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  • Caithness Mermaid Mystery 4: I Shot the Mermaid July 29, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    (but I didn’t shoot the deputy)

    In the 1849 the John O’Groats newspaper, the most northerly on the British mainland ran a retrospective on the Caithness mermaids. It seems to have begun 6 April 1849 with a question asked in the paper. 20 April 1849 there was the republication of Miss McKay and Mr Thuro’s accounts. Then, there came this marvellous letter.

    Mr Editor, I see by your journal of the 20th of this month that the Sandside mermaid has come to life again. I thought she was dead long ago. I came to Satidside in 1804 and resided there for 40 years, but  never had the pleasure of being introduced to her ladyship, or of even being favoured with a distant view of her fair person, although I was many a day about the shore, late and early; nor were any the fishermen any better favoured. I well remember when Mrs Mackay and her cousin were said to have seen the mermaid. Many a letter had the rev. minister of Reay from different quarters, both at home and abroad, making enquiries on the subject.

    Let me give you what was my opinion at the time, as well that of most of the neighbours round about. The two ladies were walking along the shore, just as the sun was rising. About the same spot a very large old grey seal was frequently seen, and when this animal made its first appearance about the spot where they were standing, the sun, just rising on a fine frosty morning, gave curious appearance to the animal, ‘and they were both afraid.’ It is possible that the seal may have had a salmon in his mouth, which is not an uncommon thing. This would add to the queerness of the appearance, and lead the ladies to believe they were in sight of a mermaid! Many a laugh had at the time at the expense of the mermaid seers!

    This next bit is wonderful and strangely credible: a lonely teacher ‘sees’ a mermaid and has five minutes of flirtation and national notoriety as a result.

    But how are we to get over Munro’s testimony? I came to Sandside in 1804, and there was a teacher there at the time, so that Mr Munro must have left Reay before I809. But be that as it may, Mr Munro was a good Christian man, and I can only tell you what the public thought about his letter, namely that the minister of Reay was so much annoyed with letters, and, moreover, that Mr Munro was particularly fond of Mrs Mackay, who was then the ‘belle of the north’, and more than all this, her father was the great means of giving Mr Munro his education. My opinion was at time that there was no such lady as a mermaid, and then have never missed an opportunity of enquiring at every sailor met with, and have uniformly received the opinion that there is no such being, and if Mr Munro were in love with Mrs Mackiy at the time, it was a wonder that he stretched a point to corroborate what she stated.

    Now the sad end to the mermaid:

    I believe I shot the mermaid. Some time after the event alluded to, I was at shore and had my gun along with me, loaded with small-shot, but I had so often seen Mrs Mackay’s mermaid, that I had a ball or two prepared to have a shot at her. In this day her ladyship came very near without observing me, so I got a fair chance of giving her a peppering. I fired, and the old grey seal sank immediately. I was sure she was killed, and told all the neighbours that I had killed the mermaid. Two days after, the seal came ashore on the island side, and the late Mr George Innes, the Tacksman, got the carcass. I claimed the half of the oil, being anxious to know what kind of a light mermaids’ would give [!!!], and many a battle we had about it, but I never got my half. This is as far as I know about this wonderful mermaid, which has never been seen any other place than Sandside.

    Hoping you will insert this in your first paper, I am, yours truly, John Paterson

    So what does mermaid light look like: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Source 27 Apr 1849

    31 Jul 2017: Leif writes ‘If the 1809 Caithness mermaid is to be explained as a natural creature, a walrus would be a strong candidate. Walrus are infrequently sighted in the Orkneys, but the BBC describes such a sighting as ‘a once in a lifetime event’. [3 March 2013. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-21647421] In the Skule Skerry chapter of ‘The Runagates Club’ (1928), John Buchan describes an Orcadian sighting of a creature with features that were ‘all formed on other lines than God has made mortal creatures’. Said creature turns out to be a ‘wall-ross’. The Orkneys lie not far from Caithness. In her letter of 25 May 1809, Miss Mackay notes ‘the sea at that time was very high’, leaving open the possibility that she did not see the creature as clearly as she thought. If she and her companions witnessed a walrus at Reay in January 1809, it is entirely possible that they had neither seen nor heard of such a thing previously. Nevertheless, certain parts of her description (hair, hands, and fingers), are formed on lines other than God has made any sea creature known to science. I am cautious about bending the facts of a seemingly supernatural sighting to fit a natural explanation, but anyone who wishes to do so might consider a walrus. Otherwise, the mystery endures.’