Saturday, 18 February 2017

Horniman museum has a mermaid

If you want to visit a Feejee mermaid, they have one at the Horniman Museum in London. It's been CAT-scanned and otherwise investigated. You can read about it

at the Guardian,

and also on the Horniman Museum's website itself.

A longer article from the Journal of Museum Ethnography can be downloaded from here.

A rather similar creature, CC image from the Wellcome Trust

Monday, 13 February 2017

French Mermaid

A fisherman at St. Valery sur Somme, (France,) a few days since, caught in his net, a fish exactly resembling the description given of Mermaid [sic]. The head and breast are of the human form, and when half the body is out of water, it has the appearance of a woman. It was sent by the Perfect of the Department to Paris, where it was hoped it would arive alive -- French Paper.

 Wexford Conservative, 2nd August 1834.

painting by Charles Landelle

Norwich mermaids

Mermaid -- There are now exhibiting about this city, two curious nondescripts; they are termed the Mermaid and Merman. They were caught by a fisherman on the Isle of Sanda, one of the Orkney Islands, on the 2nd January last. -- Norwich Mercury.

In the Leicestershire Mercury, 20th July 1839.

CC image Danielclauzier

Mermaid jape.

Hoax. -- Some wags having reported that a mermaid was to be seen at the North-wall yesterday morning, a crowd of persons assembled on the quay. After enduring a smart shower of snow, they had to bear hearty jeers from the by-standers on the approach of the Mermaid - a handsome, round-sterned steamer from Bristol - to take up the position of the Jupiter between Dublin and Glasgow - the latter having been dispatched with troops the evening previous to Liverpool, where she is to be refitted with new boilers, &c. &c. The Duchess of Kent arriving same tide was an additional source of amusement. -- Evening Packet.

In the Wexford Conservative, 22nd May 1839.

A mermaid paddle steamer.

Mermaid at Rossbeigh, Kerry

A Mermaid -- We have it from authority, so respectable as to admit of no doubt, that so rare and extraordinary a phenomenon as a Mermaid has, during the present summer, frequently made its appearance at Rossbeigh in Castlemain Bay. It often rests on a rock, distant about 300 yards from the shore, and has been distinctly seen by thousands of people. The face, neck, breast, and hands, strongly resemble those of a human being; but, in its movements in the water, it has been clearly perceived the body ends in the tail of a fish. It is a solitary creature, unaccompanied by any of its own species, and from the appearance of the breasts, and lower part of the body, it is supposed, by all who have seen it, to be feminine. It was seen to use its hands in washing and rubbing its face. -- Kerry Post.

In the Clonmel Herald, 31st August 1836.

Cynical, possibly slightly racist version: 

A "Rare" Mermaid. --  A Kerry paper assures us that "the rare and extraordinary phenomenon" - a real Mermaid - has recently been exhibiting itself (in a state of nudity) at Rossbeighs, in Castlemain Bay. "It often rests," adds the writer, "on a rock distant three hundred yards from the shore, and has been distinctly seen by thousands of people. The face, neck, breasts, and hands, strongly resemble those of a human being" or no doubt a whale! Our readers are not not to place the most implicit faith in the stories of Kerry people, for they have the rare power of seeing that which is invisible to every body else. It is firmly believed in that enlightened district that a lad named Dick Fitzgerald but a few years since actually contracted with a female "phenomenon" of the same character.

The Scotsman, 14th September 1836.

Rossbeigh. looks alright. CC image Goatoo

The Rossbeigh mermaid pressed into service by the church.

Work for the Kerry Mermaid.
-- A correspondent  informs us - "The mermaid on the bay of Dingle is nothing but a northern seal, being larger and more silvery in its colour than those on this coast, I have seen it repeatedly, probable the creature is weak, which may be the cause of it being so much out of its latitude. Of course the supersitious called it a mermaid, and the priest encouraged the idea, saying it was sent to frighten off the fish from the coast, as a punishment for fishing on Sundays." - Limerick Chronicle

In the Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 5th September 1836.

Did you know the ten commandments aren't even consistent? Image

The Kerry Evening Post also seems to have treated the tale humourously:

 --The Rossbeigh MERMAID presents her compliments to the JACKANAPES of the Tralee Mercury, and requests he will be pleased to accept her best thanks for the kind notice he has, in his last publications, honoured her with on her arrival on those shores. The JACKANAPES and all other APES (particularly the OURANG-OUTANG,) have as grotesque a resemblance to "the human form divine" as the Mermaid herself; she, therefore, requests that in future her scaly tail may be left untouched. The great deficiency in the apish tribes, is however immediately perceptible in the interior of the skull of the jackanapes; its emptiness being proved by the incessant saucy chatter of the animal, its malicious grimace and its attempts to bite its betters, who sometimes tame it by a few sound kicks, though, in general, they look down upon it with utter contempt. Notwithstanding its habitual impertinence, it fawns on and cringes to a beast (not a baboon without a tail, but a kind of WANDEROO, with nearly forty joints to his hinder extremity) bearing a monstrous draggle-tail now trailing in the mire. The poor jackanapes vainly hoping to pick up a few fragments that may fall from the jaws of this voracious beast. The jackanapes is now, we understand about to travel which may mend his manners.

A jackanapes is a tame monkey / a cheeky person. But I'm not sure I'm in on this joke.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Mermaid court case

In the Court of Chancery, on Wednesday, Mr. Hart applied for his Lordship's injunction to restrain a Mr. Eles for removing a certain Mermaid or dried specimen, from the room in which it was now exhibiting in St. James's-street, and from selling or disposing of it. He moved upon the affidavit of Mr. Stephen Ellery, the plaintiff, who stated that in the year 1817 he became interested jointly with Eles, the defendant, in a vessel called the Pickering. The plaintiff's share was seven-eights, and the defendant the remaining one eighth; in consideration of which he was to act as master and commander of the vessel. He proceeded on a fishing expedition, and afterwards to other ports, taking up merchandize and disposing of them again, and generally carrying on a running trade. Communications were made by the defendant to the plaintiff from time to time as to the success or loss of his traffic.

In December, 1821, the plaintiff received a letter from him, stating that he had received a cargo at Battavia, and was coming to Europe. In January, 1822, he received another letter, informing him that the defendant had sold the ship and cargo for 6,543l. and was returning to Antwerp for the purpose, as he alleged, of soliciting a remuneration for himself and crew, for having saved a Dutch man of war. He did not go to Antwerp, but came to London. His reason for thus changing his destination was that a vessel having arrived at Battavia bringing the mermaid, or specimen, which the defendant bought for the sum of 5,000 dollars. This money had been procured from the sale of the vessel and caargo, seven-eights of which belonged to the plaintiff. Upon the defendant's arrival in London he had taken a room for the exhibition of this mermaid, and retained the possession and the profits of his traffic for his own use.

The affidavit stated that the plaintiff believed that the defendant had no money of his own, having regularly remitted his one-eighth of the profits of his traffic for the support of his wife and family. The defendant threatened that if any claim was made he would remove the mermaid, and thus the plaintiff would be defrauded of his just share of the profits. The Lord Chancellor said that whether man, woman, or mermaid, if the right to the property was clearly made out, it was the duty of the Court to protect him. He asked whether the plaintiff swore positively to his belief that it was purchased with his money.

Mr. Hart said it was so sworn, and that he believed this purchase was the motive of the defendant's return to England. No account of the profits had been given to the plaintiff. The Lord Chancellor pronounced the injunction, and directed that the service of the minutes on the servants or agents of the defendant should be good.

The Sunday Times, 24th November 1822.

Mermaid in the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, Marseille. CC image Morburre.

Don't miss it


The most astonishing Phenomenon ever offered to public inspection, viz.
Now exhibiting at the ROTUNDA, must positively close on SATURDAY next, it being about to proceed to the Continent immediately.
Admission One Shilling British.

An advertisement in Saunders's News-Letter, 25th August 1823.

PD image

Mermaids near Padstow, Cornwall

Mermaids on the Coast of Cornwall.
From The Plymouth Journal. -- The following is an extract of a letter received on Sunday last from our Correspondent at St. Columb:-- "Within these last two or three days there have been several mermaids seen on the rocks at Trenance, in the parish of Mawgan. I will state the particulars at length, as I have been enabled to collect them, and which are from undoubted authority, and you can make what extracts you think proper. One evening this week, a young man who lives adjoining the beach at Mawgan Porth, had made an appointment to meet another person on the beach to catch sprats with him. He went out about ten o'clock at night, and coming near a point which runs into the sea, he heard a screeching noise proceeding from a large cavern which is left by the tide at low water, but which has some deep pools in it, and communicates with the sea by another outlet. He thought it was the person he had appointed to meet, and called out to him, but his astonishment is not to be described when on going up he saw something in the shape of a human figure staring on him, with long hair hanging about it. He then ran away, thinking, as he says, that he had seen the devil.

The next day, some men being on the cliffs near this place, saw three creatures of the same description. the following day five were seen. The persons who saw the last five describe them in this manner:
The mermaids were about forty feet below the men (who stood on the cliff), and were lying on a rock, separated from the land some yards by deep water; two of them were large, about four feet and a half to five feet long, and these appeared to be sleeping on the rock; the other small ones were swimming about, and went off once to sea and then came back again. The men looked at them for more than an hour, and flung stones at them, but they would not move off. The large ones seemed to be lying on their faces; their upper parts were like those of human beings, and black or dark coloured, with very long hair hanging  around them; their lower parts were of a bluish colour, and terminating in a fin, like fish. The sea would sometimes wash over them and then leave them dry again. Their movements seemed to be slow. the hair of these mermaids extended a distance of nine or ten foot.

In The Dublin Evening Mail, 9th July 1827.

The Mermaids.
We have received a letter from St. Coulumb, stating, that the persons on whose authority the appearance of the mermaids near Padstow has been asserted, continue to declare that the account in the Plymouth Journal which we copied last week, and respecting which we felt some hesitation, is perfectly correct, except that the colour of the bodies of these animals is "exactly like that of a Christian;" that one of the men did not observe that the animals had arms, but that another saw short ones, resembling fins, and that all saw the long flowing hair, &c. &c. --West Briton.

In The Globe, 16th July 1827.

Mawgan Porth. CC image Nilfanion

Exhibited Merman (and Mermaid) in Piccadilly

A.k.a. a DIY guide to making your own genuine mermaid, I think.


There is a Merman now exhibiting in a lodging-house in Piccadilly, and it has followed the Mermaid from Batavia. Both were manufactured by the Japanese; both were purchased (we believe unsuspectingly) by Captains of ships, and they are alike genuine. The Mermaid was the better piece of work of the two, and if exhibited, as we mentioned at the time, as an example of the mechanical ingenuity of the curiosity-caterers in Japan, would have been praiseworthy.

The head was that of the green African monkey, the arms those of the monkey and ape, the body and tail the salmon's, the skin of which was, when fresh taken off, in a gelatinous state, then dried, fined down with pummice-stone, gummed, and laid on over the dorsal bones (of a fish) so as to display the vertebrae, and finally exposed to the air and insects, so as to acquire the discolouration and perforation of antiquity. The arms in the Mermaid being those of the ape and monkey, the nails being well cut out of birds' quills, and the whole figure was capitally managed for a show.

But not so this Merman, who is (probably as a distinction of his sex) constructed of ruder materials. The head is hideous; and if, like Cerberus, "op'ning his greedy grinning jaws," he does not "gape with three enormous mouths," he has one mouth bigger and more hideous than them all. The head is exactly that of the catfish, which is remarkable for its round head and projecting teeth (as in this figure); the distended and deformed face is an artificial mask, manufactured upon the fish-skull; but the most clumsy contrivance of all, is the hair upon the head. Now surely a Merman or Mermaid ought, were it only in common courtesy to the best authenticated accounts, ancient and modern, to have the green hair flowing in graceful curls down the shoulders, so as to permit the elegant action of throwing it aside when buffetting the "angry deep;" then we can understand Shakspeare's
"Mermaid on a dolphin's back
"Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
"That the rude sea grew civil at her song."
But what will the reader think when he is informed that the Piccadilly Merman has a fine well-brushed head of hair, rising perpendicularly from the crown of the head in the newest Dandy fashion?

It is soft and downy, resembling in length the best muff fur - it is in fact, nothing more nor less than the thinner coat of hair of the young fox or jackall, the colour almost that of the common animal, light reddish brown with a gray root. We imagine they are not much in the habit in Japan of seeing the seal or other marine animals which are tufted with hair, or they would have seen that such hair is long and fibrous, and from the nature of the element it lives in, always clinging along the skin, and in its growth and texture bearing no resemblance to that of land animals. It would have been just the same trouble to have manufactured the one hair as the other, and there is no doubt that the Japanese will improve upon the model.

The arms are entirely artificial, and in that respect the Merman is very inferior to the Mermaid. If anyone will take the trouble to observe the articulation of the shoulders, they will see a very imperfect imitation of the ball and socket, and then again, the fingers at the palm of the hand; on the back, the shape and flexibility of the fingers is given, but no so in the inner side, there is no attempt made there to define the shape which gives to them the lateral or circular motion, or for lodging the tendons of what are called "the flexor muscles." These fingers could not bend - they want all the beautiful mechanism of anatomy: the Japanese must also improve in that science, before they send us another Merman.

As to the shape of the rest of the body, it is that of the common salmon, or cod-fish, the skin of which, a good full grown scaly one being procured, is exposed to the process of drying and darkening as we have already mentioned; it has not been fined down as in the Mermaid, and therefore the wrinkles are coarser, and the vertebrae (the regular fish-bone) not so well displayed; the skin, has, however, collapsed sufficiently upon the bones to give the full outline.

The tail of the Mermaid is coiled up, to give the figure a capacity for moving perpendicularly in the water; through a mistake the Merman's finny extremity has only the common fish's tail, and is only capable of lateral motion: so that, supposing this figure to have life, the impulse of its motion must be horizontal - its face being thus downwards in the water, its eyes become useless, and deprived of exposure to the rays of light; perhaps the laws of nature differ, however, for Mermen. Let some intelligent Merman  resolve this optical axiom.

This is our opinion of the Merman, but every spectator can judge for himself. We are not unaware of the danger of opposing the "well-authenticated accounts" of Mermen and Mermaids, from the "wilde or sauvage man in the sixt yeare of King John's raigne at Oreford, in Suffolk," caught by the fishermen "in theyr nettes," and a full account of whom will be found, and how he ultimately "fledded secretlye to the sea, and was never after seene nor hearde off," in The Gentleman's Magazine for 1762, down to the "syren  or mermaid," shown "sporting about in the vessel of water at the fair of St. Germain's in the year 1758, (see The Gentleman's Magazine for 1759); but we still want to have better evidence of the fact. We know there are affidavits in abundance to verify "sights" seen at moonlight upon the ocean; and a black man who waits upon the Merman in Piccadilly, has lately sworn before the Lord Mayor, first (and we are glad to hear it) that "he was educated in the Christian religion," and secondly, that about 20 years ago, he saw (not this animal, but ) "an animal alive at Manilla, which was called a Mermaid," that it was kept at the Governor's house, but "its distressing cries" induced him, after three days' keeping, to put it back into the river, and restore it to its natural element.

It is somewhat singular, that it was left to the poor black man, after a lapse of years, to remember what must have been known at the time, according to his statement, throughout the whole Philippine islands, but which was not sooner brought to light; and yet we do know that Sir Joseph Banks took great pains by an extensive correspondence throughout the world, to investigate all the rumours and affidavits of these Mermaids, and was, after a laborious inquiry, satisfied that their existence must be consigned to the imagination of poets.

The exibitor of this Merman states the probable retreat of the Mermaids to be "in the most remote and fathomless depths of the sea." This is as it should be - Poets make ghosts "choose the darkest part o' th' grove," and say of "the ugly subjects" of night, that -
"Asham'd and fearful to appear,
"They skreen their horrid shapes with the black hemispher."
The witches of old, too, before "ill tongues" which are now upon the Mermaids were upon them, always performed their incantations by night. We agree in the propriety of having a "fathomless abyss" for the Mermen. 

The exhibitor is quite shocked at the idea of being called upon to expose the figure to dissection, "merely to gratify idle wanton curiosity;" but he declares, "that so soon as a moderate sum is realized by the exhibition, he will offer it to the faculty, to add the final proof of its genuineness, and thus show that Mermaids and Mermen  form a part of the creation." The time of this dissection will never come; in the interim, why do not some of the ingenious pupils of Mr. Brookes construct a Mermaid from some of the ample materials in his museum, which would bear dissection? Why are Captains of ships stopped in their voyages at Batavia, by the Japanese mermaid-agents, and poor natives brought from the Philippine islands to make affidavits of what they saw 20 years ago, for a commodity, which if the experiment be made, can, from our better knowledge of anatomy, be made cheaper and more perfect at home?

From The Times, June 26th, 1824.

Barnum's mermaid

Mermaid near Rothsay, Isle of Bute

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 - combing her fine black locks with the utmost deliberation, 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!"

In the Morning Post, July 25th 1826.

Herbert James Draper's 'Ulysses and the Sirens'