Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Sea Serpent Shenanigans in 1850

In September 1850, Cork went sea serpent crazy. It was all a fabulous hoax, of course, and it began with the following letter [1].
Courtmasherry, 29th Aug. 1850.
Sir - The following particulars, the accuracy of which need not be questioned, will I doubt not interest many of your readers.
The different fishing establishments on the shores of this extensive bay, extending from the Old Head of Kinsale to the Seven Heads, have been within the last few days abundantly supplied with fish of every description, and the greatest activity prevails in availing of the bounty which has been thus sent to us literally in shoals. It has been noticed too, that some description of fish - haak for instance, have been captured further within the limits of the inner harbour than was ever known before. In fact, as I heard it observed the fish were literally leaping ashore.
These novel appearances, however, it was my lot to see fully accounted for yesterday. At about 1 o’clock A.M. when sailing in my yacht, with a slight breeze off shore, about two miles to the south of the beacon erected on “Barrels” rocks, one of the party of four gentlemen on board (Mr. B. of Bandon) drew attention towards the structure mentioned, with the interrogatory of “do you see anything queer about the Barrels?” In an instant the attention of all on board was rivitted on on an object which at first struck me as like the up-heaved thick end of a large mast, but which, as it was made out plainer, proved to be the head of some huge fish or monster. On bearing down towards the object, we could distinctly see, with the naked eye, what I can best describe as an enormous serpent without mane or fur or any like appendage. The portion of the body above the water and which appeared to be rubbing or scratching itself against the beacon, was fully thirty feet long and in diametre I should say about a fathom. With the aid of a glass it was observed that the eyes were of immense size, about nine inches across the ball,  and the upper part of the back appeared covered with a furrowed shell-like substance. We were now within rifle shot of the animal, and although some onboard exhibited pardonable nervousness at the suggestion, it was resolved to fire a ball at the under portion of the body, whenever the creature’s unwieldy evolutions would expose its vulnerable part. The instant the piece was discharged the monster rose as if impelled by a painful impulse to a height which may appear incredible - say at least 30 fathoms - and culminating with the most rapid motion, dived or dashed itself under water with a splash that absolutely stopped our breaths with amazement. In a few moments all disturbance of the water subsided, and the strange visitor evidently pursued his course to seaward. On coming up to the beacon we were gratified to find adhering to the supports numerous connected scaly masses, such as one would think would be rubbed from a creature “coating” or changing its old skin for a new one. These interesting objects can be seen at the Horse Rock Coast Guard Station, and will well repay a visit.
These particulars I have narrated in the clearest manner I am able, and if others, in other boats, who had not so good an opportunity of seeing the entire appearance of the animal as those in my boat had, should send you a more readable account of it, I pledge myself none will more strictly adhere to the facts.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
1. I was unable to access any issues of the Cork Constitution for 1850. Fortunately, the letter was reproduced in a number of newspapers, including the Cork Examiner.
Cork Examiner, 2 September 1850

1 comment:

  1. 180 feet long with a shell. Sounds like some kind of a giant turtle.