Wednesday 1 July 2020

Lost 19th Century Sea Serpents

     As I said in my May 2020 post, I thought I had finished with forgotten sea serpent reports, when Paul Cropper suggested I look at the newly digitalised Singaporean, and some Malayan, newspapers. As before, I have checked every report against those in Heuvelmans' In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents, and my own Forgotten Sea Serpents, based on Australian newspapers. Anything not found in these is assumed to have been overlooked by previous researchers. So here goes.

 Norway, 1878. This took place at a fjord close to Ålesund (pronounced something like "o-luh-soon", and spelled "Aalesund" in the report), which is located at 62½° N, 6°E. The untitled article appeared in The Straits Times of 12 October 1878, on page 4.
     The sea serpent would appear to be ubiquitous. He is heard of at intervals on the China Coast, in the Straits of Malacca, in New Zealand Waters, and in the south American seas. The following in the latest account of the creature taken from the London Echo of 3rd September.
     AT LAST - just as we were despairing of his appearance - our old but retiring friend, the "Sea Serpent" has made his appearance. In due season the three-legged chicken, the half-ounce gooseberry, the centenarian who walks four miles every day, the gigantic hen's egg, and the rest of the familiar concomitants of autumnal journalism, will claim chronicling. This time the Sea Serpent has appeared in one of his very old haunts - namely, off the coast of Norway, near Aalesund, between Bergen and Drontheim. It was in this region that it was observed upwards of two centuries ago, as recorded by Bishop Pontoppedian, in his learned work on the natural history of his native land. This time, however, no credulous bishop but Mr. "Joachim Anderson, Danish Consul at Aalesund, formerly member of the Jury at Philadelphia for the fishery group" was the witness of the marine "serpent's" exploits. They - the serpent and Mr. Anderson - were near Aalesund, at Valdersund Fjord, last Sunday afternoon - a week ago - when the serpent rose to the surface of the water. His head was of the dimensions of a large dog, but "very flat and considerably narrower round the neck. The trunk appeared to be about twenty metres [65 feet] long and two-thirds of a metre [about 2 feet] in diameter." There was no mane and no scales, and, though chased by a fleet of boats on this and the two following days, he escaped and has not again appeared. . . . 
China Sea, 1878. This report, untitled, comes from The Straits Times of 5 October 1878, page 4. As far as I can establish, Cupchi Point, or whatever it is called now, is on the Chinese coast at 116 degrees east ie about 220 km northeast of Hongkong.
     The sea serpent has been once more heard of, this time in the China Sea, heading towards Hongkong, where its arrival will perhaps be more welcome that the typhoon which the weather prophets there has been prognosticating for some time. The China Mail of the 21st September gives the following account of it:- 
   On the 17th instant, about 7 a.m., whilst the good S.S. Yungching was on her downward trip from Shanghai to this port, the monster was observed scarcely two ships' lengths' distance on the port side of the vessel, the steamer being then off Cupchi Point. It reared its head out of the crested billows, and shook itself as if proud of being observed and to assure all sceptics of its living, moving, wriggling existence. Its length roughly estimated was something over 60 feet [18 metres], the circumference of its body was about as thick as a man's leg, and its skin was speckled. The first person on board the Yungching to observe his serpentine Majesty was a Celestial [ie a subject of the "Celestial Empire", China], the supercargo, who at once called the attention of the Chief Engineer to its presence; most of the officers were either asleep or dressing, so that they had no opportunity of witnessing to the fact. Why will these flaws in the evidence always creep in? Every one on board should have seen the monster; a written statement should have been drawn up, giving the length, breadth and other details as taken from each observer's point of view; and endeavours should have been made to capture it. . . .
     The article continues in the same vein, without adding any more detail. While capturing it might have been a tall order, I can't help agreeing with the rest of that final sentence. If only journalists would ask questions, instead of just reporting the information volunteered!

? Red Sea, 1883. I have not been able to locate the island of Jubal-Zukor, but it appears to be somewhere in, or near, the Red Sea. This extremely brief, untitled report comes from page 2 of The Straits Times of 21 February 1883.
     Her Majesty's troopship Crocodile which arrived in Bombay about the end of January, reported having seen a sea serpent off the island of Jubal-Zukor. It appeared to be about 200 feet [60 metres] long and was visible for some minutes, but on the approach of the ship it gave a great splash and disappeared under water.
 South Africa, 1885 or 1886. Page 424 of Antoon Oudemans' book, The Great Sea-Serpent contains the following brief annotation:
1885, October 4. - Near Umhlali  (Umlazi ?) in Morewood's Bay, South Africa.
     I have not been able to locate Morewoods Bay, but not far from Umlazi is the town of Umhlali, and Umhlali Beach is situated at 29° 30' S, 31° 14' E. At any rate, I am taking this report from The Straits Times Weekly Issue of 6 March 1886, page 2, but apparently the story originally appeared in the Aberdeen Weekly Journal and General Advertiser for the North of Scotland of 30 January 1886.
The Sea Serpent Again
    From advices brought home by the last arriving Cape mail steamer, it would seem that the great sea mystery, the sea serpent, has just made its appearance in South African waters. In this instance, it was not seen to the terror of the sailor, but was observed from the shore. According to the despatch, a huge monster was observed about four o'clock in the Morewoods Bay, Umhlalily, by eight or nine people. It was first seen seven or eight miles [11 to 13 km] from the shore, swimming in a very erect manner. from the first sight it seemed as if there were two fish, but a closer inspection proved that the near one was the tail of the serpent. According to the account furnished by those who witnessed the sight, the monster appeared to proceed at the rate of about eight miles an hour [13 kph], occasionally plunging into the water, making a noise as if a sea was breaking heavily on an open shore, and causing foam to extend for about twenty yards on either side of it. It appeared to be about 15 or 20 feet [4½ or 6 metres] out of the water, and its whole length was computed at not less than 90 or 100 feet [27 or 30 metres]. Fins like immense oars were seen striking the water on either side. It had a large stripe down the body, the remaining portion being of a dirty yellowish colour.
      Well, at least it can be recognized as one of the "long necked" types, although the colour scheme was rather strange. However, it would have been nice if we had been informed just how close it got to the coast, because I doubt if anything pertaining to its size and sound could have been noted at 7 or 8 miles. Indeed, without any other frame of reference, it is difficult to judge size in the open water. All that can be said is that looked very big.

Burma, 1897. This report comes from The Straits Times of 17 August 1897, on page 2. Although brief, it is, to say the least, rather colourful.
     It is reported in the Times of India that a sea serpent has been seen off Bassein on the Burma coast. The monster was 60 feet [18 metres] long, proportionally thick, and of a yellowish blue colour. It had two horns, and was sighted by passengers of the Hazara. It was chasing porpoises with jaws wide open, showing fangs fearful to contemplate.
East of Vietnam, 1898. This more detailed report comes from a weekly called The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser of 7 July 1898, on page 5. This was also clearly one of the "long necked" variety. The dorsal fin is unusual, but I am reminded that something similar was sighted off Port Stephens, Australia in 1925, by the crew of the Saint-François-Xavier.
    Mr. N. H. Burgh, 3rd Officer S.S. Pak Ling writes as follows to the Hongkong Telegraph: -
     Sir, - Thinking the following might prove of interest to the general public I send herewith an account of an animal seen from the upper bridge of this steamer, and which upon close examination proved to be the far famed sea-serpent which has been described so often in the various newspapers of the world. I "sighted" this monster about 11 a.m. on the morning of 15th inst. in Lat. 15 deg. 10 min. N. and Long. 112 deg. 40 min. E., and when first seen it was about half-a-mile [800 metres] on the starboard bow and was travelling in a W.N.W. direction at the rate of about 4 or 5 knots an hour [7 - 9 mph], the "ripple" where its body touched the water being distinctly seen.
    Its head and body was [sic] reared to a height of fully 20 feet [6 m] above the water, and I should calculate its extreme length to be about 70 feet [21 m], whilst the girth of body was fully 6 feet [1.8 m]; it was also possessed of an immense dorsal fin thickly covered with long hair or seaweed of a light brownish colour.
    Its progress through the water as it swayed its huge body backward and forward appeared to be a succession of graceful, undulating movements of about 10 strokes to the minute.
    I had always been sceptical of the existence of such animals, but after what I and others have so recently witnessed I am fully convinced that such animals exist.
    Altogether the creature was in sight about four minutes, and disappeared when within 200 yards of the ship.
    Kowloon, 18th June, 1898.
    P.S. - We were as you are doubtless aware bound from Singapore to this port at the time, and the animal in question was evidently making for the Paracel Group.
Persian Gulf, 1898. Here we have another very brief account from The Straits Times, this time on page 2 of its edition of 26 August 1898.
     The captain of a steamer sighted the sea serpent in the Persian Gulf last month. It had a long body with huge bull-shaped head with two large fins or flappers behind it, and an enormous pair of jaws. The length would probably be not more than 70 or 80 feet [21 - 24 m]; the body was of a dark colour, speckled with streaks of a dirty white.

No comments:

Post a Comment