Sunday, 1 November 2015

More Forgotten Sea Serpent Sightings

    Pity poor Dr Bernard Heuvelmans! He wrote In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents before the advent of the internet, which means he had to carefully cull bits and pieces of information from the far corners of the world, squirreled away in obscure newspapers and magazines, often having to rely on brief summaries in secondary sources. These days, at least in Australia, you will find the vast majority of newspapers, even minor local ones, digitalised on Trove to at least 1955. This means that a some casual references made by Heuvelmans can be investigated in more details. Let's try a few.

Carlisle Castle, 1874.
     On page 305 we have a reference to Captain Austin of the Carlisle Castle having seen a "varmint" on the voyage to Melbourne. There were no details and no date, but a description and drawing was said to have been published in the Melbourne Argus, but that it was ridiculed by a journalist of the English Daily Telegraph. Heuvelmans' information apparently came from a journalist writing under the name of "Vagabond".
     I actually found Vagabond's article, but it contained nothing except what is mentioned above. I can, however, confirm that no drawing was published in the Argus. Indeed, although some newspapers cited the Argus as early as 5 January 1875, I could find no reference to the beastie in that newspaper on or before that date. What could easily be ascertained, however, was that the Carlisle Castle docked at Melbourne on 1st January that year, and on 4th January telegraphs began flying to the effect that a sea serpent had been sighted by the crew on 10 October 1874 at 45° N, 12° W. That makes it slightly northwest of Spain and somewhat further southwest of England. It must have happened on the second day of the voyage.
     The most detailed report I could discover was in The Mercury (Hobart) of Thursday 7 January 1875 on page 3.
The sea serpent has again made its appearance (says the Argus), it having been seen by those on board the ship Carlisle Castle during the voyage from London to this port [Melbourne]. From the statement of those on board, it appears that, at 6 o'clock on the morning of October 17th, when in 45deg. north lat. and 12deg. west lon., the ship steering W. by S., a large serpent crossed her wake about 30 yards distant. The head, and about 6ft. of the body, were out of the water, and was distinctly visible. The head is described as like that of an immense snake. The length of the reptile could not be distinctly ascertained, but it was considerable.
    That's not much to go on. It is interesting that a sighting made not far from Spain was primarily recorded in Australia.

Off Fremantle, Western Australia, 1900
     The sea serpent witnessed by the crew of the S.S. Perth off Western Australia was mentioned only in passing, recording how the captain of the Nemesis had talked to his counterpart on the Perth and concluded that they had both seen the same thing. The Nemesis sea serpent was weird enough to deserve a separate article, but what about the Perth? Here is the initial report, as published on page 2 of the Gouldburn Evening Penny Post on Thursday 16 August 1900.
THE SEA SERPENT AGAIN.
     Perth (W.A.), Wednesday. - A remarkable story was told at Fremantle to-day by Captain Campbell and the members of the crew of the steamer Perth, which arrived from Geraldton. The captain states that at 8 o'clock this morning, when about 30 miles from Fremantle, a huge sea serpent was seen. The first officer on the Perth was the first person to witness the monster, and he called Captain Campbell. The weather was quite clear, and as the vessel passed within a hundred yards of the monster all on board had a perfectly clear view of it. No definite estimate could be formed of the length of the animal, as it was not all seen. The captain says fully 20 feet of the animal stood straight up out of the water. The head and the portion of the body seen resembled a serpent, but when a side view of the body was obtained it appeared to be somewhat flat, and about 6ft, wide. It had a black back and a white belly. The creature appeared to be attacking a small whale, which could be seen spouting, and once its back was visible on the surface of the water. The serpent lashed the water with its body, and whenever the whale stopped blowing and went deep into the sea the strange monster also disappeared. Neither remained long at the surface. The whale and the serpent were travelling in a southerly direction, and were visible for fully an hour from the steamer.
     From this it would appear to have been what Heuvelmans labelled a "long-necked sea serpent" - and a pretty big one at that, if the head and neck measured 20 feet [6 metres].
     A fortnight later, the ship was docked in Melbourne, which gave a journalist another chance for a more detailed interview. The following was published in the South Australian Register of Thursday 30 August, 1900, on page 3. The reference to De Rougemont was to a notorious fantasist, whose wild story embarrassed The Wide World Magazine in its first year of operation.
  ABOUT THE SEA SERPENT.
   A MAN WHO HAS SEEN IT.
  A few days ago a report, telegraphed from Western Australia, was published, describing a phenomenal sight which the captain and his officers and several of the passengers on board the steamer Perth declared that they had seen' during the trip between Geraldton and Fremantle. It was nothing less than the world-famous and still little believed-in sea serpent, the many marvellous stories about which have provoked so much mystery and scepticism during the past 30 years. The steamer Perth was recently lying at the Australian Wharf, Melbourne. Her captain, Mr. Angus Campbell, a sober-minded Scotchman, who has apparently none of the characteristics which made De Rougemont notorious, a man of sincerity, and one who is not at all likely to allow his imagination to play pranks with him, was interviewed by a representative of the Melbourne "Age."    "I have no reason for expecting that I shall again have the good luck to see such an ocean monster," was the reply given by Captain Campbell to a remark made by the reporter.  Asked whether he had seen anything like the creature previously, the captain remarked, "No; it's the first time in my life— and I've been a good many years at sea— that such an extraordinary thing has come under my notice. You must understand that I wasn't the first man aboard to observe the 'serpent.' The steamer was returning from Geraldton to Fremantle on the 15th inst., and we were having a nice fair-weather run. At about 8 a.m., when we were between Cape Leschenault and Wreck Island, about 12 miles off land and 35 miles north of Rottnest Island, the chief officer, Mr. Neale, who was on the bridge, saw the giraffe-like object upreared vertically from the surface of the ocean, and immediately he rushed to me and reported that there was some unseemly monster disporting itself about 100 yards away from the vessel. Eager to see what the creature was, I at once ran up to the bridge, and, after waiting a couple of minutes, saw the uncanny creature raise its head and body 20 ft. out of the water. It would remain in that position for about a minute, and then disappear. This pastime it indulged in most regularly for a long time.  A small whale, too, occasionally made its appearance, and appeared to be at war with the other monster. I noticed that the whale never appeared above water during the time the sea serpent was visible. They seemed to take turn about in coming above and going under the water. I watched their manoeuvres for fully a quarter of an hour, and then went down to breakfast, but several of my crew and some of the passengers who were on deck watched the serpent and the whale for a full hour. A good view of them was to be obtained from the boatskids. As far as I could judge with the aid of my binocular, the monster appeared to be 6 ft. in breadth, with a flattish body, and the head and scales seemed to be similar to those of a snake. The head was black and small, and, like that of the ordinary reptile, falling away at the neck and widening at the body, which was white. During the time the monster's head and body were visible it lashed the water into foam. Both of them were travelling in a southerly direction, and I only wish," added Captain Campbell, "I had had a snapshot camera, so that I could have photographed the whale and its companion or adversary, whichever it may have been."    The captain, in closing the interview, significantly remarked, as if anticipating what a certain class of sceptics would say on reading of his wonderful experience, "You may set down the fact that I am a total abstainer, and in regard to the others who witnessed the remarkable sight, it may be as well to add that there is no bar on board this vessel."
Batesman's Bay, 1931
SEA SERPENT?
   Two fishermen, G. Patrech and Bill Lawler, declare that they saw a sea-serpent at the mouth of the Clyde River at Bateman's Bay at 8 a.m. on Friday. The creature broke the surface 8ft. [2.4 m] from their boat, and diving, appeared three times more before finally disappearing. The men describe it as being 12ft. [3.6 m] long and 2½ ft. [75 cm] in diameter, with a flat head with white jowls. The body was brown. The men made for the shore immediately.
The Braidwood Review and District Advocate, Tues 21 July 1931, page 6.      Bateman's Bay is half way down the New South Wales coast south of Sydney. This article is pretty typical of how the press dealt with the situation at the time: they took it seriously, but asked no questions, merely reporting what the witnesses volunteered. In fact, this sounds more like some sort of seal to me. From the size and the flat head, my guess would be a leopard seal, Hydrurga leptonyx, even though the back is more dark grey than brown.

Ulladulla, 1934
     Last year I reported 1934 as "the year of the sea serpents", but it looks like I missed one. Ulladulla is also a town on the south coast of New South Wales - at 35° 21' S, 150° 28' E. This report comes from The Shoalhaven News and South Coast Districts Advertiser, Saturday 10 March 1934, on page 2.
Sea Serpent?
    A correspondent at Ulladulla writes to the "Milton Times":-
    We know all about sea-serpents, but -
     Last Wednesday morning the Tetley brothers were going down the school road to the sawmill, when something in the harbor attracted their attention - some object standing up out of the water, just off the end of the wharf. At first it appeared to be a limb of a tree, but while they watched it raised itself until at least six feet of it appeared, and at the distance it looked like a big dog's head, and the head was waving about after the manner of a snake. They hurried to get a closer view, but the monster didn't wait, and before they got close enough it disappeared under the water. But they both swear to it being an animal, a fish, or at least something alive, and now all the fishermen's launches are armed with harpoons, hoping for a strange catch.
Pablo Beach, Florida, 1891
     Does anybody know exactly what happened at Pablo Beach (now Jacksonville Beach ), Florida in 1891. The only clue Heuvelmans provided was this illustration, which bears all the hallmarks of being the work of someone who wasn't there.
 Greg Jenkins, on page 194 of Chronicles of the Strange and Uncanny in Florida (2010) recorded it thus:
     According to an old newspaper article, a series of sea serpent incidents was taking place off the coast of Jacksonville Beach in 1891 that was creating quite a stir for this modest coastal town. The sea serpent spotted back then was described as being twenty to thirty feet long, about the size of an eel, along with what appeared to be small fins or flippers at its side and black, slimy skin. But it was the facial features which startled the Jacksonville bathers most: the creature had a round head containing a face that resembled a dog's.
     In between walking the boardwalk and enjoying the penny arcades that lined the beach then, it was only natural for locals and visiting vacationers to take a dip in Florida's cool, healing waters. As they did, some of the bathers noticed something slick brushing up against them as they waded in waist-deep water. Apparently, at first nobody was too alarmed by this, likely thinking that it was nothing more than fish swimming by. But all that changed when a scream rent the air, disrupting the idyllic summer scene. Not long after, several people began swimming towards the shore as fast as they could while screaming that a sea monster was out there and that it was coming after them.
     According to eyewitnesses, something long and dark was indeed chasing the bathers about twenty yards from the shore. Though no one was able to take a photo of the creature, the event made the local newspapers and was later described in several magazines of the day, with headlines like "Living Sea Monsters off the Coast of Florida Found!" and "Sea Serpent Frightens Local Bathers!" Indeed, very few people doubted the stories, and most made sure to stay out of the waters until something was done about it. Though there were no more sightings on Pablo Beach, around this time many of the local fishermen claimed that the fish in the area were becoming hard to find. Whether this was due to the alleged sea serpent is anyone's guess, but the fishermen sure felt that the beast was eating all the fish.
     As his source, Jenkins cited Heuvelmans' book. This is absolutely, definitely not true. Heuvelmans published nothing except the above illustration. On page 78 of America's Loch Ness Monsters (2000), Philip L. Rife allotted just two sentences to "a dog-like head held erect on a long neck". His reference was pp 128-9 of Strange Sea Stories and Legends by Bill Wisner (1981). I don't know what Wisner's source may be. I suspect it is secondary sources all the way down.
     The original reports must be squirreled away in some local, quite possibly extinct, newspapers of the period. Perhaps some of my American readers with time on their hands can research the matter. You won't need to go through the whole twelve months; I'm sure even in Florida people did not go swimming all year round.

Singapore, recently
      Finally, this is one which just last month. It was published in the Fortean Times book, It Happened to Me!, volume 1, which is a compendium of personal stories which its readers sent in. This one was by S. J. Adams in 2001. I am not prepared to rule out a prosaic explanation, but the story should at least be publicised so that people can make up their own minds. I shall therefore repeat the entire account from page 90.
     I once saw a sea serpent in the well-used shipping lane at the back of Singapore Island. We were rounding Changi Point, only about half a mile (0.8 km) from the shore, entering the Johore Straits for the run up to Sembawang Dockyard.
     I was leaning against the rail, scanning the shore through a good pair of binoculars. There were two or three people on the beach looking out to sea, or at us, or whatever, when I spotted a grey-black, sinuous body, about one foot (30 cm) thick, with the conventional sea serpent humps, undulating through the water only about 150 yards (137 m) away in a flat sea. I saw no head, only a series of grey-black humps, and I watched it for at least half a minute, as we passed by at 11 knots. Then it quietly slipped below the surface and disappeared.
     By the time I looked around for someone else to confirm the sighting, the 'monster' had disappeared. I had an excellent view through binoculars; it was mid-morning and the bar had not yet opened. I am inclined to think that the people on the shore were also gazing at something strange.
     I wondered how I could fabricate such a 'monster' should I wish to deceive the guileless. The RAF still had a base at Changi, and I wouldn't put it past some of those jokers. But I never talk about it. After all, there are no such things as sea serpents, are there?

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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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