Saturday, 21 January 2017

Mermaid in Loch Fyne (or not)

From the North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality, 20th September 1865.


The Inverary correspondent of the Glasgow Herald communicates the following: "One morning, recently, before sunrise, a labourer, setting out for his work along the shores of Lochfyne, about five miles from Inverary, saw, or he imagined he saw, what is seldom seen by mortal eyes. On a smooth rock by the water's edge was reclining a creature which, in the struggling light, he thought to be a seal. When he approached, it splashed into the water, and, as he saw its head bobbing up and down, and its long grey hair floating on the wave, he altered his opinion, and became convinced that it was an ancient mermaid. Unromantic wretch that he was, he began to throw stones, to avoid which, the creature moved further from the shore, but soon, for some reason not explained, changed its purpose, and made straight again for the rock, on which it landed.

The man, no doubt from the laudable desire of furnishing the British Museum with a true specimen of a mermaid (a person could hardly send such a creature to the Zoological Gardens among wild beasts), drew a large knife from his pocket and advanced. He had hitherto kept at a respectful distance. But he stopped suddenly, for to his amazement the creature spoke. To hear in the early dawn of a peaceful autumn morning, a mermaid speak! - that surely were bliss beyond compare. Not so thought the labourer; terror added wings to his feet and he fled, circulating over the parish, that surely his end was near, for he had seen a mermaid, and heard her tongue. Eventually however, his delusion was dispelled, for the mermaid turned out to be the wife of a Glasgow professor, who had come down to spend his holidays on the shores of Lochfyne. It is superfluous to add that the lady had gone out to bathe. We understand that the man is still living.

Why bother with the expense of a mermaid?

South Wales Daily News, 16th January 1894.


A remarkable incident happened at Croydon on Saturday evening last. A negro hired a shop in Surrey-street, Croydon, on Saturday night, and announced that he had a mermaid inside. People paid their pennies to see the mermaid, but when they got inside they were only shown some conjuring tricks and fire-eating. When they asked for the mermaid they were shown through a door and found themselves in the street. This went on for about two or three hours. At last the disappointed audiences made an assault on the place. Everything was smashed to atoms. The negro had his clothing torn from him, was severely handled, and had to fly for his life. The police did not interfere.

CC image by Troy Tolley

Mermaid for sale, Covent Garden

The Evening Express, 7th June 1899.

"Yes," admitted Mr. J.C. Stevens, the auctioneer, whose auks' eggs are the pride of Covent Garden, "it is quite true. We have a mermaid to dispose of."
"Is she a mermaid with a past?" asked the representative of the "Daily Graphic."
"You cannot expect me, as an auctioneer," remarked Mr. Stevens discreetly, "to say anything against her character."
"Is she young?"
"She's stuffed," said Mr. Stevens.
"Dear, dear, how sad! Beautiful in death I suppose?"
"You'd better come and inspect her for yourself." Mr. Stevens led the way to the auction room, where boomerangs and neatly fractured skulls (like cause and effect) were piled amid old china and infirm pottery. He stopped in front of something which looked like a yellow-bellied shark topped by a cocoa nut.

"There," said Mr. Stevens.
"Well, what about it?"
"That's the mermaid."

A descriptive writer suffers many disillusionments in the course of his profession, but the Covent Garden mermaid was the worse experienced by the representative of the "Daily Graphic" since January 4, 1890. The only resemblance which it bore to the mermaids in the pictures was that it had a tail; and that it made no attempt to veil its charms. The "Daily Graphic," in the interests of the truthfulness of artists, felt compelled to remonstrate.
"Are you sure it's a mermaid?" he asked.
"It's sometimes called a manatee," admitted Mr. Stevens, "but it's the same thing."
"But just look at it! Do you think any sailor - even a Lascar - could mistake that for a siren?"
"It's got a nice head."
"But where's its flowing hair?"
"Look at its sloping shoulders," pleaded Mr. Stevens.
"It's got a hide like the barrel of a musical box."
"But it has a graceful back - look at it!"
"Why," said the disappointed pressman, "its back is sewn up!"
And that, as a matter of fact, was the only feminine thing about it.

The mermaid was put up to auction on Tuesday and sold for twenty guineas.

[The Daily Graphic was launched on January 4th, 1890. A Lascar is an Indian sailor, so I suppose that's a bit of casual racism. But otherwise I like this a lot. Maybe 20 guineas is about £2000 today.]

South Wales Daily News, 8th June 1899.
Sale of a Mermaid.

Mr. J. C. Stevens sold at his rooms in King-street, Covent Garden, on Tuesday, a "very find" mermaid. Nothing could be much uglier - not even a common seal, which the "mermaid" closely resembles. This particular example is about 7ft. high. It comes from the Persian Gulf, and has been most cleverly preserved. But mermaids are apparently not yet sufficiently known to be fully appreciated, for the example sold on Tuesday only fetched 20 guineas.

Presumably the same creature:
Denbighshire Free Press, 5th August 1899.
A REAL MERMAID.-- Visitors to London should not fail, when passing through Oxford Street, to see the very fine Mermaid (Manatea), about 7 feet high, from the Persian Gulf. It is being shewn in the Entrance Hall of Messrs. A. & F. Pears, Ltd. (Pears' Soap).

Evening Express, 25th July 1900.
A Cheap Mermaid.

Some time ago a mermaid fetched twenty guineas.
On Tuesday one was sold in the historic sale rooms at Covent Garden for five shillings. The first was a real one, so far as it isi possible to get one, being a stuffed manatee. The one knocked down on Tuesday was a Japanese concoction, consisting of a monkey's head and arms and a fish tail deftly joined together.

Such supposed creatures used to be not uncommon in penny gaffs in this country, but are now pretty nearly extinct, as even the most ignorant countryman would hardly be made to believe in one at the present day.Included in the same sale was an Arizona mummy from the caves in the Del Muerto Canon. The collector carried it off under his arm.

Dugongs = mermaids in Yemen. Copyright the Canadian Museum of History.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Mermaid at Reculver / Margate, Kent

From the Stamford Mercury, 12th August 1814.

THE MERMAID -- All the good people of Margate are in a state of consternation, with the well-attested account of a preternatural vision in the sea, which, it is said, took place on Wednesday morning, at day-break, nearly opposite to the Reculvers, and which promises to put the question to rest for ever, as to the doubts which have heretofore been entertained relative to the existence of that species of sea-monsters, called mermaids.

Peter Bourdonner, a farmer of French extraction, who resides in the parish of St. Nicholas in the island, hath made an oath, that as he was driving his cart, laden with potatoes, to the market, on the 3d ultimo, at four a.m. the donkey that drew it began to erect his ears, and bray most violently and tremble, just as he turned the corner of the eminence that forms the angle of Plum-pudding Island; and that on his looking towards the sea, he clearly observed a female form, disporting, as it were, upon the surface of the water, and who seemed to becken him onward with one hand, while she was combing her green locks with a large crab with the other.

She appeared as if coyly playful in her action, as if willing to be seen, and yet unwilling to show that will. --When the honest farmer had put on his spectacles to ascertain the vision more clearly, a puppy that he was bringing in the cart, as a present to Mr. Allum, the baker, began to bark, which frightened the marine gentlewoman so much, that she gave a shriek and disappeared!

Carlisle Journal, 27th August 1814.
The papers contain a humorous and rather curious account of one of those fabled "monsters of the vasty deep," yclept a Mermaid, which it is asserted was seen off Margate, early on the morning of the 3rd inst. A farmer going to market and the clerk and sexton of the Reculvers make oath as to their having seen it, and that it civilly beckoned them towards it; but disappeared on the barking of a dog and crowing of a cock. We presume that this miraculous appearance was neither more nor less than some buxom young damsel cooling her fervid limbs in the pure waters of the ocean, without the incumbrance of bathing chemise.  -The farmer positively asserted that he saw her combing her green locks with a large crab! and the sexton, with equal veracity says, he distinctly heard her repeat, in an audible voice, the first stanza of Purcell's celebrated dirge of "Full fathom five my father lies."

Bristol Mirror, 20th August 1814
The wife of a respectable citizen has excited a good deal of curiosity at Margate. She bathes in a green dress, without a cap; and, attached to the shoulders of the dress is something resembling fins. She swims remarkably well, and the peculiarity of her paraphenalia, together with her long black har, have occasioned many to believe, who saw her bathe, that it was a mermaid, and they have actually written home to their friends, assuring them of the fact.

[F.F. - she bathes at four a.m? I think it's unlikely].

Murex pecten shell - Mermaid's comb. CC image Richard Parker

Mermaid in the Red Sea

From the Morning Post, 6th October 1819.

MERMAIDS. To the Editors.

SIR-- Having read in the Papers an account respecting the existence of the Mermaid copied from The Galway Advertiser, I take the liberty to submit to you the following fact, which, if you should consider it worth insertion, you may publish whenever you like:--

In the month of August, 1805, I was on board of a brig, on my voyage through the Red Sea, in latitude between 14 and 15 degrees, North, quite becalmed, in the centre of a gulf. On a morning, about eleven o'clock, I saw a whale at a little distance from us; and a short time after, I saw something about the size and shape of a coffin jumping just by our side, out of the water as high as nearly to the maintop, when, on its dropping down, I observed the lower part was like a dolphin, and the upper part, to my astonishment, was exactly of the form of a female's bust, composed of a head with long hair, dropping backwards, a fine and correct profile, and an elegantly prominent bosom; but I do not remember that I saw any arms or hands.

My anxiety and curiosity were of course warmly excited, till, to my full satisfaction, I saw her jumping again four or five times, on which opportunities I had the gratification to make ample observations. I considered her jumping out of the water to be occasioned by her being pursued by the whale I saw before. Now, Mr. Editor, I am very glad to find that this animal, the existence of which was doubted, has been found in this quarter of the globe, because when I related my story several times, my hearers were rather doubtful of the fact.

I have the honour to be, your humble Servant,
Sept. 27, 1819.

From a book by Sabine Baring-Gould

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Description of a stuffed mermaid in Leith

from 'A display of Heraldry' by J Guillim, 1679.

From the Morning Advertiser, 12th October 1809.

Mr Editor,
Two accounts, recently published in several Newspapers, of the appeance of Mermaids on the coast of Caithness, and which have excited much curiosity, seem fully to desmonstrate the existence of these remarkable oceanic animals, by naturalists deemed fabulous. Both the narratives are from persons of respectability, who had themselves ridiculed the common reports of the country people, reports which, it now appears, were perfectly well founded. Nothwithstanding this, there are still sceptics who not only deride the vulgar reports, but the more accurate and well authenticated descriptions of the Ladies and Gentlemen above quoted, because no such animal has been described by naturalists. But if these learned personages will not take the trouble of going to the proper places, and making a thorough and persevering investigation, how can they expect to see these rare animals, either terrestrial or marine?

As France takes at present decidedly the lead in scientific researches, and her philosophers have made many discoveries of phenomena before believed impossible, I have no doubt but, immediately on the return of peace, Bonaparte (whose patronage of science in no inconsiderable degree counter-balances his attrocities) will station a party of savans off the coast of Caithness, to ascertain this important fact of natural history; I hope, however, he will be anticipated by our own Royal Society, and that in a short time Mr. Pidcock will be able to exhibit at his Menagerie over Exeter Change, as many Mermaids as he now does Black Swans, birds which, until the discoveries of his present Majesty's reign, were also believed to be non-existent, or at least to be equally rare as white mice, white crows, or any other lusi naturae, instead of being a distinct and numerous species.

But, say the sceptics, we hear only of Mermaids, and if they be literally all Maids, how can they generate? I am happy, sir, that it is in my power to answer this objection, and to shew incontestibly that they are male and female, like other animals.

About 38 or 40 years ago, there was exhibited at Leith races a Merman, which had been caught by a Newhaven fisherman when dragging for oysters, and was shewn for three-pence a piece, in a booth near the Glass-house. I have called it a Merman, but from its size, being only a foot and a half long, and the Mermaids of which we have had descriptions having been represented as of the ordinary size of women, this I suppose must have been a young one, and ought more properly to be termed a Merboy.

Being little skilled either in anatomy or natural history, I cannot give your readers a scientific description of this extraordinary production of the sea; but the following account, as far as it goes, you may depend on being accurate, as I examined the creature with all the attention in my power.

The head was longer in proportion to the body than the human head, and joined by a short thick neck; the hair was of a marine blue, thick and bushy; the face was covered with scales; the eyes projected like those of an haddock; the nose was broad and flat, like that of an African negro, but twice as large in proportion; the lips thin and white, and the teeth remarkably sharp; the ears were merely two valves, close to the head, doubtless wisely ordained to prevent the introduction of water. The breasts were flat, and, as well as the rest of the body, covered by a shell, like a lobster, but with an alternation of blue and white across, producing an effect somewhat similar to the appearance of a sailor's striped waistcoat; the arms were remarkably short, and the fingers webbed, the nails very long and transparent. It had two tails, of a pale red colour, the one somewhat shorter than the other; whether this was the natural conformation of the animal, or had been occasioned by external injury, cannot be known but by comparison. These tails, as well as the back, were covered by a thick tough skin, without scales, and it was provided with a large dorsal fin. The marks of sexual distinction were easily perceptible, and minute; probably from the creature not being fully grown.

The foregoing account can be attested to by hundreds of the inhabitants of Leith and Edinburgh; indeed I have been informed that this specimen was preserved by the late ingenious Mr. Alexander Weir, and formed a valuable article of his Museum.

I am, Sir, your most obedient servant,
Archibald James, jun.
Mount Pleasant, Coldbath-fields, Oct 2, 1809.

CC image (and creation?) by Malcolm Lidbury

Mermaid at Grimsby (mermaid fever?)

From the Hull Chronicle, reprinted in the Belfast Commercial Chronicle 25th October 1809.

The many extraordinary tales that have been mentioned respecting the existence of the mermaid, have given such an air of absurdity to the fact, that there is little wonder at the incredulity of the generality of people in doubting the existence of such a creature in toto. The several instances lately occurring of such an object, as which generally passes under the name of the mermaid, having been seen by persons who may be supposed little likely to be imposed upon by an imaginary appearance, has shaken the opinioin of many and led them at least to hesitate before they condemned the opinion as monstrous and improbable. The appearance of these creatures have generally been confined within those places where positive proof was somewhat hard to be obtained, or at least where the fact had lain so long in obscurity as to prevent an immediate inquiry into the truth of the circumstances.

A short time since, a mermaid was seen in the north of Scotland, and various statements have been published by people who averred having seen similar appearances on the coasts of Norway, but we never before the present instance heard of them being seen on our coasts. Last week, however, whilst a sloop belonging to Beverley was at anchor in Hawk Roads, near Grimsby, a boy on board saw the appearance of a woman at some distance, who he supposed by some accident to have unfortunately fallen overboard a vessel.

Anxious to save her, he hauled the sloop's boat to him, and called to the master and another person on board to assist; but the lady, as he called her, having disappeared, they looked anxiously towards the spot, expecting she might again be buoyed up by the water and thus enable them to render her the assistance she might want. In a short time she appeared again, when they were immediately sensible, from her appearance, that it was a creature of the mermaid species. She came so near the vessel that they could not be deceived, for they perceived her shake herself, and put up her hands to shake back her hair, which was very  long and quite black. Her appearance they describe as that of a blooming country girl.

The above is as nearly as we have been able to learn an accurate account of the appearance of this singular phenomenon, a phenomenon which has afforded a subject of much disputation, but has never yet, so far as we learn, been positively decided as existing.

From the cover of 'The Mermaid of Inish Uig' by R Edwards, 1898

Mermaids: Sanday Island and Canna, Inner Hebrides


From the Caledonian Mercury, 18th November 1809.

MERMAIDS. A Correspondent writes as follows.

ARASAIG, 28th Sept. 1809. -- The following declaration was this day emitted, in presence of the after subscribing witnesses.

Neil McIntosh in Sandy Island, Canna, states that he has heard from different individuals in the island of Canna, that they have seen the fish called Mermaids; that these anials had the upper parts resembling the human figure, and the lower extremities resembling a fish. In particular, about six years ago, Neil Stewart and Neil McIsaac, both alive in Canna, when walking upon the sea beach on the north end of the isalnd, on a Sunday, saw stretched on a rock at a small distance, an animal of the above description, having the appearance of a woman in the upper parts and of a fish below; that on seeing them it sprung into the water, after which they had a more distinct view of its upper parts, which strongly resembled a female of the human species --

That Lachlan McArthur, of the same island, informed McIntosh, that some years ago, sailing from Uist to Skye in a stormy day, he saw rising from the water near the stern of the boat in which he was, a figure resembling a woman in upper parts, which terrified him extremely.

Neil McIntosh further states, that he himself, about five year ago, was steering a boat from Canna to Skye in a stormy day; that when about one fourth of the passage from Canna he saw something near him of a white colour, and of the human figure, spring almost out of the water, which he took for the animal above described; but as it instantly disappeared again, he had no opportunity of examining it minutely; that he felt considerable alarm at the sight of it, as a general opinion of prejudice exists amongst the inhabitants of the Western Isles, that it is extremely unlucky to meet with or look upon such animals at sea, or to point them out to the rest of the crew, unless they observe it of themselves.

Signed, Neil McIntosh; Robert Brown, factor for Clanrannald, witness; Donald McNeil of Canna, witness; William Campbell, W.S. Edinburgh, witness; James Gillespie, architect, Edinburgh, witness.

Portree, 2d Oct. 1809-- That what is above written is a true copy of the original.
Attested Malcolm Wright, N.P..

Mermaid exhibited in London in 1822 denounced

From the Hereford Journal, 4th December 1822.


On my arrival in London, I hastened to see the so-called Mermaid. My mind had been made up on the subject, but I was determined to have ocular proof of the conclusions I had formed. This compound organic form is the very personification of ugliness. The capitol, that of an Ape, (the long armed Baboon,) exhibits in its cerebral developments, the full measure of animal propensities, while its frontispiece is singularly void of the organs of intelligence.

The first thing which struck one was the utter incongruity of the piece. --The fish part should have been at least quadruple the size it is, for such a superstructure. -- It is therefore the "Discordia rerum non bene junctarum." Fairburn has published a print of this non descript by Cruikshank -- it possesses however this important fault, the fish part is here in some conformity with the superimposed mass - a condition totally overlooked in the thing itself.

The history of the Brute is not very credible. It was found cast on shore on the north of China, after a storm, by some Malay fishermen, and was purchased by its present possessor for £1,200 at Batavia. The exhibitant told me, he conceived that were it artificial, the artist would have endeavoured to make the thing more sightly.

Now it occurs to me that it is perfectly of a piece with the conduct and character of the inmates of China. They are exceedingly fond of monstrous shapes. The Baboon seems to have been purposely put to a 
violent and cruel death in order to obtain this hideous caricature.  [some mad ranting]

It appears to me most strange that Dr. Phillip should have so committed himself with respect to this incongruous compound, and equally so that Dr. Reece Price should have sanctioned the belief of its being  a natural producion, by his opinion. it has been even said that Sir Everard Home conceded as much; but I cannot believe it, Sir E. is much more cautious than this amounts to.

That the fabric is neatly put together, must be freely admitted; but I am confident that I can trace the curved lines of its junction in a great part of its circumference; and this with the naked eye, for a lens is of little use (though also employed), seeing the hideous form is encased in glass; nay more, I egregiously deceive myself, if I did not perceive two or three of the stitches by whic it has been sewed together.

The continuation of the vertebral joints under the membrane of the simia is sufficiently ingenious, and may startle, prima facie; but the cutis seems to have been merely thrown back for the introduction beneath it of the vertebra of the fish part. [some more exuberant ranting follows]

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most humble Servant,
Hereford, November 30, 1822.

The 1822 sensation

Mermaid shown in London and Birmingham, 1843

From the Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier, 21st September 1843.

[...] But there is now exhibiting in London, a mermaid, which, though it pretend to no notions of a Deity itself, was regarded as one by some natives of South America, who caught it in the Rio de la Plata, and prepared it after a rude manner for preservation. From them it was purchased, the exhibitor states, by two travellers for the British Museum, the authorities of which have given him special permission to show it for a time.*

The same authority gives the following description of this "mermaid or siren of the sea," as it is designated: --

"The features are both pleasing and interesting; its abundance of hair is extraordinary, but coarse as bristles; its teeth are of a snowy whiteness, without any grinders, with cartilaginous gums, tongue, and roof to the mouth. The two arms, which are short, terminate with short webbed fingers, each having the appearance of a nail at the end. The bust is perfectly that of a woman. The back is nearly covered with fins, and to support its body when sitting up in the water, it has four fins, placed in opposite directions, in front of the body."

An inspection will certainly confirm this statement; and, as naturalists have not condescended to define what a mermaid is under its proper class - mammalia -- we may venture, perhaps, to pronounce this to be as good a one as ever was seen. After being submitted to the view of the Queen and Prince Albert, this "siren of the sea" is to be present at Birmingham during the approaching music festival - a fearful rival to each biped songstress there, who, in competition with this fishwoman, or womanfish, will find herself vox, et preterea nihil.

[F.F. notes: * somehow I doubt this but it's good advertising.]

Weird River Ayr, Scotland


"On Christmas morning, about 8 o'clock, the bed of the river of Air was perceived to be quite dry, from near the ships to the Dam-back, which is a large half-mile. Several gentlemen walked backward and forward in the channel where the water used to run, and the boys catched fishes on dry ground. When the tide began to make, the river returned to its usual bigness, and has continued so ever since." -- Scots Magazine, Dec 1764.

Reprinted in the Scottish Journal of Topography, Antiquities, Traditions, etc.etc.etc. September 4th, 1847.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

On Mermaids (from a Dutch source)

Image by Julian P Guffogg

From the Scots Magazine, 1st March 1795.

On Mermaids.

The account I am to give of Mermaids is taken from a Dutch book, which is very rare, and not translated, as far as I know, into either French or English; and therefore I will give it in the words of the author, who is one Valentyn, minister of the gospel in Amboyna and Banda. He lived in the beginning of this century, and has written a Natural History of India, which I am told is the best extant. A friend of ine, who has favoured me with a translation of the passages from it that follow, assures me that the author was a man esteemed by the Dutch of Batavia (among whom my friend lived for several years), to be a man of perfect veracity, and, from what he has collected concerning the mermaids he appears to have been a man of learning, and of great curiosity and industry. In his third volume, which treats of Amboyna, and the islands in its neighbourhood, he says, "It seems very certain, that in former times, mermaids have been seen here.

"In the Company's Daily Register for the year 1653, there is inserted, that Lieutenant Smallen saw, at the time he was sent with some men, on an expedition in the bay of Houndelo, as did all the people that were with him, in clear day time, two mermaids, the one greater, the other smaller, which they took to be man and wife, swimming together; that the hair of their head hung over their neck, and that it appeared between a green and greyish colour: and that they could see they had breasts. They were all above the waist shaped as a human creature; and from thence downwards, they seemed to go tapering off to a point. About six weeks afterwards, near the same place, the like appearance was seen by the said Smallen, and upwards of fifty people that were with him.

"Alkert Herport, in his account of India, fol. 147. says: On the 29th of April, at Taynan, near the New Work, in the afternoon, a man appeared three times above water; and, on immediate examination, nobody was missing. In the afternoon, he appeared in like manner three times near to the bulwark, called Hollandia; his hair was long and a mixture of green and grey colour.

"In 1712, it is said a mermaid or sea woman, was taken alive (near the island of Booro), which was fifty-nine inches or five feet long. She lived four days and seven hours, and then died, as she would not eat any thing. She was ever heard to articulate any noise. It is said, that one Samuel Falvers, in Amboyna, preserved the body for some time, and made an exact description of it, by which it appears that her head was like a woman's, properly proportioned, with eyes, nose, and mouth: only the eyes, which were light blue, seemed to differ a little from those of the human species. The hair, that just reached over the neck, a ppeared of a sea-green and grey-ish colour. She had breasts, long arms, hands, and all the upper-parts of the body, almost as white as a woman's, but leaning somewhat to the sea green. Her body, below the navel, appeared like the hinder part of a fish.

"It is well known that many writers have handed down to us an account of what happened in the year 1403 or 1404, in the time of a great storm in Europe. Many dikes in Holland were broken down, betwixt Hampen and Edam, in the Zuyder Zee. A wild, or sea woman, was driven from thence through the breach in the dyke, into the Parmer Sea, and there taken by the boors of Edam, to which place they brought her, cleared her of sea-ware, and put cloaths on her. The people of Haarlem heard of it, and requested to have her, which was granted. She had in the mean time learned to eat victuals, and they afterwards taught her to spin. Sehe lived many years, and, as the priests said, had been observed to pay reverence to the holy cross. She was allowed at her death a christian burial. Many writers declare, that they had spoke to people who had seen the sea-woman.

"Pliny (book ix. chap. 5), says, that the ambassadors to Augustus, from Gaul, declared, that such sea-women were often seen in their neighbourhood.

"It is worthy of notice what Alexander of Alexandria (book iii. chap 1. Genial. Dier.) says of such sea people. He was informed by Draconites Bonifacius, a Neapolitan nobleman, a man of great honour, that, when he served in Sapin, he saw a sea-man preserved in honey, which was sent to the king from the neighbourhood of Mauritania; that it looked like an old man, with a very rough head and beard of a sky-blue colour, much larger than a common run of men; and that there were small bones in the fins, with which he swam. This he related as a thing known to every one in that part of the world.

"Theodorus Gaza relates, that when he was driven into the Morea, such a woman was driven on that coast by a violent storm;  that he saw her, and she was very well looked; that she sighed, and seemed very much concerned when a number of people came round her; that he had pity on her, and caused the people to stand at a distance; that she profited by the opportunity, and, by the help of her feet and rolling, she got into the water and got off.

From 'The Wonder of Wonders' c1795

"Georgius Trapazuntius says, he saw from the sea shore such a mermaid, very handsome, appear several times above water. In Epirus, he says, there appeared a sea-man, who for some time watched near a spring of water, and endeavoured to catch young women that came there; he was with much difficulty at length catched himself, but they could never get him to eat.

"Ludovicus Vives relates that, in his time, a sea-man was taken in Holland, and was carefully kept for two years; that he began to speak, or at least to make a kind of disagreeable noise, in imitation of speech; that he found an opportunity and got into the sea. The Portuguese speak of mermaids as a common thing on the coast of Zofala and Mosambique.

"Janius says, in his time, at Swart Wall, near the Brill, the skeleton of a triton was hanging in the middle of the church.

"To this purpose a friend of mine tells me, he was informed by a fisherman, that when he was a boy at Moslensluys, near to Ton, they caught in the night-time, a mermaid half an ell long, that was perfectly like to a woman; it died soon. He declared that he had often seen things out of a cod-fish which had that appearance.

" A gentleman of good character in the Hague told me, in the year 1719, that he saw a perfect skeleton att the house of a Danish envoy, which he said had been caught near to Copenhagen. And Voffius says, that there were once five or six caught near Copenhagen; and the skeleton of one caught in the year 1644 is to be seen there.

"John Dilerey relates a curious story of some American fishers. One night, it being a perfect calm, they observed a mermaid coming into their vessel; and they, fearing it to be some mischievous fish, in the fright, one of them cut, with a hatchet, the creature's hand off, which fell within board, and the creature itself sunk immediately, but came soon up again, and gave a deep sigh as one feeling pain. The found was found to have five fingers and nails like a man's hand.

"In the last age, one of the Dutch[?] herring busses caught a mermaid in their nets. The man, who was taking on the herrings, when he came to it was so confounded, that in his fright he threw it into the sea. He repented too late of what he had done when he observed clearly that it had a head and body like a man.

"After the foregoing relations from reading and hearsay, the author, Mr Valentyn, declares what he saw himself, on his voyage from Batavia to Europe, in the year 1714, in 12 deg. 38 min, south latitude, on the first day of May[?] about 11 o'clock in the forenoon; [with the] captain, purser, and mate of the watch and a great many of the ships company, it being very calm, and the sea smooth as glass, saw, about the distance of thrice the length of the ship from us, very distinctly, on the surface of the water, seemingly sitting with his back to us, and holding the body above the water, a creature of a grizlish or grey colour, like that of cod-fish skin. It appeared like a sailor or a man sitting on something; and that more like a sailor, as on its head there seemed to be something like an English cap of the same grey colour. He was somewhat bent, and we observed him to move his head from one side to the other upwards of five and twenty times; so that we all agreed that it must certainly be some shipwrecked person. I, after looking some time, begged the captain to order them to steer the ship more directly towards it, being somewhat on the starboard side; which was done accordingly; and we had got within a ship's length of him, when the people on the forecastlee made such a noise, that he plunged down, head foremost, and got presently out of our sight. But the man who was on the watch at the mast-head declared he saw him for the space of two hundred yards, and that he had a monstrous long tail.

"I shall now only mention, that in the year 1716, the newspapers were every where full of a sea-man, who appeared in the month of January, near Ragusa, a small city on the Adriatic Sea, the like of whom I never heard or read of. It had much the resemblance of a man, but it was near fifteen feet long. Its arms were well proportioned to its body. It appeared for several days successively, and commonly came out of the sea about three o'clock in the afternoon, and walked with monstrous strides, sometimes in one, sometimes in another place.

"People from far and near went to look at it; but they were so much afraid that they kept a good distance from it, and many looked with spy-glasses. It often carried its hand above its head. The hideous noise that it made could be heard at half a mile's distance, so that people in the neighbourhood were sore afraid of it. The various accounts given by those who saw it are so uniformly the same, that there is no room left to question the veracity of the story."

Mr Valentyn then concludes with saying, "If, after all this, there should be found those who disbelieve the existence of such creatures as a Sea-man or Mermaids, of which we have at least given great reason to believe that there are, let them please themselves; I shall give myself no more trouble about them."

To these accounts of Mermaids given by Valentyn, may be added what Bartholinus relates in his Centuria Historiarum Anatomicarum Variarum, printed at Haphnia, 1654, p. 188, where he informs us, that there was in his time one of these animals catched upon the coast of Brazil, and brought to Leyden, and there dissected in presence of one whom he names, viz. Johannes de Layda, who made him a present of a hand and rib of the animal. He calls it a syren, and says it was of the form of a woman down to the waist, below which it was nothing but a piece of unformed flesh, without any marks of a tail. He gives us the figure of the whole animal, both erect and swimming, as also of the hand which he got from de Layda.

There is also in a collection of certain learned tracts, written by John Gregory, A.M. and chaplain of Christ Church in Oxford, published in London, in 1650, an account of a sea animal of the human form, very much like a bishop in his pontificals. It is said to have been sent to the King of Poland in 1531, and to have lived for some time in the air; but it took the first opportunity of throwing itself into the sea. This story, Gregory says, he got from one Rondeletius, whose words he gives us, p. 121, from which it appears that Rondeletius had the story only at second-hand, from one Gisbert, a German doctor.

But the most circumstantial story of all is that which is told by Maillet, in his Telliamed, (p.241. of the English Translation) of a sea-man that was seen by the whole crew of a French ship, off the coast of Newfoundland, in the year 1720, for two hours together, and often at the distance of no more than two or three feet. This account was drawn up by the pilot of the vessel, and signed by the captain, and all those of the crew that could write, and was sent from Brest by M. Hausefort, to the Count de Maurepas, on the 8th of September, 1725. The story is told with so many circumstances, that it is impossible there can be any deception or mistake in the case; but if it be no true, it is as impudent a forgery as ever was attempted to be imposed on the public.

These, and such like facts, I believe, as they appear to me sufficiently attested; and are not, as I think, by the nature of things, impossible; for there does not appear to me any impossibility or contradiction, that there should be a marine animal, of the human form, which can live in the water as we do in the air, or even that this animal should not have two legs as we have, but should end in a tail like a fish. There are, however, I know, many who are disposed to set bounds to the works of God, and who cannot be persuaded that even the land animal man, exists with the varieties I have described. But I follow the philosophy of Aristotle, who has said, every thing exists which is possible to exist. Nor, indeed, can I well conceive, that a benevolent and omnipotent Being, infinite in production as in every thing else, should not have produced every sensitive being that is capable of pleasure, and can enjoy a happiness suitable to its nature, whose existence is possible, that is implying no contradiction; for otherwise there would be something wanting in the system of nature, which would not be perfect or complete, as, I think, of necessity it must be.
From Lord Monboddo's Works.

Photo by wiredforlego

Sea monster at Porthleven, Cornwall

From the Northampton Mercury, 7th October 1786.

The following comes authenticated from a Gentleman of Morillian, in Cornwall, dated Sept. 15.

Description of a surprizing Sea-Monster driven on Shore in Portleaven-Bay on the Coast of Cornwall, on the 14th of Sept. 1786, by the strong Westerly Winds and tempestuous Weather, which continued for several Days, and did much Damage in that Neighbourhood.

 This Monster was first discovered by two Boys who (agreeable to the Custom of that Place) went in Search of Wreck soon after Day-break; and as they stood on the Cliff which commanded a Prospect of a small Sandy Cove, they, at a Distance of about a Mile, discovered something of enormous Bulk near the Shore, and which after a short Time they apprehended to be the Side or Part of an unfortunate Ship which had the preceding Night been broken to Pieces by the Extremity of the Shore:

They immediately went towards the Place with sanguine Expectation of great Success, and as they approached the Spot (the breaking Waves at Times leaving it dry) they were both struck with the utmost Consternation on perceiving such Motions as convinced them it was something which had Life: They then hastened with great Fear to some Men of their Acquaintance, and related what they had seen in a terrifying Manner: At first their Report was not credited, but after many strong and particular Declarations of the Fact, a great Number of People soon collected themselves into a Body, and determined to go armed, some with large Sticks and Pokers, others with Hatchets, Spits, &c. which was, after some Deliberation, carried into Execution.

On their coming near the Spot they perceived it to be something living, as was represented, and it raised its Head, which had not before ben perceived, and appeared to direct its Course towards them. All were alarmed, some stood their Ground, others possessed with greater Fear turned back; they could see no Legs to it, but it appeared to crawl on its Belly, raising its Body at Times a little from the Sand.

Various were the Opinions about this Creature; some said it was a Mermaid, others a Whale -- but the greater Number disbelieving the Existence of the former, and adhering to the Improbability of the latter, they were all equally at a Loss. When it was agreed to examine what it was, they all went towards it, and after an Hour's beating, stabbing it, &c. it expired with a Groan. Its Length was found to be from the Top of its Head, tot the End of its Tail 48 Feet, 10 Inches, and its Circumference in the largest Part of the Body, 24 Feet and a Half: Its Head was large, and prickly in the hinder Part, and not formed much unlike that of a Man; its Eyes were greenish; its Mouth large; its Nose flat, and from its Neck, to the Naval, resembling nearest to the human Kind; its Back was hard, and more difficult to penetrate than the Shell of a Turtle; it had two short fore Feet, formed like the Paw of a Monkey, and its hinder Parts shaped somewhat like the hinder Part of a Porpoise; it had a large Fan Tail, which, when spread, measured full seven Feet in width at the Extent, and but five Feet long.

It is supposed a large Quantity of Oil will be produced from it, which, with the Shell of its Back and its Fins, are judged, if properly managed, to be of great Value, and will be of considerable Benefit to this Neighbourhood. No one that has seen it, knows its Name, nor has any Monster like it ever been described in Record, or come within the Knowledge of this Kingdom.

Great sea serpent (source)

Roll up! Mermaid on show in Dublin!

From the Hibernian Journal, 6th December 1775.

The Nobility and Gentry are hereby informed, that there is just arrived, and is to be seen, in a very commodious Room, one Pair of Stairs, at No. 12, on Essex-quay, near Essex-bridge, the AMAZING MERMAID, a Creature very rare, remarkably curious, and of astonishing Structure and Sight; it is the only one of its Kind ever seen in Ireland, or in Europe, since the Archduke of Austria's, which is upwards of 226 Years.

This wonderful Nymph of the Sea, half a Woman from the Head to the lower Part of the Waist, and half a Fish from thence downwards, is three Feet long, and has Fins, Gills, Ears, Arms, Hands, Fingers, Breasts, and Shoulders, and also a contiguous Scale covering the Fish Part.

It is allowed by all that have seen it to be the most beautiful and curious Creature of its Kind in the World. It may be seen by any Person, even by the Women big with Child, without the least Degree of Danger, for he that shews it is prudent and cautious.

-- To be exhibited from Ten in the Morning to Nine at Night. -- Price of Exhibition, One British Shilling.

Any Person desirous to have it exhibited privately at his own House, may have it brought there, on giving timely Notice to the Proprietor.

From Robert Chamber's 'Book of Days'

Mermaid in Wexford

Marvellous mermaid by Erin Perry

From the Dublin Courier, 13th July 1761.

The following extraordinary account we have received from a person of unquestionable veracity in the county of Wexford. -- As a company of gentlemen, seven in number, were lately taking an evening's walk by the sea side in that county, they perceived, at the distance of forty yards, a living creature erect above the water, representing from its breasts the female human species, having a pleasing aspect, of a tawny complexion, long black hair waving on her shoulders agreeable to the motion of the water: and at a small distance further, another creature of like form, supposed to be its consort was observed in the same attitude. The spectators, struck with admiration, were at a loss to determine what these new objects could be except they were Mermaids, whose description by the ancients exactly corresponded with their appearance in every particular. While the gentlemen continued walking for two miles along the shore, these strange beings kept peace [sic] with them.
Pub. Gazetteer.

Angolan mermaid illustrations

From the Scots Magazine, 6th November 1758.

 A description of the Miscellaneous Plate.

Fig 1. and 3. are two views of the real Mermaid, frequent, as Mr Barbot, in his voyage to Congo river, says, in the lakes of Angola, in the province of Massingan. The Portuguese, in whose settlements these creatures abound, call them peixe mother or woman-fish; and the French, syrene. They are found both male and female, of various sizes; the largest about eight feet long, with short arms and hands, but long fingers, which they cannot close, because they are webbed.

They feed upon grass on the sides of lakes and rivers, and only hold their heads out of the water. Their heads and eyes are oval, the forehead high, the nose flat, and the mouth wide, without any chin or ears. The males have genitals like horses, and the females two prominent breasts; but in the water there is no distinguishing the one from the other, both being of a dark grey colour.

Fig. 1. represents the mermaid when laid upon her back. Fig. 3. shews her as she swims in the water. There are several medical virtues attributed by the natives of Angola to different bones in this animal; some of the cheek-bones they beat to powder, and take in wine for the gravel and stone; of the ribs, especially those near the heart, they make bracelets, and wear them to prevent haemorrhages, or to stop immodiate bleeding, when they happen to be seized with it. Merolla says, the river Zair abounds with these monstrous fishes, resembling a woman upwards, but the lower part like a fish, and ending in a fish's tail. The natives eat their flesh, which tastes much like pork, and are very fond of it.

But, after all, this does not seem quite to agree with the sea-monsters described by voyagers under that name. Capt. Whitbourne, in a voyage he made to Newfoundland, says, that in the river St John, a surprising creature, resembling a woman by the face, nose, mouth, chin, ears, neck and forehead, and as beautiful, came very swifly swimming towards him; that being afraid of its leaping upon him, he stept back, and then the creature dived, by which he had an opportunity of seeing its back down to the middle; which he affirms to be as square, white, and smooth, as the back of a man; the breasts he did not see.

He adds, that about its head, it had many blue streaks, that looked like hair, but was certainly not hair; and that afterwards it attempted to get into a boat, but the men being frightened, one of them struck it a blow on the head, which made it quit its hold. This, perhaps, is the most authentic account of the sea-mermaid that has been yet given.

In the history of Denmark, indeed, there is an account of creatures seen about Greenland, which the natives call hastramb, or man-fish, having the eyes, nose, head, shoulders, and arms, of a man; but without hands, and transparent as ice. The females they call marrugweg, or woman-fish. These have large breasts, long hair, arms and fingers webbed, with which they catch fish. The Danes superstitiously fancy, that when these creatures appear, they presage storms; and that if they are seen with their backs to the ship, it will inevitably perish, but if with their faces, it will certainly escape.

Navarre, in his Voyages, speaks of such a fish in India and about Manilla, and takes notice of the great virtue in its bones; and others speak of their being caught on the coast of Africa. In 1671 a man-fish was seen near the island of Martinico; and there are so many attestations of the reality of such monsters, that it were an unpardonable incredulity not to believe it.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Mermaid at Nykoping, North Jutland, Denmark.

From the Newcastle Courant, 2nd September 1749.

We hear from Nykoping in Jutland, that the Fishermen there had catch'd a Mermaid, which from the Waist upwards had an human Form, and that the rest was like a Fish, with a Tail turning up behind; that she struggled so much in the Net, that she presently killed herself; and that her Fingers, instead of being separate, were joined together by a Membrane.

CC image by Andreas F Borchert

Mermaid on the River Deveron, Aberdeenshire

From the Ipswich Journal, 7th February 1746.

[...] We hear from the North, that some Days ago a Sea-Creature, known by the Name of Mermaid, which has the Shape of a human Body from the Trunk, but below is wholly Fish, was carried some Miles up the Water of Devron.

The Little Mermaid. CC image by Avda-Berlin.

Mermaids in Mauritius = dugongs?

In the Caledonian Mercury, 16th April 1739.

[...] We were oblig'd to bear away for the Island Mauritius, inhabited by the French, where we arrived Jun27. -- This Island is very mountainous and healthy; and affords Plenty of Provisions, especially Deer. Here are also Fish in great Abundance, the Mermaid, both male and female, are often caught here. I have seen and tasted it, and tastes not unlike Veal. The Inhabitants consider it as very fine Eating.

It is a large Fish of about 3 or 400 Weight; the Head is particularly large, and so are all the Features, which differ but little from those of a Man or Woman. The Male had a Beard 4 or 5 Inches long: The Female a short Neck, and Breasts exactly human: And when first taken, they cry, grieve, and lament with the utmost Sensibility. It is an amphibious Creature, and is often taken on the Grass.

The Harlem Mermaid

Ipswich Journal, 27th May 1721.

Mr Bagnall,
Pray resolve me in your next Weeks Paper, whether there be any such Thing in Nature as Mermen and Mermaids, I being not yet satisfied in the verity thereof, notwithstanding the Reports of Seamen and others, who have maintain'd the Affirmative, and if you can make it appear there has been such, whether they may be thought to have more Reason than other Fishes, in which you will oblige,
Your Humble Servant and Customer, N.B.

Sir, I am a little surprized at your sudden demand in so curious a Question, which more properly belongs to a learned Casuist than a News-Monger; however, to oblige a Friend, I shall insert such unquestionable Instances, as may in some measure gratify the curiosity of the Inquirer, and accordingly shall first shew you what may be thought of their Nature and Production; some thing 'em not to be Creatures ab initio, but Monsters got since by unnatural Copulation; some think 'em to be very Devils from the strange Effects attributed to 'em; some that when the Angels fell, those that light in the Sea were turn'd into Mermen; and some, that the Devils begat them of Fishes; some that Fishes generating in the Deluge, and seeing drowned Men, by strength of Imagination got something like 'em.

But we see no reason but that they were created at first amongst that infinite number of other Fishes in the Sea, which bear some resemblance to the Creatures on Earth. Alexander ab Alexandro affirms he has known a Merman steal a Woman Causa concubitus, which if true, strengthens the Argument.Ferdinand Alvares, Secretary to the Store-house of the Indians, says, he saw a young Merman came out of the Water to steal Fishes from the Fishermen, and eat 'em. Olaus magnus says many things of 'em, but his Credit is questionable. Philosoph. Tract. mentions a Merman taken in a River in Virginia with a Pyramidal Head and Fish Tail:  In our English Chronicles 'tis affirmed a Man-fish was taken at Orford in this County of Suffolk, kept six Months on shore, and stole again to Sea;

but the most authentick and particular Relation we meet with, is in the History of the Netherlands, viz. The Dikes were broken down near Campen by an Inundation in 1403, and when the Inundation returned, a Merwoman was left in Dermert Mere, and the Milkmaids who us'd to cross the Mere with Boats when they went to Milk, saw a human Head above Water, but believed their Eyes deceived 'em, till the repeated sight confirmed their assurance, whereupon they resolved one night to watch her, and saw that she repaired to a seggy or flaggy place, where it was ebb and near the side; whereupon, early in the Morning they got a great many Boats together, and environed the place in the form of a half Moon, and disturbed her, but she attempting to get under the Boats, and finding her way stopt up by staves and other things on purpose fastend, began to flounce and make an hideous deafning Noise, and with her Hands and Tail sunk a Boat or two,

 but at last tyred out and taken; the Maids used her kindly, and cleansed the Sea Moss and Shells from off her, and offered her Water, Fish, Milk, Bread, &c. which she refused, but with good usage in a Day or two, they got her to eat and drink, though she endeavoured to make her escape again to the Sea; her Hair was long and black, her Face humane, her Teeth very strong, her Breasts and Belly to her Navel were perfect; the lower parts of her Body ended in a strong Fish Tail. The Magistrates of Harlem commanded her to be sent to them, for that the Mere was in their Jurisdiction;

When she was brought thither, she was put into the Town house and had a Dame assigned to teach her. She learnt to Spin and show Devotion at Prayer, she would laugh, and when Women came into the Town house to Spin with her for Diversion, she would signify by Signs she knew their meaning in some sort, though she could never be taught to Speak. She would wear no Cloths in Summer; part of her Hair was fillited up in a Dutch Dress, and part hang'd long and naturally. She would have her Tail in the Water, and accordingly had a Tub of Water under her Chair made on purpose for her. She eat Milk, Water, Bread, Butter and Fish; she lived thus out of her Element (except her Tail) fifteen or sixteen Years: Her Picture was painted on a Board with Oyl, and hangs now in the Town house of Harlem, with a Subscription in Letters of Gold, giving an Account when she was taken, how long she lived, and when she died, and in what Church-yard she was buried. Their Annals mention her, and their Books have her Picture; and travelling Painters drew her Picture by the Table.

By the above-mentioned Relation the Querist may be satisfied that she exceeds all other Creatures in cunning and docility, that have ever yet been known, and probably by her Burial might be reckoned in the Classes of Rationals, by the Magistrates who knew her Life, and suffered a place in the Church yard for her Interment.

The Zennor mermaid. CC image by Sarah Smith.

Hideous merman at Leghorn, 1717

Stamford Mercury, 5th September 1717.

The Letters from Leghorn of the 15th say, that there has been seen in those Seas a terrible Mermaid, or rather Merman; that it shews it self 13 or 14 Foot high above the Water; but if any Boat or Vessel makes towards it, then it makes a frightful Noise, and plunges into the Sea. Several that have seen it, represent it as the most hideous Monster that has been ever seen in the World.