was probably using a telescope. Just the same, how did he estimate the size? But even if it were overestimated by a factor of two (unlikely), it was still very big. Also, although many sea serpent sightings suggest a large body behind the neck, this is the first time I have heard of one lying stretched out on the surface, with its body riding so high. Also, what was its means of propulsion? It does not appear to have been by undulations.
     As for the Cape Breton monster, Andrew J. Hebda has produced a magnificent ebook (downloadable here) entitled, The Sea Serpent Chronologies, copying reports of sea monsters sighted off Nova Scotia. The incident referred to would be entry for 9 July 1902 on page 81, for the animal was estimated to have been 200 feet long, although only 50 feet of it was visible.

Fiji. This story turned up, more or less verbatim, in a couple of capital city dailies, the earliest one being The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) of Saturday 6 June 1903, on page 13.
The Sea Serpent Again
     The sea-serpent has turned up again, this time off the Fiji group. The story runs that on the afternoon of March 13 last, a Fijian missionary named Meli, whilst on a visit to the lighthouse, had his attention drawn by Abdurahim, the Indian lighthouse keeper, to a large black object that was seen lying on the surface of the water close by the shore reef, and which is distance about 500 yards from the bluff on which the lighthouse is erected. From the heights of the bluff a good view is obtained, and the lighthouse keeper and his companion, the only two observers, were afforded the opportunity of witnessing the movements of the monster, which lay, as it were, almost under their eyes.
    They described the strange visitor as being about 30ft. [9 metres] long, and about as thick through as a small cask, and showing nothing but a long snake-like body.
The creature lay quite still for a considerable time, then slowly raised its head out of the water to a height of about six feet [1.8 metres], and, apparently satisfied with the survey of its surroundings, started off with a king of corkscrew twist, and with a big splash disappeared below, head first. The by now excited watchers of the unique spectacle pulled themselves together before the waters were again disturbed, and the sportive serpent once more came into view, and a similar performance to the first one was gone through. These evolutions were repeated several times, clearly demonstrating that the marine visitor was, in a way, thoroughly in accord with the theme of "A Life on the Ocean Wave."
     Feeling satisfied that the aquatic display was over, the Fijian missionary betook himself for a stroll. His story concerning that stroll is to the effect that upon reaching the beach he saw the sea serpent lying on the beach, three parts in the water, with its head resting on the shore and looking and probably feeling as comfortable as could be. He describes the head of the creature as being about the size of a powder keg.
     One really wishes they had provided a more detailed description, because the length and thickness don't sound too snake-like to me. They are consistent with some species of cetacean ie a whale or dolphin. The behviour is also that of a cetacean, provided that we assume that there was no bend in its body when it raised its head out of the water. However, lying with its head on the shore is definitely not a cetacean behaviour. A whale or dolphin in that position would be stranded. For that matter, I don't know of any case where it has been recorded of a sea serpent, either, but I note Heuvelmans' opinion as to why there are no sea serpent strandings: a long, serpentine creature could wriggle out of the shallows.

Off Victoria, British Columbia, 1903. Of course, this is our old friend, "Caborosaurus", which has been raising its horse-like head off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington right up to the present day. This report comes from the Australian Star (Sydney) of Thursday 25 June 1903, on page 3.
     A Victoria despatch dated April 14 says:-
Officials of the cable station at Bamfield Creek are sponsors of the story that a sea-serpent from forty to sixty feet [12 to 18 metres] long, and with a head like a horse, has been seen off the station. The cable operators say, in letters to the local newspapers, that Indians had been telling of the existence of a sea serpent, but the stories were not credited. David Osborne, one of the officials, say that a week ago the animal was seen from the cable station to raise its big, horse-like head and swim out of the mouth of the Bamfield Creek into Barclay Sound. Mr. Godson, of the cable staff, says that when he first saw the animal it looked like a massive sea weed, but presently he saw the head elevated and the big serpent move off with the speed of a torpedo-boat. On April 10 an Indian saw the thing, and was so frightened that he ran his canoe into the breakers, left it, and fled along the beach to the cable station. The Indian said the thing had a head shaped like a horse, and its body, ten feet [3 m] of which was lifted, was the size of a barrel. The Indians in the neighbourhood are terrified.
Montrose, Scotland, 1903. Montrose, of course, is a city on the east coast of Scotland, just 38 miles or 61 km north of Dundee. This report comes from the Catholic Press (Sydney) of Thursday 29 October 1903, on page 23. You will note how the original journalist did not bother to ask any questions, or obtain any but the bare details of the story, except that, exaggerated or not, the creature must have been enormous.
Our Friend the Sea Serpent
     This year the sea serpent has been long in coming, but the faithful creature has appeared at last. According to the British Press Agency, a trawler in operation off Montrose made out an extraordinary monster recently. All the hands have been at sea for years, and they have never witnessed anything like it before. The monster was swimming northerly at a great rate, and noiselessly. Its head appeared from four to six feet [1.2 to 1.8 m] long, and then 60 feet [18 m] behind was a huge protrusion, and behind again another protrusion. The monster's noiseless motion is said to have a most uncanny effect.
Orkneys, 1903. This brief article comes from the World's News (Sydney) of Saturday 19 December 1903, on page 20.
     Perhaps disturbed by the magnetic storm, the sea serpent has made a tardy reappearance near the Orkney Islands and off the east coast of Aberdeenshire. Its only claim to novelty appears to be that in color  it is "a pure white."
     On Sunday morning (November 1), says the "Daily Mail") the fishermen at S. Andrews saw a strange sea monster, swimming eastwards, at the back of the old castle. It lived up to the best traditions by swimming with an undulating motion and exposing about 12ft. [3.6 m] of body at a time, it being about 4ft. [1.2 m] broad. Unfortunately, the head was modestly kept under the surface, and the full length of the serpent can only be guessed.
     It was followed by a great number of seagulls and by two fishermen in a boat, but the pursuit was unavailing, and the sea serpent when last seen was heading due east, with some appearance of haste.

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