Sunday, 4 September 2016

Dr Snaggleton and the Portrush Merman

On Thursday, 10 September 1874, the following story appeared in The York Herald. It was attributed to a correspondent of the Coleraine Chronicle.
A Merman or a Hoax?
The inhabitants of Portrush have been thrown into a state of alarm during the past few weeks by the report that a curious and previously unheard-of species of sea-monster had been observed in the neighbourhood of the “Blue Pool.” It seems that Dr. Snaggleton, a scientific and highly gifted naturalist, and a writer of some repute, was taking a pull in a boat, accompanied by two ladies, when his attention was drawn to this singular and extraordinary creature. Dr. Snaggleton thus describes him: “In form and colour he has much the appearance of an ordinary man; the skin was perfectly white, with the exception of the lower part of the body, which appeared to be striped, and of a blue and white colour; there was a great quantity of black hair underneath the chin, and the nose appeared to be prominent and well-developed. When I observed him he was standing composedly on the top of a small cliff, with the arms pressed close down to the sides; and suddenly, to my astonishment, he took a sort of side leap into the sea, within 20 feet of our boat. Fearing for the safety of the occupants of our small craft, I quickly pulled out into the open sea, and saw nothing more of him.” Dr. Snaggleton believes the creature to belong to a species termed, “Submergis Japanarius, or Japanese sea diver,” a very common animal on the northern shores of Japan, and is borne out in this opinion by Professor Dobbs, F.R.S., who says that “these extraordinary creatures have been frequently mistaken for human beings, and are usually seen in small shoals near Yokohama;” and from the fact that a few of them have lately been seen in the direction of the Skerries, we are inclined to believe that these interesting specimens belong to the tribe mentioned by the learned professor; but how or by what means  they have wandered to our shores is a problem we are not able to solve. We may add that Dr. Snaggleton intends, if possible, to procure a specimen, and place it in the British Museum.
The York Herald wasn’t the only newspaper to carry this story. It appeared in many British newspapers, including the London Evening Standard. In fact, the story even made it as far as New Zealand. But, according to the Irish Times, they may all have been caught up in a hoax created for a local target.
A paragraph has gone the rounds of the papers entitled “A merman or a hoax?” The supposed monster was seen bathing at Portrush, our Northern watering place; and is described as being remarkably like a man. We hear on good authority that the creature daily performs singular antics before an admiring crowd – male, of course; and that he may be seen clothed and in his right mind at the principal hotel of that town. The paragraph first appeared in the local newspaper, and was possibly intended to shame the bather into decency. The joke was so well done, however, that even the London papers took it up and presented it to their readers in the absence of news of greater importance. The gentleman concerned is a medical practitioner, and is quite famous as a swimmer of marvelous strength. In struggling, however, for the evanescent popularity of a few gaping school-boys, he has managed to make himself notorious throughout the Three Kingdoms.
Sources:
  • The York Herald, 10 September 1874
  • The Irish Times, 11 September 1874
  • Otago Witness, 6 February 1875

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