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Mermaid at Exmouth Eats Boiled Fish September 29, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Beach is crashing into his autumnal flu so here’s a bit of mermaid that requires relatively little writing. Most mermaid accounts from the British Isles come from the Celtic fringes. How refreshing then to come across this from the gentile waters of Exmouth Bay in 1812.

The day of yesterday being very fine, I joined a party of ladies and gentlemen in a sailing excursion. When we had got about a mile to the SE of Exmouth Bay, our attention was suddenly arrested by a very singular noise, by no means unpleasant to the ear, but of which it is impossible to give a correct idea by mere description. It was not, however, unaptly compared by one of our ladies to the wild melodies of the Aeolian harp, combined with a noise similar to that made by a stream of water falling gently on the leaves of the tree. The sound, however, had not all the variety, nor the soft cadences of the Aeloian notes, but appeared like four or five different notes, each tone repeated several times on the same key.

In the mean time, we observed something, about one hundred yards from us to windward. We all imagined it to be some human being, though at the same time we were at a loss to account for this, at such a distance from the shore and no other boat near. We hailed, but received no reply and we made no reply, and we made towards this creature as soon as possible; when to the great astonishment of us all, it eluded our pursuit by plunging under water. In a few minutes it rose again, nearly in the same place, and by that time we had got sufficiently near for one of the boatmen to throw into the water a piece of boiled fish which he had in his locker. This seemed to alarm the animal, though it soon recovered from its fears, for we presently observed it to lay hold of the fish, which it ate with apparent relish. Several other pieces were thrown out, by which the creature was induced to keep at a short distance from our boat, and afforded us the opportunity of observing it with attention, and found, to our astonishment, that it was not other than a mermaid. As the sea was calm, and in a great degree transparent, every part of the animal’s body became in turn visible. The head, from the crown to the chin, forms rather a long oval, and the face seems to resemble that of the seal, though, at the same time, it is far more agreeable, possessing a peculiar softness, which renders the whole set of features very interesting. The upper and back part of the head appeared to be furnished with something like hair, and the fore part of the body with something like down, between a very light fawn and a very pale pink colour which at a distance had the appearance of flesh, and have given rise to the idea, that the body of the mermaid is, externally, like that of a human being. The creature had two arms, each of which terminates into a hand with four fingers, connected to each other by means of a very thin elastic membrane. The animal used its arms with great agility, and its motions in general were very graceful. From the waist it gradually tapered so as to form a tail, which had the appearance of being covered with strong broad polished scales, which occasionally reflected the rays of the sun in a very beautiful manner; and from the back and the upper part of the neck, down to the loins, the body also appeared covered with short round broad feathers, of the colour of down on the fore part of the body. The whole length of the animal, from the crown of the head to the extremity of the tail was supposed to be about five feet, or five feet and a half.

In about ten minutes, from the time we approached, the animal gave two or three plunges in quick succession, as if it were at play. After this it gave a sudden spring, appearing to swim away from us very rapidly and in a few seconds we lost sight of this wonder-creating creature.

Crowds of boats are this day on the water in the hope of witnessing such a novel sight, and a medical gentleman of Exeter has offered a reward of 20 pounds to whoever may succeed in catching the animal, and will bring it to him for dissection. In consequence of this, all the fishermen are very busy in making preparations to endeavour to entangle in their nets this fair nymph of the ocean.

The letter is signed by one J. Toupin and dated Exmouth, August 13, 1812. Beach has found no evidence of a flap in the Exeter papers, though he looked only in a very superficial fashion. Does anyone know better? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com There is, however, a PS that is worth reporting. ‘It was reported here a few days ago that a large strange fish had been seen in the neighbourhood of Torbay and is supposed to have been this animal’.