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Does Pre-Historic Monster Still Live?

Reports form South Africa that a Living Specimen of the Mighty "Thunder Lizard," Supposed to be Extinct, has been Sighted Prompt a London Natural History Society to Send Out an Expedition to Bag Him.


By Hay Bosman

In an article recently published in our magazine, Mr. Edward S. Smith set forth the dictum of Sir E. Ray Lankester and other scientists as to the possibility of the brontosaurus or other mighty saurians of the Jurassic surviving to-day as follows:

"'The notion that such creatures might still  haunt some impenetralia of Africa is too foolish for any one but the abject romantic. The great saurians passed with the Mesozoic era, millions of years ago. There is no climate on earth to-day suitable to their requirements, and no likelihood that they might have performed an evolution to suit them to present conditions without losing their bulk."

Obviously, the London paleontologists sending out the expedition described below are of more optimistic opinion in the matter. While advancing no claims of fact in refutation of the generally accepted biological theory, they regard the evidence at hand as important enough to call for the practical investigation which will be followed with universal interest, and not by scientists alone.


Paleontologists tell us that the brontosaurus died out 10,000,000 years ago. But the natives of the Richtersveld district of Namaqualand, Cape Colony, South Africa, and two white men, prospectors there, know better!

Frederick Cornell of Johannesburg, an Englishman who has been prospecting in British South Africa for twenty years, sponsors this statement. The London Times is sufficiently credulous to publish a brief account of Cornell's belief in the resurrection of the pre-historic mammoth. And the London Museum of Practical Geology has equipped an expedition to sail for Cape Colony to hunt the beast in the Orange River marshes, where he is said to hide.

As long ago as September, 1919, the writer of this article was the recipient of a letter from a relative in London, who said: "I heard a great story at the Aldwych Club last week. Fellow named Cornell of Johannesburg, a prospector, wrote one of the club members that the natives of the Richtersveld district of Namaqualand (which is a wild and desolate region immediately  south of the Orange River, a little above its estuary) are excited over a strange, gigantic beast which (they say!) swims in the rapids and  is so tall that he stands upon his feet and  stretches his neck into the trees, whore he devours the topmost branches.

The club was not too sceptical, I must say, although I don't believe a word of it. The Hottentots are superstitious beggars, with vivid imaginations. Still—here's the tip!

It was February, 1920, before I could get my young relative to write me again and  more fully of the Cape Colony sea serpent. He said then that Cornell had written a second letter to his friend in the Aldwych Club and another to one of the curator's of the London Museum of Practical Geology, stating that he (Cornell) had at last actually seen the brontosaurus. With a company of natives he had lain for hours in ambush in the marshes at a remote spot along the Orange River, not a hundred miles from its mouth, and had been rewarded finally with a sight of the beast that is causing so much excitement among the Hottentots.

The Orange River is very strong and swift at the point where they waited. No boat could live in it. By and by, Cornell says, they heard the sea serpent coming, swimming up stream against a raging torrent that no hippopotamus could have faced. It certainly must be unlike anything now supposed to be living! Its neck rose and fell in the spray, towering like the trunk of a high tropical tree, with a very small head on the top of it. Small for its size, he meant. Cornell's friend read the letter before the club. C. claims that it is strangely like the prehistoric brontosaurus, and he feels, that some one should hunt it and rescue it for science. Not alive! It'd break up any zoo. But Cornell says he means to get it himself, if it can be got, and he wants a paleontologist or two to come down and help him.

"I'll try and get a squint myself when I go to Namaqualand in a few weeks, but meanwhile there's a real story for you. The London Times has taken it, as the clipping inclosed will, show you."

Since then, private funds have been raised to finance the expedition which the London Museum proposes to send out. Percy Roberts, a white man also living in Namaqualand and connected with copper mining enterprises there, claims to have seen the Orange River serpent. Roberts vouches for its resemblance to the lord (in size) of the age of reptiles. "He was lying out on the bank when old Roberts saw him, and covered a few acres with his huge body. His head was lost in the tree tops and he was having his dinner there when Percy passed by. And Percy says he passed quickly."

My young relative writes of the brontosaurus in January, 1921:

"He's still kicking up a fuss. But I've changed my mind about getting a squint at him. Let the paleontology fellows do it. I don't relish illustrating the story of Jonah and the whale or Willie and the sea serpent!"

The Age of Reptiles certainly had its sway long aeons before any higher (but certainly no larger) forms of life existed, and during that age dinosauri thrived, the thunder lizard or brontosaurus chief among them. Their ossified skeletons have been dug out of the rocks in vast areas of Europe, Asia and Western North America, reconstructed and put on exhibition in various museums throughout the world. The specimen in the American Museum of Natural History is 66 feet 8 inches long and in life it must have weighed thirty-eight tons. Man and horse are pigmies when placed beside it.

When higher forms of life came in, say the scientists, these giant animals became extinct. They were memories only, aeons before man arrived upon the earth.

There seems to be but one specimen of the beast that may be a brontosaurus in the Richtersveld, the natives claiming that they are certain of having seen the same super-serpent each time. It is possible, however, that this is the male and that the female is hidden, in the slime of some inaccessible marsh where she is laying her eggs and preparing to foist a whole new generation of prehistoric sea serpents upon an unsuspecting world.

The London expedition will be arriving in Africa in the wet season, when the brontosaurus and his mate may be floated further out of the fastnesses of their haunts by the greater abundance of water in the swamps. The beast has never been seen anywhere near civilization. He skulks in the densest and most remote and inaccessible portions of the river bed.

Whether he is a brontosaurus is the question most interesting to paleontology. It has long been believed that this beast left no descendants and no relatives. Lizards and crocodiles come nearest to being relations, but they are so remote from his proportions and habits as to be unclassed for comparison with him.

The Hottentots' brontosaurus seems to be large enough, judging from the descriptions. "It is larger than any animal now in. Africa," Cornell declares. "The rhinoceros and the hippopotamus are very much smaller; the largest elephant would look like an infant beside him. I should judge that a very huge whale comes nearest his bulk, but it has nothing of his stretch of neck."

The natives' claim that he devours animals and men contradicts the scientific estimate of the nature of the species 10,000,000 years, ago.

According to W. D. Matthew, curator of the vertebrate paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, the brontosaurus "lived during the late Jurassic and Comanchic (lower Cretaceous) period and belonged to the older of two principal dinosaur faunas." It was of "enormous size, with a very small head, blunt teeth, long giraffe-like neck, body and limbs like an elephant's, and a long, massive tail prolonged at the tip into a whip lash, as in the lizards." But its habits were gentle and peaceful, in spite of its size, and it was a harmless vegetarian, living solely upon the succulent water plants in the mud at the bottom of streams in which it waded, or upon the topmost branches of primordial trees. If the brontosaurus ate anything animal at all, it was the small fish and insects mixed up with these plants.

Brontosauri could wade to a great depth and still have their heads above water. The prehistoric specimens lived in shallow water, in the opinion of Sir Richard Owen, who studied and described the first ossified remains found in 1841-60, wading mostly and swimming occasionally. The Orange River modern then was either walking along the bottom of the river when Mr. Cornell saw him or he is (presumably) a much better swimmer than his ancestor of one hundred thousand centuries ago.

Owen's deductions concerning the brontosaurus were supported by several other scientists, particularly by Edward Cope, and are those most generally adopted by paleontologists. Among other things, they claim that the peculiar anatomy of the brontosaurus precluded the possibility of its ever emerging entirely upon dry land. The African specimen has been seen lying on the shore, at some distance from the river.

Other paleontologists have believed that the brontosaurus was a chiefly terrestrial animal that could swim. A great deal of guessing is done by science when it looks back a few million years! The strange beast in the Orange River, if it be a brontosaurus, may clear up a good many moot points about the hugest of serpents indigenous to the reptile age, and London is agog with anticipation of the results of the expedition.

No whole skeleton of a brontosaurus is in any museum. All have been rebuilt from portions of different skeletons found, with plaster to supply missing parts. In the Museum of Natural History "about one-third of the skeleton, including the skull, is restored in plaster modelled or cast from other incomplete skeletons. The remaining two-thirds belong to one individual, except for a part of the tail, one shoulder blade and one hind limb, supplied from another skeleton of the same species."

These two-thirds were found by a museum expedition in 1898, under Walter Granger, about  nine miles north of Medicine Bow, Wyo. "It took the whole of the succeeding summer to extract it from the rock, pack and ship it to the museum. Nearly two years more were consumed in removing the matrix, piecing together and cementing the brittle and shattered petrified bone, strengthening it so that it would bear handling, and restoring the missing parts of the bones in tinted plaster. The articulation and mounting of the skeleton and modelling of the missing bones took an even longer time, so that it was not until February, 1905, that the brontosaurus was at last ready for exhibition."

Every natural history museum has a similar tale to tell of the amount of work and the uncertainty of the operation in reconstructing this and other prehistoric beasts.

If the London expedition finds the Namaqualand story well founded and can secure the carcass of the animal that has spread so much alarm, then natural science will score a notable point. The British Museum of Practical Geology will have not only a whole authentic skeleton, but the taxidermists may have the skin of a whole brontosaurus to stuff.

Theirs will be a stupendous and fascinating task.

Syracuse, New York, Herald. May 15, 1921.

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