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  • Caithness Mermaid Mystery 1: Mermaid Sighting July 30, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing is not, to his regret, a mermaid expert: despite occasional forays into Triton’s territory in previous posts. But he suspects that the following is not a particularly well-known mermaid source. It dates to 1809 and was sent by one Ms Mackay, the daughter of a minister no less, and was sent to the Countess of Caithness (an even bigger ‘no less’).

    Reay Manse, May 25th, 1809.

    Madam, To establish the truth of what has hitherto been considered Improbable and Fabulous must be at all times a difficult task, and I have not the vanity to think that my testimony alone would be sufficient for this purpose; but when to this is added that of four others, I hope it will have some effect in removing the doubts of those who suppose that the wonderful appearance I reported having seen in the sea on the 12th of January was not a Mermaid, but some other uncommon, though less remarkable inhabitant of the deep.

    As I would willingly contribute to remove the, doubts of the sceptical, I beg leave to state to you the following accounts after premising that my cousin, whose name is affixed with mine, was one of the four witnesses who beheld with me this uncommon spectacle. While she and I were walking by the sea, shore on the 12th January about noon, our attention was attracted by seeing three people who were on a, rock at some distance, showing signs of terror and astonishment at something they saw in the water. On approaching them we distinguished that the object of their wonder was a face resembling the human countenance, which appeared floating on the waves: at that time nothing but the face was visible: it may not be improper to observe, before I proceed further, that the face, throat and arms are all I can attempt to describe: all our endeavours to discover the appearance and position of the body being unavailing.

    The sea at that time ran very high, and as the waves advanced the Mermaid gently sank under them and afterwards reappeared. The face seemed plump and round, the eyes and nose were small, the former were of a, light grey colour, and the mouth was large, and from the shape of the jawbone, which seemed straight, the face looked short: as to the inside of the mouth I can say nothing, not having attended to it, though sometimes open. The forehead, nose, and chin were white. The head was exceedingly round, the hair thick and long of a green oily cast, and appeared troublesome to it, the waves generally throwing it down over the face: it seemed to feel the annoyance, and as the waves retreated, with both its hands it frequently threw back the hair, and rubbed its throat, as if to remove any soiling it might have received from it. The throat was slender, smooth and white: we did not think of observing whether it had elbows, but from the manner in which it used its arms I must conclude that it had. The arms were very long and slender, as were the hands and fingers, the latter were not webbed. The arms, one of them at least, was frequently extended over its head as if to frighten a bird that hovered over it, and seemed to distress it much: when that had no effect, it sometimes turned quite round several times successively.

    At a little distance we observed a seal. It sometimes laid its right hand under its cheek, and in this position floated for some time. We saw nothing like hair or scales on any part of it, indeed the smoothness of the skin particularly caught our attention. The time it was discernible to us was about an hour. The sun was shining clearly at the time. It was distant from us a few yards only. These are the observations made by us during the appearance of the strange phenomenon.

    If they afford you any satisfaction I shall be particularly happy: I have stated nothing but what I clearly recollect: as my cousin and I had frequently previous to this period combated an assertion, which is very common among the lower class here, that mermaids had been frequently seen on this coast, our evidence cannot be thought biased by any former prejudice in favour of the existence of this wonderful creature. To contribute in any degree to your pleasure or amusement will add to the happiness of, Madam, yours greatly obliged,

    El. Mackay

    C. Mackenzie (or Mackenger, spellings differ in different editions).

    One of the nice things about a rigid social structure is that daughters of vicars do not easily play pranks, particularly on members of the local aristocracy. This letter should almost certainly be taken at face value then. In other words, the two girls described what they saw: though whether they saw what they described is an altogether different question.

    Beachcombing’s only curiosity would be the age of the two girls/women. If this really is their prose then they are certainly not teenagers. It should also be noted that Miss Mackay’s father, David Mackay, was himself a strange fish: he liked getting up early in the morning that is never a good sign and had nervous ailments to boot. He became minister at Reay in 1783 and remained so until his death 53 years later in 1836 (?). This would also suggest that his daughter was no longer a teen: she must have been at least in her mid twenties.

    Beach’s sanity depends on mermaids not existing: what then is this ‘thing’? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Was the hair seaweed?

    Another account from Reay in the next weeks. Beach will round off today though by noting that another mermaid report was thrown in to the mix in one newspaper that published this letter. It allegedly came from a French newspaper from 1812, though we have not been able to find the original: ‘On the 31st July, an extraordinary animal was seen by five fishermen, in the creek of Port Melin (Morbihan). Its shape resembled that of a man. It had arms, and the bust was completely human, but the lower part terminated in a fish’s tail. Its head was bald, with the exception of the fore part, on which was a bunch of black hair, and another bunch was perceptible upon the chin. The seafaring people, who have sent us, these particulars, had time to observe the monster at their leisure: it was within half a musket shot of the shore, between two boats, but they were afraid of it and did not go any nearer‘.


    30 July 2011: Invisible sends two things in. First for Cryptozoologists and lovers of the strange this very peculiar link to Ningens. As Invisible says, it may be all photoshopped but it is strangely haunting. Next a series of six mermaid stories, none of which Beach has come across. 1) The Age, Middlesex, London, 30 July 1826 page 7, JONATHAN OUTDONE—The following appears in a Glasgow Paper: ‘A Gentleman, on whose veracity we can rely, informs us, that, as he was passing along the east-coast of Bute, within a mile of Rothsay, on Wednesday last, betwixt two and three o’clock, along with two other persons, they saw, within one yard of the shore, one of those animals, so long considered fabulous—a mermaid—combining her fine black locks with the utmost deliberation [sic], and apparently quite unconscious of the presence of more civilized beings! What rendered the occurrence more extraordinary, was the appearance, in the vicinity, of another large sea monster, having a body resembling that of a man, but with the head of a brute; and which disappeared whenever three Gentlemen came in sight!’ 2) Virginia Gazette From Friday, October 27, to Friday, November 3, 1738. Exon, July 21. The 12th Instant, just without Exmouth Bar, by Robert Heath (the Person who caught the two Fishes, by People in general called Mermaids, one Sept. 9, 1737, the other 6, last) was taken as strange, or stranger a Fish, supposed by many to be the Triton, or the Merman of the Antients, being four Feet and a half in Length, having a Body much resembling that of a Man, with a Genital Member of considerable Size; together with jointed Legs and Feet, extending from his Belly 12 or 13 Inches, with Fins at his Thighs, and larger ones, like Wings, in the Form of which those of Angels are often painted, at his Shoulders, with a broad Head of very uncommon Form, a Mouth Six Inches wide, Smellers, or kind of Whiskers, at his Nostrils, and two Spout Holes behind his Eyes, through which he ejected Water, when taken, 30 or 40 Feet high. 3) Virginia Gazette July 18, 1751, page 2 We hear that great Numbers of the Nobility and Gentry daily resort to see the wonderful SEA-MONSTER, generally allowed to be a SEA-LIONESS, taken on the Suffolk-Coast, as she lay asleep on the Beach December 23, 1749. This wonderful Fish is five Feet in Length, and four Feet round; it has a Head like a Bull-Dog, a Bear like a Lion and Her Fore-Fins (which represent the Hands of the Man) she makes Use of in a very surprising Manner; as wiping her Face and Eyes, and washing herself as naturally as a Christian. Her Hind-Fins are twelve Inches in Length, and fourteen in Breadth, her Tail (which is small) represents that of a Fawn. She is hairy like a Dog, spotted like a Leopard, as soft as Velvet, and so very tame that any Child may handle her, even while she is eating her Food, which is in a Cistern of Water salted. She eats six or seven Pounds of Flesh at a Meal, will kiss and give her Hand to her Keeper as a Dog will to his Master, and will roll and tumble at the Word of Command. She has been shewn twice before the Royal Family with great Applause, and allowed to be the greatest Curiosity in the three Kingdoms. 4) Virginia Gazette July 30, 1752, p. 2 Halifax, in Nova-Scotia, May 30. On Saturday last was taken within the Mouth of our Harbour, and on Monday brought to Town, a Sea-Monster, a Female of the Kind, whose Body was of about the Bigness of an Ox and something resembling one, covered with short Hair of a brownish Colour; the Skin near an Inch and a Half thick, very loose and rough, the Neck thick and short, resembling that of a Bull; the Head very small in Proportion to the Body, and considerably like an Aligator’s; in the upper Jaw were two Teeth, of about 9 or 10 Inches long, and crooked downwards, of considerable Gibness and Strength, supposed to be pure Ivory; the Legs very short and thick, ending with Finns and Claws like those of a Sea-Tortoise; the Flesh and Inwards of this Creature, upon being open’d appeared to resemble those of an Ox or Horse. It has been shewn here for several Days past, with Satisfaction to the Spectators and we hear the Fat of it is now trying up to make Oil. [Walrus? But wouldn’t they know a Walrus in Nova-Scotia?] 5) Virginia Gazette July 20, 1739, p 3 They write from Vigo in Spain , that some Fishermen lately took on that Coast a Sort of Monster, or Merman, 5 Feet and a Half from its Foot to its Head, which is like that of a Goat. It has a long Beard and Mustachoes; a back Skin, somewhat Hairy; a very long Neck, short Arms, and Hands longer and bigger than they ought to be in Proportion to the rest of the Body, long Fingers, like those of a Man, with Nails like Claws; very long Toes join’d like the Feet of a Duck, and the Heels furnish’d with Fins resembling the winged Feet with which the Painters represent Mercury. It has also a Fin at the lower End of its Back, which is 12 Inches long and 15 of 16 broad. 6) The World, London , 11-18-1791 p. 3 A large Sea Monster, of the porpoise kind, was thrown on shore on the coast, between Baldoyle and Clontarf, during a smart squall of wind on Thursday night last. When some men who were going to work, came up with it, it still retained life, but they dispatched it with their spades. It weighs near 400lb. and is remarkably hideous in its appearance. Its skin, stuffed, is to be made a present to the Museum in the Marine School .’ Impressive stuff! Thanks Invisible!