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  • Mermaid Monday: Nude Scottish Mermaids November 13, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    Here is a Scottish account from 1833 (Anon) of what were apparently river mermaids. What is most interesting here is certainly the reaction of the community, though the resolution of the mystery has some entertainment value.

    Some time back, the inhabitants of some hamlets, situated near the Tay, a little below Dunkeld, had been kept in a state of consternation, by reports of the appearance of some unearthly beings, splashing the river every morning, Sabbath and all, about day-break. Many were those who positively declared they had seen them – many were the versions given of their forms – and many were the conjectures raised on the subject. The supposed lineaments of all the spirits of ‘the vasty deep,’ were placed in comparison with those of their new neighbours, but in vain. They were neither Water Kelpies, nor Willie Waterwights but they might be Mermaids, for they had been seen combing their hair. At length, curiosity partly, and partly the belief that these monsters had been the sole cause of last years’ scarcity of salmon, vanquished fear; and half a dozen stouthearted fishermen, armed with boat hooks, salmon spears, &c., marched boldly off, determined to catch or kill; but what must have been their surprise when, nearing the objects of their pursuit, they found them only to be three Dunkeld gentlemen, ‘puddling’ about, in a state of nudity, in the water. Puddling in this state in our Highland stream, in a frosty December morning, being no joke, curiosity is therefore on tiptoe to find out a motive. Some think, that as the Romans erewhile fished our streams for pearls, these gentlemen may be trying to find them also. But fishing for pearls now-a-days, being nearly as unprofitable as hunting for crimson canaries, we are rather inclined to believe, that by this hardening of their frames, they intend soon to put all the ‘ills that flesh is heir to’ at defiance; and of course outlive their contemporaries by at least century. A propos, should Captain Ross ever take it into his head to try the frozen North again, would not he find some excellent auxiliaries about Dunkeld?

    A couple of thoughts. First, the journalist is almost certainly right, this sounds like an early 19C health craze: note that the three bathers are from Dunkeld the local metropolis. Second, we have something that has been frequently flagged up on this blog, the scariness and unfamiliarity of the naked body to our Victorian ancestors. In a world where adult nudity is rare, where couples even make love partially clothed, then the glimpse of three gentleman in a state of undress must have been blinding…

    Oh to have been there when the grizzled salts with harpoons came face to face with the three mermaids.

    Other mermaids: drbeachcombing AT gmail DOT com

    30 Nov 2017: Jane writes in ‘Lots of 19C interest in polar bear swimming, getting cold in the water as something healthy in Britain. This is part of the Victorian obsession with water cures, something you’ve looked at previously.’