Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

BioFortean Review, (December 2006)

Historical Note: The Trail of the Sea-Serpent

J. G. Wood, The Atlantic Monthly, June 1884

In the biography of Commodore Preble, by J. Fenimore Cooper, there is a very wise and noteworthy passage:—

"There appears an indisposition in the human mind to acknowledge that other have seen that which chance has concealed from our own sight. Travelers are discredited and derided merely because they relate facts that lie beyond the circle of the common acquisitions; and the term 'travelers' stories' has its origin more in a narrow jealousy than in any prudent wariness of exaggeration. The provincial distrusts the accounts of the inhabitant of the capital, while self-love induces even the latter to deride the marvels of the country."

A remarkable example of this tendency occurs in the history of the late Charles Waterton, author of Wanderings in South America. Some of my readers may be old enough to have read the reviews of the book when it was published, more than fifty years ago, or, at all events, may have seen those which are preserved in the high-class periodicals. The work was condemned as a mere bundle of "travelers' tales." His accounts of his dealings with boa-constrictors and venomous serpents were compared with the adventures of Sindbad and Baron Münchausen; his observations on the sloth were rejected as unworthy of belief; while his ride on the back of a cayman was set down as a wild invention of a man who must be a liar, but might be excused on the ground of insanity. Waterton treated these diatribes with perfect composure, saying, and very truly, that time would confirm the truth of all his statements.

Yet no one was a sterner disbeliever in other travelers' tales than Waterton. He held that Bruce was altogether unworthy of belief, because he stated that the Abyssinians fed on raw flesh cut from a living animal. He flatly denied the possibility of cannibalism, and wrote an elaborate essay for the purpose of denouncing the traveler who dared to say that man could eat man, except when pressed by hunger or urged by superstition. He poured the vials of his wrath on travelers who asserted that monkeys could throw stones, and repudiated all evidence on the subject as below contempt. He did not, however, go so far as some, who denied the existence of the giraffe, on the ground that no animal would have been created which, if it were to take cold, would be liable to nine feet of sore throat.

It is not very difficult to be witty about traveler' tales, and it is very easy to be sarcastic. Moreover, with some minds, disbelief, no matter what may be the subject, seems to imply a sort of superiority. Nothing is easier than to disbelieve, and nothing is safer. As long as all assertion cannot be proved, skepticism is triumphant. Supposing that it should be proved beyond the possibility of contradiction, there are many gates for escape. One way is to ignore the subject altogether. Another way is to blame the travelers because they did not produce sufficient evidence. Or—and this is a very common mode of evasion—the former skeptic bides his time, and then writes as if he had been all along a staunch supporter instead of an opponent.

Now that tales of travelers, such as Stedman, Bruce, Waterton, and others, have been proved true, there is always the sea-serpent to fall back upon, when a subject for wit is wanting

According to the old adage, there is no smoke without fire, and, as from the earliest times the existence of a gigantic sea-snake has been asserted by sailors as a fact which no one would think of controverting, it is not likely that there was no foundation for their belief. The sea-serpent and the gigantic cuttle called the "kraken" have been classed together as equally the product of fertile brains. Yet, making allowance for natural exaggeration, the kraken is now an acknowledged annual, and Denys Montford's figure of the destruction of a vessel by the kraken is scarcely fabulous, considering the small size of ships in his days. Even in Sindbad's tales of his voyages, it is easy to set that they were in many cases distorted and magnified versions of actual facts.

I believe that much of the inflated notions of sea-monsters are duo to the illustrations of books of the sixteenth century. Monsters of various kinds are to be seen in them, the figures having evidently been drawn from description, and not from the object. One of these books is an admirable epitome of fact transformed into fable. It is called "Prodigiorum ac Ostentorum Chronicon," that is, A Chronicle of Prodigies and Portents, and was written by Conrad Wolffhart, who Grecized his name into Lycosthenes, just as the name of Schwarzerd was Grecized into Melancthon. A very fine copy of this work is in the possession of Mr. S. H. Russell, of Boston, who kindly lent it for the purpose of illustrating this article. According to the author's theory, all monsters are signs of divine anger against man, and ought to be considered in that light. There are two-headed cows and sheep, four-armed children and children without arm, three-legged asses, and so forth, all of which are taken out to sea or river and drowned. Many of these monsters are common enough at the present day, but in this utilitarian age we should put them into dime museums and make money by them. Other figures are simply misrepresentations of actual facts. Thus, there is the sun shining at night,—a travelers' tale; swine with human hands and feet, i. e., pig-faced baboons. There are swords of fire in the sky, which of course are comets. One large plate represents the monsters of the sea, and a very interesting plate it is. Where the artist had a model he acquitted himself admirably. There are two gigantic lobsters, one of which has seized a man by the wrist. Both lobster and man are admirably drawn; the latter being well foreshortened, while the details of the former are perfectly correct. The other lobster is being devoured by a grotesque creature, which I could not at first identify. At last, however, I recognized it as a drawing, from description, of the wolf-fish. I have seen one of these fish seize a fairly sized crab in its jaws, and crunch it between its enormous teeth with a single bite. The only description of it in the letterpress is that it is armed with "truculent teeth."

Another figure represents Alcete. It is attacking a ship, while one of the crew is blowing a long trumpet, and others are throwing tubs into the water. The reader will see how the artist has mixed his ideas with those of the describer. It is of course a spermaceti whale, the spout holes and spouts being given in a very realistic way, and the teeth placed rightly enough in the lower jaw. As whales were in those days reckoned among fishes, the artist thought scales to be necessary, and he could form no idea of front limbs except as legs. The account in the letterpress says that these creatures upset ships, and can only be frightened away by blowing horns and throwing empty barrels at them. "Naves evertunt, ac tantum sono tubarum, aut missis in mare rotundis vasis absterrentur."

Another sea-monster, called Physeter, is depicted in a very remarkable attitude. When thus erect it is said to swamp ships, blowing through holes in its forehead, like a cloud, the water which it had swallowed. "Haustam aquam per frontis foramina in nimbi modum exufflans:" a perfectly correct description of the appearance presented by a whale when spouting. Without looking at the text it would be impossible to identify the creature which is here represented. But on turning to the letterpress, it is amusing to see how the artist has drawn his figure from the sailors verbal account. "Loligo, which flies by flinging itself out of the water, has its head between its legs and belly, and black blood like ink." This is a true description of the flying squid, a figure of which I have placed by that of the ingenious artist.

In the same plate is represented "Orca," that is, a huge serpentine animal, which has coiled itself around a ship, and is dragging it under the waves. Now, as all the other strange being are fanciful representations of real objects, it is only fair to conjecture that the Orca also may be based on fact. The letterpress merely states in general terms that it sinks ships. Another plate depicts several similar creatures attacking ships, and being repulsed by cannon. N. B. The date of this battle is given as 151 B. C., and the locality is the shore of Sardinia, each of the monsters being much larger than the island.

As long as navigation was in its infancy accuracy could not be expected in such matters, and so I will pass to modern times.

After sifting and arranging the various accounts which have been published, and rejecting those which are irrelevant, we find the following narratives in chronological order. In 1639, a traveler named Josselyn, who was visiting New England, was told of a sea serpent that lay coiled upon a rock at Cape Ann. Some Englishmen, who were in a boat, wanted to shoot it, but were told by their Indian companions that unless the creature could be killed on the spot they would be in danger of their lives; whereupon they very wisely let it alone. Josselyn does not appear to have seen it himself. He merely narrates the fact as it was told to him, and his statement, meagre though it be, has at all events the merit of localizing the creature.

Next comes a very remarkable narrative from a very remarkable man. Hans Egede, the celebrated missionary, who went to Greenland in 1734, in the prosecution of his noble work, kept an account of his travels. With childlike simplicity he regrets that he saw no mermaids or other monsters, such as he evidently thought he had a right to expect.

"None of these sea-monsters have been seen by us, nor by any of our time that I could hear, save that most dreadful monster which showed itself on the surface of the water off our colony, in 64° N. latitude. This monster was of so huge it size that, coming out of the water, its head reached as high as the mainmast; its body was as bulky as the ship, and three or four times as long. It had a long pointed snout and spouted like a whale-fish; it had great broad paws; the body seemed covered with shell-work, and the skin was very ragged and uneven. The under part of its body was shaped like an enormous huge serpent; and when it dived again, under water, it plunged backwards into the sea, and so raised its tail aloft, which seemed a whole ships length distant from the bulkiest part of its body."

The history is illustrated by a sketch made by another missionary, named Bing. The animal is a sort of a compound of the conventional dolphin of ancient sculptors, the snake, and the seal. Or perhaps it might be likened to a very elongated dolphin, the tail being rounded, like that of the snake, and not flat and bifurcated, after the fashion of the dolphin. Its distinctly delphinian head is raised high out of the water upon its snake-like neck. The muzzle is pointing directly upwards, and from the throat issues a fountain-like column of water, falling in thick spray. From the shoulders proceed two very short fore-limbs, terminated by broadly webbed paws. The body is covered with scales (which, by the way, could not have been distinguished at such a distance), and there is no mane on the neck, though the dripping water might readily have been mistaken for a mane. This sketch was not made at the time, but from memory; the notable points being the peculiar attitude of the head and neck and the position of the fore-limbs.

Seventeen years later, we find two accounts of the sea-serpent: one by a learned bishop, and the other by an unlearned seaman, named Joseph Kent. The latter states that the animal was seen by him in Broad Bay, in May, 1751. He avers that it came within ten or twelve yards, and that its size exceeded both in length and thickness that of his main-boom. His vessel loving of eighty-five tons measurement, the main-boom was not only a lengthy but a bulky object.

Bishop Pontoppidon, in his Natural History of Norway, states that the Norwegian coast is the only place in Europe which is visited by the sea-serpent. Referring to certain doubts which had been thrown upon the subject, he says that his people think such strictures as absurd as if they had been expressed about the codfish or the eel. He also gives a letter from Captain De Ferry, who, aided by a boat's crew of eight men, chased the animal, fired at it, and, as he thinks, wounded it. His account was confirmed by affidavits by two of the crew. The length of the monster was said to be about six hundred feet,—an obvious exaggeration,—and its back was stated to look like a row of hogsheads floating in a line, at some distance from each other. The drawing with which this account is illustrated does not correspond to the description, as far as the "line of tubs" goes, but merely represents a serpent-like animal with a delphinian head, like that in missionary Bing's drawing, and with its body bent in a series of undulations.

Next comes the account of Eleazar Crabtree, who states that in 1778 he saw one of these animals in Penobscot Bay, and mentions casually that similar creatures had been seen by many other persons. These men are comparatively unknown, but in the following year, 1779, we come upon a name which is not only known, but honored, in New England.

When the late Commodore E. Preble was a midshipman in the Protector, which was lying in an Eastern harbor, a huge, serpent-like monster was seen near the ship. A boat's crew of twelve was told off for the purpose of attacking it, and, in consequence of his known courage and skill, young Preble was placed in command. The men were armed as if they were to board an enemy's ship, and the boat was furnished with a swivel-gun. When they approached it, the creature raised its head about ten feet out of the water, looked round, and then swam off so fast that the boat could not overtake it. Mr. Preble estimated its length at between one hundred and one hundred and fifty feet, its head being larger than a barrel. This last simile is very much like the well-known "piece of chalk," in point of accuracy. Another officer, who watched it for an hour, reported its length at one hundred and fifty feet, and the size of the head as equal to that of a wine-pipe. As he saw it pass under his boat, he had a better view than young Preble enjoyed. In the following year, May, 1780, George Little, of Marshfield, saw a similar creature in Round Pond, Broad Bay. He also mentioned the case of Joseph Kent, to whom a reference has already been made.

Now we come to the present century. In July, 1802, Abraham Cumming testifies that he saw a sea-serpent in Penobscot Bay, and states that within eighteen years six appearances of the creature had been recorded. His testimony is confirmed by those of three other eye­witnesses.

In 1808, a creature was found stranded on one of the Orkney Islands named Stronsa. It was said to be fifty-six feet long and twelve in circumference. This head was only a foot in length, while the neck was fifteen feet long. Further details are given, but the whole account is spoiled by the mention of three pairs of limbs, this structure being absolutely impossible in any vertebrate animal. Those who care to investigate the case will find the full report, by Dr. Barclay, in the first volume of the Wernerian Transactions.

In this year we find a really good account of a serpentine sea-monster. The writer is the Rev. Mr. Maclean, parish minister of Eigg, and the communication is addressed to the secretary of the Wernerian Society. "I saw the animal of which you inquire in June, 1808, on the coast of Coll. Rowing along that coast, I observed, at the distance of half a mile, an object to windward, which gradually excited astonishment. At first view it appeared like a small rock; but knowing that there was no rock in that situation, I fixed my eyes closely upon it. Then I saw it elevated considerably above the level of the sea, and, after a slow movement, distinctly perceived one of its eyes. Alarmed at the unusual appearance and magnitude of the animal, I steered so as to be at no great distance from the shore. When nearly in a line between it and the shore, the monster, directing its head (which still continued above water) towards us, plunged violently under water. Certain that he was in chase of us, we plied hard to get ashore. Just as we leaped out on a rock, and had taken a station as high as we conveniently could, we saw it coming rapidly under water towards the stern of our boat. When within a few yards of it, finding the water shallow, it raised its monstrous head above water, and by a winding course got, with apparent difficulty, clear of the creek, where our boat lay, and where the monster seemed in danger of being embayed. It continued to move with its head above water, and with the wind, for about half a mile, before we lost sight of it. Its head was somewhat broad, and of form somewhat oval; its neck somewhat smaller; its shoulders, if I can so term them, considerably broader, and thence it tapered to the tail, which last it kept pretty low in the water, so that a view of it could not be taken so distinctly as I wished. It had no fins, as I could perceive, and seemed to me to move progressively by undulation up and down. Its length I believed to be between seventy and eighty feet. When nearest to me it did not raise its head wholly above water, so that the neck being under water I could perceive no shining filaments thereon, if it had any."

Mr. Maclean proceeds to state that the animal was seen by the crews of thirteen fishing-boats, and that the men, thinking that it was pursuing them, fled for safety to the nearest creek. The creature, however, did not appear to have any harmful intentions, as it came close to a small boat, which it could easily have swamped had it chosen. The sailors said that its head was as large as a small boat, and its eyes were as big as plates; but they were evidently too much frightened to be particular about accuracy. In fact, most of these accounts must be taken with a good many grains of salt.

Within the next thirty years quite a number of sea-serpent visits are chronicled. I give abstracts of all which I can find noticed, but it is probable that there may be many more accounts hidden away in local journals. One observer states that on the 20th of June, 1815, he saw through a telescope a marine animal with which he was not acquainted. It was in the harbor of Gloucester, about a quarter of it mile from the shore, and was moving rapidly southwards. It presently turned, and, as far as could be seen, its length was about one hundred feet. The body was so formed that it looked like it number of humps, some thirty or forty in number, and each about the size of an ordinary barrel. The head appeared to be about six or eight feet in length, and to be shaped like that of a horse, tapering to the muzzle. The color was deep brown. Neither eyes, gills, blow­holes, mouth, or fins were seen. This statement was sworn to before General Humphreys, as were the attestations of many other eye-witnesses.

The animal seems to have remained about the coast, for in the summer and autumn of 1817 the Gloucester Telegraph of that year gives the following account of it: "On the 14th of August the sea-serpent was approached by a boat within thirty feet (query, yards?), and on raising his head above water was greeted by a volley from the gun of an experienced sportsman. The creature turned directly toward the boat, as if meditating an attack, but sank down, and soon reappeared at about a hundred yards' distance, on the opposite side of the boat. The appearance of the sea-monster as he appeared on that day was the subject of a painting by 'Jack' Beach, which we believe is still in existence, and a copy of which, by Joseph H. Davis, preserved in the Rogers family, we have seen. The sea-serpent, surrounded by boats, is the principal feature of the foreground, and in the background appears a good representation of that portion of the town as then seen from the harbor; the principal objects being the old fort, the windmill, the old First Parish Church, with its spire and clock, and the Independent Christian Church. An interesting feature of the picture is the representation of poplar trees, which were once numerous about town, but have nearly or all disappeared.''

The animal scents to have shown itself rather freely, and quite a number of depositions were made concerning it. It only appeared in calm weather; sometimes floating perfectly still, and to others moving with great speed. Some persons said that it went at the rate of a mile in three minutes, and gave its apparent length at eighty or ninety feet; but it is so difficult to estimate distance, and therefore speed, in the sea that we can only accept this statement as showing that the animal could swim very fast when it chose. Such seems to have been the case with the creature which was chased by a twelve-oared boat, and could not be overtaken. In the same season, a farmer killed with his pitchfork, near Good Harbor Beach, a snake, which was pronounced to be a young specimen of the sea-serpent, because its back was covered with a series of bumps. It was, however, ascertained to be nothing but a deformed variety of an ordinary snake, and the high-sounding titles which were given to it were nothing worth.

In August, 1818, the sea-serpent was seen for a considerable time, partly about Nahant, and partly near Gloucester. Multitudes of spectators collected to watch it, and on the thirteenth and fourteenth days it showed itself frequently, moving with great speed through the water, and holding its head high above the surface. Strangely enough, in the same year it was again seen off the coast of Norway, as is reported by Sir A. De Capell Brooke in his Travels in Norway. In 1819, it was again viewed off Otersun in Norway. Sir Arthur did not see the creature himself, but Captain Schilderup told him that he had frequently seen it, once within two hundred yards. It remained for nearly a month, and left the place when the calm, warm weather ceased.

This seeing to be a sea-serpentine year. Mr. Samuel Cabot states that on August 19th he was starting from Nahant for Boston, and saw the beach crowded with people, and a number of boats pushing off from shore. While he was looking at the boats, the head and part of the neck of an animal unknown to him were pushed out of the water, at the distance of about one hundred yards. The head seemed somewhat like that of a horse; the portion of neck exhibited above the water was about two feet in length, and a little beyond the neck there were a series of protuberances, reaching to a distance of about eighty feet. The creature moved along rather slowly at first, but afterwards swam so quickly as to cause waves of foam in front of the neck, and to leave a long wake behind it. Several hundred people were present at the time; some in boats, some on the shore, and some on the heights on either side.

A few days previously, an animal, apparently the same, was seen by Mr. James Prince, then marshal of the district. Mr. Prince saw it no less than seven times, and on several occasions it was not more than a hundred yards from him. He estimated its length at about sixty feet. Mr. Prince, corroborated by Mr. J. Magee of Boston, Mr. B. F. Newhall of Saugus, and many others, mentioned the flexibility of the animal, and the ease with which it changed its course. More than once it reared its head about six feet out of the water, and made directly for one of the boats; the spray dashing over its neck, and the protuberances of the back glittering in the sun. But it never attacked a boat, and though it came near enough to frighten the rowers it always turned sharply and retreated. It passed across the bay three times, and then went off to sea, apparently frightened by the boats. The animal was also seen by the sentries at Fort Providence.

Another eye-witness was Captain Hawkins Wheeler, then commanding the sloop Concord of Fairfield, Conn. On June 9, 1819, he saw a strange animal, which corresponded in every way with that which was observed by Messrs. Prince, Cabot, Magee, Newhall, etc. The day was calm, the weather clear, so that a good view was obtained. The creature thrust its head some seven or eight feet out of the water, not more than fourteen rods from the vessel. The skin appeared to be smooth and without scales, and the color was black. The peculiar bunched back was noticeable, and the length seemed to be some sixty feet. When it swam, it left behind it a wake as long as the ship. Captain Wheeler, accompanied by his mate, Gersham Bennett, went before Mr. Theodore Eames, J. P., of Essex, and made affidavit of the above statement.

Another eye-witness was the Rev. Cheever Finch, then chaplain of the Independence, U. S. N. His description is very similar to those which have already been quoted, but he adds some details, the importance of which we shall presently see. He says that the head somewhat resembled that of a snake, but that the eyes were prominent, and stood out boldly from the head. The animal was very active, diving smartly under the water, as if seeking prey. He watched it for half an hour, and in consequence of its activity he was able to see that the color was dark brown above and white below. He also notices the protuberances of the back. The account was written in the Boston Sentinel, and the letter is dated from Gloucester. August 26, 1819. The particular spot where the creature was seen was between Ten Pound Island and Stage Point.

In the following year, 1820, a similar animal was viewed off Swampscott on the 10th of August, and a large crowd collected to watch it. Three men, Andrew Reynolds, Jonathan B. Lewis, and Benjamin King, pursued it in a boat, and approached within thirty yards. Their accounts exactly tallied with those which have been given in the last few paragraphs, and, as soon as they came ashore, the men made affidavit before a justice of the peace. The same creature was seen from a house on the shore by Mr. Joseph Ingalls, who watched the chase, and made his affidavit the same day. In 1823, Mr. Francis Johnson testified that on July 12th, his attention was struck by an object moving into the harbor from Nahant, but, thinking it to be only a row of porpoises, he did not trouble himself about it. "About two hours afterwards, I heard a noise in the water, and saw about four rods distant something resembling the head of a fish or serpent elevated about two feet above the surface, followed by seven or eight bunches, the first about six feet from the head, all about six feet apart, and raised about six inches above the water." He pursued it for half an hour, and was in full sight of it all the time. On landing, Mr. Johnson made a statement of his experience before six gentlemen, all of whom vouch for his integrity. Happily, although this event occurred so long ago, Mr. Johnson is still living (April 7, 1884) and can speak for himself. I possess copies of all these documents, but can only give this short abstract.

There is it casual mention of the sea-serpent as making another Norwegian appearance in 1822, but no one appears to have seen it on the New England shore until 1826, when it again appeared off Nahant, as is recorded very briefly in the Lynn Mirror.

Seven years elapse, and again the animal appeared in its favorite haunt off Nahant. It showed itself in the month of July, and remained for at least two "whole days;" passing between Egg Rock and the Promontory, winding its way into Lynn harbor, and again, on Sunday morning, heading for South Shores.

Few and far between are now its visits, for until 1849 nothing seems to have been heard of it on these coasts. In one of the Drontheim newspapers of 1837 there is a rumor of the sea-serpent, but it is too loose and hazy to be worthy of quotation. But in 1849 the creature again appears in its old haunts, as lively as ever. This time it was seen by Mr. J. Marston. of Swampscott, who estimates its length at between eighty and a hundred feet, and states that he saw the entire length of the creature, from the head to the tail.

Now comes a long interval. Twenty-four years elapse, and the sea-serpent is no more heard of. "Abiit, evasit, erupit." Its memory only survived. Now and then a passenger in an ocean steamer sees a line of porpoises, and thinks that the mystery of the sea-serpent is finally solved. Or the vessel comes upon the floating mast of some abandoned ship. It has become clothed with barnacles, and as it rocks on the waves really looks as if it were alive. Of course, when it is at a distance, it is hailed as the sea-serpent; and when it is found to be only a floating piece of timber, it is cited as a proof that all sea-serpents are floating masts. Or a rope-like mass of gulf­weed is hastily welcomed as the long-missing sea-serpent and then derided for not being what it was thought to be. So, during those twenty-four years, the sea-serpent gradually slipped out of memory, and was placed on a par with the mermaid and the phoenix.

Suddenly, in 1875, our long-lost friend again makes its appearance. But so deep-rooted was the popular prejudice on the subject that those who saw it did not like to say so. It does require some courage to face the alternative of being either ridiculed as an ignorant fool, or denounced as a contemptible impostor. Such was the ordeal through which all had to pass who ventured to assert that they had seen the sea-serpent, and that it was not a string of barrels, nor a floating mast, nor a school of porpoises, nor a shoal of horse-mackerel, nor a mass of sea-weed, but was really the creature to which the name of "sea-serpent" has always been given.

When I came to this country, in the autumn of 1883, I unexpectedly found myself on "the trail of the serpent." Some years before I had read extracts from certain American newspapers, and had longed to go to Boston. But as I had at that time no more idea of visiting America than of taking a journey to the Pole Star, the sea-serpent had so nearly faded from my memory that when I did at last find myself in Boston I failed to connect the locality with the serpent. But a few days after my arrival, while Dr. J. C. Warren was conducting me over the invaluable collection which is hidden away in the obscurity of a side street, instead of inhabiting an illuminated temple in the middle of the Common, I came on the portrait of the sea-serpent itself. As a matter of course, the next step was to seek the acquaintance of the eye-witnesses who had pos­sessed sufficient courage to state what they had seen.

The narrative which had startled the zoological world was simply this: Some persons on board the yacht Princess had the temerity to see, between Nahant and Egg Rock, a marine creature exactly corresponding with those which had been viewed in the same locality twenty-four years back. They even had the audacity to watch it for two consecutive hours, and to come so close to it that they could look into its mouth. Worse than al, they actually sketched it, wrote the account of their adventure, and attested the document with their signatures. The original sketch and document are now before me, and both are here reproduced.

Perhaps the most unpardonable point of all is that the passengers in question are not ignorant and superstitious sailors, but residents, who are widely known and respected. They are as follows: Mr. Francis W. Lawrence and Mrs. Lawrence; the Rev. Arthur Lawrence, rector of St. Paul's Church, Stockbridge, Mass.; and Mrs. Mary Fosdick. Then, there are the two sailors, Albion W. Reed and Robert O. Reed.

A day or two after the event, Mr. Arthur Lawrence drew up the following statement:—

"Stockbridge, Mass., August 3, 1875. On the 30th of July, 1875, a party of us were upon the yacht Princess, and while sailing between Swampscott and Egg Rock, we saw a very strange creature. As nearly as we could judge from a distance of about one hundred and fifty yard, its head resembled that of a turtle or a snake, black above and white beneath. It raised its head from time to time some six or eight feet out of the water, keeping it out from five to ten seconds at a time. At the back of the neck there was a fin, resembling that of a black-fish, and underneath, some distance below its throat, was a projection which looked as if it might have been the beginning of a pair of fins or flippers, like those of a seal. But as to that, we could not be sure, as the creature never raised itself far enough out of the water to enable us to decide. Its head seemed to be about two and a half feet in diameter. Of its length we could not judge, as only its head and neck were visible. We followed it about for perhaps two hours. It was fired at repeatedly with a Ballard rifle, but without apparent effect, though one ball seemed to strike it. It was seen and watched by the whole party upon the yacht." Here follow the signatures.

The Boston Society of Natural History then promulgated a paper containing thirty-four questions, and a copy was forwarded to Mr. Arthur Lawrence. The reader will observe how cautious are the answers, and how conscientiously the writer avoids the least approach to conjecture. Here are the questions, which I have numbered for the convenience of reference:—

(1.) Locality, date, and time of day?

A. Swampscott Bay, July 30, 1875, fore­noon.

(2.) Distance of object from shore?

A. At one time within a mile.

(3.) And from witness?

A. From 40 to 150 yards at different times.

(4.) Probable depth of water?

A. —.

(5.) Any schools of fish in vicinity?

A. School of black-fish (i. e., a species of whale. Physeter tursio.)

(6.) Length of whole animal?

A. Cannot tell.

(7.) How fast did it move?

A. Six knots, and faster.

(8.) Nature of movement?

A. Even and regular, so far as I could judge.

(9.) What did the animal most resemble?

A. Its head suggested a frog or turtle.

(10.) Coloration?

A. Black on top, white beneath.

(11.) Smooth or scaly?

A. I could see no scales.

(12.) How long visible?

A. Five to ten seconds at a time, at intervals, for two hours.

(13.) Head,—form?

A. Like that of a frog or turtle.

(14.) Size?

A. Two and a half feet in diameter.

(15.) Position of eyes?

A. Well on top of head.

(16.) Of nostrils, or blow-holes, if seen?

A. Nostrils well defined, like a turtle's.

(17.) Mouth, size and form?

A. Large, like a turtle's.

(18.) Teeth?

A. Did not see any that I remember.

(19.) Tongue?

A. —.

(20.) Any slits or openings at sides?

A. —.

(21.) Any movements observed?

A. —.

(22.) Neck,—length?

A. Its nose was raised from six to eight feet out of water. Could not tell the exact length of neck.

(23.) Size?

A. —.

(24.) Any mane or crest?

A. Just above the water its neck seemed to broaden out as if into fins or flippers, which were under water.

(25.) Body,—length?

A. Its body we could not see, and could not judge of its length.

(26.) Size?


(27.) Movements?

A. —.

(28.) Any appearance of humps?

A. —.

(29.) Fins,—any appearance of?

A. One dorsal fin, like that of a black-fish.

(30.) Structure (whether rayed or smooth)?

A. —.

(31.) Tail?

A. Could not see the tail.

(32.) Horizontal, and moving up and down (like a porpoise)?

A. —.

(33.) Or vertical, and moving from side to side (like a fish)?

A. —.

(34.) Give full account, with sketch, if possible, and personal impressions, mentioning any other particulars not herein referred to.

A. I should suppose it to be one of the saurian family. It seemed to me to be neither a fish, snake, nor turtle. If such a thing as an ichthyosaurus is extant, I should think this creature to be one of the same family.

Being anxious to ascertain the precise relative position of the Princess, the monster, and the land, I sent a tracing of a map to Mr. F. V. Lawrence. He returned it with the positions marked as seen in the accompanying diagram, together with a note, stating that they chased the creature all over the bay for two hours, but that he had marked its position when first seen, and when it at last disappeared in a southeasterly direction. Mr. J. Kelsoe, of Swampscott, who was fishing, passed within a few hundred yards of the animal while the chase was going on, and repeats all Mr. Lawrence's statements. He was near enough to observe on the dark surface of the creature two elongated white marks, about six feet in length, six inches wide, and having the ends rounded. Mr. J. P. Thomas, another fisherman of Swampscott, saw the same creature, and said that it came slowly out of the water, like a large mast.

In curious corroboration of this account, there appeared in a Bridgetown (New Jersey) newspaper a letter which really seems to have been written in answer to the questions in the document already quoted.

The narrator is Captain Garton, the pilot of the steamship Norman. I will extract portions of the account, and annex to them the numbers of the questions which are unconsciously answered. Captain Garton states that on the evening of July 17, 1875, he was off Plymouth (1), when he saw a strange, snake-like being swimming rapidly towards the vessel. It seemed to be pursuing a large fish, apparently a sword­fish. Oddly enough, a passenger on an. other steamship, the Roman, gives a similar account, but says that the swordfish was pursuing the serpent. "The head of the monster was raised at least ten feet above the ocean, but remained stationary only a moment, as it was almost constantly in motion; now diving for a moment, and as suddenly reappearing to the same height [21]. [Mr. F. W. Lawrence gave me a precisely similar description of the diving movement.] The submarine leviathan was striped black and white, the stripes running lengthways, from the head to the tail [10]. The throat was pure white, and the head, which was extremely large, was full black, from which, just above a lizard-shaped head [13], protruded, an inch or mom, a pair of deep black eyes [15] as large an ordinary saucers. The body was round, like a fish-barrel, and the length [25] was more than one hundred feet. The motion [32] was like that of a caterpillar, with this exception: that the head of the snake plunged under the water, whereas the head of the worm merely crooks to the ground."

Now, we will return to the Roman, which was on her course from Boston to Philadelphia on July 17th. After stating that the sword-fish attacked the "sea­serpent" within four hundred yards of the steamer (3), the writer proceeds as follows:—

"When the sword-fish first attacked him he reared his head at least ten feet above the water, and then dove down once more [32]. These actions he kept repeating, so that we had a fine opportunity to scrutinize him. His head was rather flat [13], and closely resembled that of a turtle. The fin [29] we first observed was on the back, several feet from the head, while small fins (query, flippers?) protruded on each side. The body was at least eighty inches in diameter [26], and presented a shiny surface, covered with large, coarse scales [11]. When he moved his head, the water seemed to fairly boil as he rapidly clove his way through the wave, so that by far the largest portion of his body must have been under the water. We estimated his length [25] to be at least sixty feet, but the pilot informed us that a few weeks previously he rose alongside [3] the steamer Roman, and they reported him to be 120 feet long."

Yet one more witness. In March of the present year, 1884, I received a call from Mr. George S. Wasson, the marine painter, who wished to tell me of a monster which he and a companion had seen in 1877. He also brought a water-color drawing, which he had kindly made in order to show more clearly the appearance of the creature which he had seen. After some conversation, I gave him a copy of the questions, and asked him to answer them. This he did, and I here give his replies. In order to save space, I only give the numbers of those questions. (1.) Off Gloucester, Mass., about noon, July 15, 1877. (2.) About two miles. (3.) From an eighth to a quarter of a mile. (4.) Twenty fath­oms. (5.) No. (6.) What we saw of him was fifty or sixty feet long. (7.) Five or six knots. (8.) He seemed to rise and fall perpendicularly, or nearly so. (9.) A ledge. (10.) Brownish-black. (11.) Very rough. (12.) A few seconds each time. He appeared twice. (28.) Yes. Very humpy. (34.) Following is a description of the monster seen by us off Gloucester, July 15, 1877.

"The day was hazy, with light breeze from the southeast. When we were, as I should judge, about two miles off the mouth of Gloucester harbor, the monster came to the surface about the eighth of a mile to leeward of us. I was looking that way, and saw him appear, but Mr. Fernald did not, the first time. He immediately noticed the surging noise made, and, turning, exclaimed, 'What ledge was that which broke?' This is exactly what the sound most resembled,—a heavy groundswell breaking over a submerged ledge; and the creature itself looked, both in shape and color, more like a ledge covered with kelp than anything the we could think of, though from the extreme roughness of the surface I remember that we both spoke of its being somewhat like a gigantic alligator. The skin was not only rough, but the surface was very uneven, and covered with enormous humps of varying sizes, some being as large as a two-bushel basket. Near one end was a marked depression, which we took to be the neck. In front of this, the head (?) rose out of the water perhaps half as high as the body, but we saw no eyes, mouth, fins, or the slightest indication of a tail. It impressed us above all as being a shapeless creature of enormous bulk. I suppose its extreme height out of the water might have been ten feet, certainly not less; and as it disappeared the water closed in over it with a tremendous roar and surge and spray, many feet into the air. The water for a large space where it had been remained white and seething with foam for some little time. From the way the water closed in over it, and the great commotion caused by its disappearing, we judged of its immense bulk, and we also concluded that it went down perpendicularly. It apparently rose in the same way. The largest whale I ever saw did not make a quarter part of the noise and disturbance in the water that this creature did. In concluding I will add that Mr. Fernald has followed the sea for fifteen years as a fisherman, and is perfectly familiar with all the cetaceans that appear on our coast." The paper is countersigned by Mr. B. L. Fernald, who was Mr. Wasson's companion. Mr. Wasson also sent me a tracing of the Gloucester coast, showing the exact position of the creature.

At first sight, there appears to be much discrepancy between this account and those which have preceded it, and indeed Mr. Wasson expressed scone regret that it "did not fit." However, the object of the present article is not to make theories fit, but to lay facts before the reader. Here, then, we have an accumulation of evidence too weighty to be withstood. That there may have been exaggerations in some cases is likely enough, and even a trained observer knows that he has to watch himself very carefully, lest he unconsciously enlarge one point and minimize another. But putting aside the "personal error," as astronomers call it, to which we are all liable, we cannot but be struck with the general coherence of the details.

We might naturally expect to look for sea-monsters in the tropics, but here we find that the creature which is called the sea-serpent has invariably been seen in northern latitudes, and always in the summer or autumn. Its size is tolerably uniform,—wonderfully so, indeed, considering the great difficulty of estimating the length of any animal in the sea. The color is invariably the same: those who saw only the upper surface taking it to be black or blackish-brown, and those who saw the under surface describing it as white. Those who saw the eyes describe them as prominent, and on the upper part of the head. The duration of each appearance above the water is the same throughout. The speed is given as the same, that is, five or six knots per hour, and every one seems to have noticed the foam or spray thrown up before it, and the wake left behind it. Had the narrators wished to extol the dangers which they had run in encountering so dreadful a monster, they would have reported it as fierce and irritable. But, on the contrary, all agree in stating that it is a perfectly harmless creature, and that even when it appeared to be attacking a boat it turned off short and changed its course. Impostors would have armed its mouth with frightful teeth, whereas not only teeth are not mentioned, but the Princess was so close to the animal that the passengers looked into its open mouth, and could ascertain that no teeth were visible. All agree in the character of the undulating movement; i. e., that it is vertical, and not lateral. The only discrepancy is that between the accounts of Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Wasson. But the former saw nothing but the head and shoulders, whereas the latter saw nothing but the back. Both narrators agree in the color and the speed, both carefully refraining from the slightest mention of any detail which they did not see.

Next comes the question, What can this thing be? It is quite certain that it does not correspond wish any contemporary animal at present known to zoologists. Mr. Arthur Lawrence offers a suggestion that it may possibly be a surviving Plesiosaurian,—an idea, by the way, which was ingeniously used by the late Lord Lytton in his Coming Race. The distance, however, between the great saurians which are now only known by their fossil remains and those of the present day is too wide to be bridged by a survivor.

But though not a surviving saurian, it may be a survivor of some group of animals which is on the verge of extinction. In the first place, it cannot be a serpent, as the peculiar movements which have been described cannot be performed by a serpent; the structure of the vertebrae prohibiting them, as may be seen from the accompanying illustration. There are plenty of sea-serpents, none of them measuring more than it few feet in length, and all have the tail flattened sideways, so that they undulate through the water, just as all an eel does. The monster in question, however, undulates up and down, "like a caterpillar." Now, the only marine animals which possess this power are those belonging to the whale tribe. These, as may be seen from the structure of their vertebra, can undulate up and down, but not sideways, the projections on either side of each vertebra interlocking with the vertebra immediately behind it. Now, suppose that there might be a much-elongated cetacean, being to the rest of the whales what the eels are to the fishes, the creature would behave exactly as our sea-serpent behaved. Every movement of the creature is cetacean. The habit of pushing the head out of the water is distinctly cetacean, the sperm-whales being much addicted to this custom. The caterpillar-like bend of the body is also cetacean, and may be witnessed any day when a school of porpoises curve their graceful course over the waves. The sudden rising of the body, as described by Mr. Wasson, is also a cetacean characteristic. The whales, when their lungs are inflated, are a little lighter than water. But they possess the power of contracting their whole bodies, so that they can sink like stones,—a property which is extremely exasperating to the whale-fishers. When they relax the muscular apparatus by which this object is effected, the body resumes its former size, becomes lighter than water, and surges to the surface, exactly as described by Mr. Wasson.

The unexpected harmlessness of so powerful a creature is another characteristic which, fortunately for man, be­longs to the whales,—creatures which never attack but under exceptional circumstances. There are many whales now known to science, some of them being much more slender than others. It is certain, moreover, that there are many which are as yet unknown. There is, for example, a species which is only known by a single lower jaw, which is remarkable for possessing but one tooth on either side. What the rest of the whale may look like no one knows. Being one, there must be others. Yet, where they live is at present a mys­tery, and but for that single jaw we should not have known of their existence. At present, no snake-like or eel-like cetacean is known. Such a creature has, however, existed, and is regis­tered under the name of zeuglodon, that is yoke-tooth, because the teeth are yoked together by bony ridges. Boston possesses a complete set of the vertebrae of a zeuglodon, a specimen which is, I believe, unique. There are plenty of vertebrae and other bones scattered about, out of which a zeuglodon of any length might be constructed; but the Boston vertebrae belong to the same individual, so that its length can be estimated with tolerable accuracy. The bones belong to the Tertiary period, and were discovered in Alabama, by Mr. Buckley Clark. Beside the vertebrae, he found parts of the skull and lower jaw, together with numerous pieces of bone. The length of the animal, when alive, must have been about seventy feet,—precisely the average length of the sea-serpent. Although the vertebrae are much damaged, several of them are sufficiently perfect to show the peculiar bony processes which prevent the whales from bending their bodies laterally.

Yet, although whale-like, the creature was not a true whale, as is shown by the nasal openings, which are not like those of the whale. They do, however, correspond fairly with Mr. Lawrence's description of the nostrils of the creature which he saw.

Now we will take the front portion of the zeuglodon as shown from existing bones. If we imagine that the bones are clothed with flesh and blood, we shall find that such an animal would coincide with Mr. Lawrence's sketch, and with the narratives of other eye-witnesses. Here we have the tapering head, the sudden width at the shoulder, and the existence of flippers, which did not project from the water. Of the dorsal fin the skeleton would give no indication. The neck appears rather short, but that may be an error of the restorer; just as the palaeotherium, which was restored as a short-legged tapir, proves now to have been a horse-like creature. The shape of the skull corresponds with that of Mr. Lawrence's sketch; so does the width of the shoulders, and so does the whale-like arm with its hand. Without venturing to make an assertion, I may at all events suggest that Mr. Lawrence's theory of a surviving being belonging to a race verging on extinction may be a correct one, but that the survivor (or survivors) belongs not to the saurians, but to a cetacean animal, Which, if not an actual zeuglodon, has many affinities with that creature. Should it again make its appearance, it ought not to be frightened away by boats, etc. Above all, it ought not to be shot at. If wounded, it would make off to sea, and if killed it would sink, and probably be lost forever. The only weapon which could be of any use would be the harpoon, and the accounts which have already been given show that in several instances it could have been employed with every hope of success.

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