Saturday, 6 December 2014

Creatures From the Deep: Mermaids - Part Two

Sydney Aquarium
Accounts of mermaids can be found everywhere, although they most often come from sailors and those that live on the coast.  Today we will look at some of these accounts, both historic and modern, from around the world

One famous sighting of mermaids can be found in the Journal of Christopher Columbus, which he claimed to have seen during his first voyage.  The following account can be found n Wednesday, 9th of January 1493.

'On the previous day, when the Admiral went to the Rio del Oro, he saw three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea; but they are not so beautiful as they are painted, though to some extent they have the form of a human face.  The Admiral says that he had seen some, at other times, in Guinea, on the coast of the Manequeta.'

Modern interpretations of Columbus' account suggest that the mermaid sighting was in fact the manatis, or sea-cows which were once relatively common in the Carribean Sea and the rivers of South America.  'Their resemblance to human beings, when rising in the water, must have been striking.  They have small, rounded heads and cervical vertebrae which form a neck, enabling the animal to turn its head about.  The fore-lims also, instead of being pectoral fins, have the character of the arm and hand of the higher mammalia.  These peculiarities, and their very human way of suckling their young, holding it by the forearm, which is movable at the elblow-joint, suggested the idea of mermais.'

The Little Mermaid by noctillucca
Columbus' sighting was not the first account of mermaids and it was by far the last.  Accounts of mermaids can be found as far back as the 1st century AD and continue right up to modern times.  However, the opinion of these accounts  vary, with some believing this creatures exist, others believing they are actually some type of seal, some claiming they are nothing but a figment of the imagination, and others still believing they are some kind of alien.
In the 1st century AD Pliny the Elder wrote of mermaids in his Natural History with absolute conviction that they existed, as can be seen in the following excerpt.

Nereid by Lady-Nihonto
...there was seen and heard within a certain cave a Triton, sounding a shell; and that he was known by his form.  And it is not false that there is such a creature as a Nereid; only their body is rough with scales, even in those parts where they possess a human form.  For such a female being was beheld on the same shore; and the neighbouring inhabitants heard is moaning from a distance when it was dying.  Also, a Governor of Gaul, under Divus Augustus, wrote, that many of these Nereids were seen dead upon the shore.  I possess authors, illustrious in the equestrian order, who testify that in the ocean near Gades they saw a sea-man, in the whole body perfectly resembling a man: that in the night season he would come aboard their boats; and on whatever part he sat, he weighed it down; so that if he continued there any long time he would even sink it.
                                                                                                            From Pliny's Natural History

Another famous account comes from In 1614 John  Smith, associated with Pocahontas, who claimed to have seen a mermaid which was so beautiful he'd believed it to be a human girl bathing.  However, when he approached her Smith realized she had green hair and 'from below the waist the woman gave way to fish.'  John Smith reported that the mermaid had 'large eyes, rather round, a finely shaped nose (a little too short), well formed ears, rather too long, and her long green hair imparted to her an original character by no means unattractive.'

Escaped by Elydor
While there are many reports from sailors who said that they'd seen mermaids, there are probably just as many accounts of mermaids being captured.  In 1403, a mermaid is said to have been captured just offshore of Edam in Holland.  It lived on dry land for several years, dressed in woman's apparel and soon learned to spin.  Its religious education was not neglected, and it is recorded that although the mermaid did not speak, it always made devout reverences with its tail each time it passed a crucifix.

British fisherman are said to have caught something strange in ther net near Oxford in Suffolk which they delivered to Sir Bartholomew de Glanville.  About the year 1109, Ralph de Coggeshall affirms a man-fish to have been taken near Oxford in Suffolk.  As it had a human face and beard, it was presumed that it could speak; and many tortures were applied to the poor animal to overcome its silence, but in vain.  With equal discernment, but less inhumanity, its captors took it to church; where, as might naturally be expected, 'it shewed no signs of devotion.'  The diet which this tormented creature used was fish, out of which it had previously squeezed the moisture with its hands.  One day, being neglected by its keepers, this 'lusus natura' found its way to the sea, and was heard of no more.

Another interesting account comes from 1718, whe the Dutchman Samuel Fallours described a mermaid which he claimed to keep in his bath.  'It was kept alive in a tub for more than 4 days, uttering cries like those of a mouse.'  A portrait of the mermaid was given to King George III of England and Czar Peter the Great of Russia as well as other dignitaries.  A picture of the mermaid, drawn by Fallours, was also printed in the book Poissons, exrevisses et crabes de diverses couleurs et figures extraordinaires, que l'on trouve autour des Isles Moloques, by Louis Renard which was dedicated to King George.  Accompanying the image was the following description:

PETMA Mermaid Poster by Aazure-Dragon
See-wyf.  A monster resembling a Siren caught near the island of Borne, or Boeren, in the Department of Amboine.  It was 59 inches long and in proportion as an eel.  It lived on land, in a vat full of water, during four days and seven hours.  From time to time it uttered little cries like those of a mouse.  It would not eat, though it was offered small fish, shells, crabs, lobsters &c.  After its death, some excrement was discovered in the vat, like the secretion of a cat.

A particularly interesting mermaid account from 1830 comes from the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides off northwest Scotland.  It was reported by British folklorist Alexander Carmichael, who stated that the tale had come from 'persons still living who saw and touched this curious creature.'  The following account is taken from Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica, written in 1900.

.'Some seventy years ago, people were cutting seaweed at Sgeir na duchadh,Grinnis, Benbecula.  Before putting on her stockings, one of the women went to the lower end of the reef to wash her feet.  While doing so she heard a splash in the calm sea, and looking up she saw a creature in the form of a woman in miniature, some few feet away.  Alarmed, the woman called to her friends, and all the people present rushed to the place.
    The creature made somersaults and turned about in various directions.  Some men waded into the water to seize her, but she moved beyond their reach.  Some boys threw  stones at her, one of which struct her in the back.  A few days afterwards, this strange creature was found dead at Culle, Nunton, nearly ten miles away. 
    The upper portion of the creature was about the size of a well-fed child of three or four years of
Little Mermaid Final by madamenanas
age, with an abnormally developed breast.  The hair was long, dark, and glossy, while the skin was white, soft, and tender.  The lower part of the body was like a salmon, but without scales.  Crowds of people, some from long distances, came to see this strange animal, and all were unanimous in the opinion that they had gazed on the mermaid at last.
    Mr Duncan Shaw, factos for Claranald, baron-bailie and sheriff of the district, ordered a coffin and shroud to be made for the mermaid.  This was done, and the body was buried in the presence of many people, a short distance above the shore where it was found.  There are persons still 

Duyung by Wolfberry-J
Several mermaids were spotted by Japanese soldiers in 1943 on the shore of the Indonesian Kei Islands.  The soldiers claimed that the mermaids were swimming in the water while another apparently dead mermaid was on the beach.  They described them as 'roughly 4-foot 9-inches tall, pinkish skin, human looking face and limbs, spikes along its head, and a mouth like a carp.'  Sergent Taro Horiba examined the dead mermaid and, on his return to Japan, encouraged scientists to study creatures like the one he had had examined.  His suggestions for further studied were ignored and no further investigation was made as the scientists didn't believe Horiba's claim.  Locals in the area refer to mermaids as Orang Ikan, or 'fish people', with several such creatures being reported as becoming caught in fishing nets over the years.

Mermaid Caught on Tape in Israel?
Both locals and tourists flocked to the town of Kiryat Yam in Israel in 2009n the hope they might catch sight of a mermaid.  Shlomo Cohen, one of the first people to see the alleged mermaid, gave the following account. 'I was with friend swhen suddenly we saw a woman laying on the sand in a weird way.  At first I though she was just another sunbather, but when we approached she jumped into the water and disappeared.  We were all in shock because we saw she had a tail.'  The mermaid, who was described as 'a cross between a fish and a young girl', was claimed to appear at sunset when it would perform a few tricks before disappearing beneath the waves.  The Kiryat Yam government offered a prize of $1,000,000 to anyone that could get a photograph of the mermaid but the money has yet been unclaimed, with many insisting the sighting was a hoax or some kind of misconception.



Useful Resources

The Journal of Christopher Columbus (During His First Voyage, 1492-93) and Documents Relating the Voyages of John Cabot and Gaspar Corte Real by Clements Robert Markham, Christopher Columbus, Paolo Pozzo Del Toscanelli
The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History by Jan Bondeson
Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, Volume 2 by Sabine Baring-Gould
Atheneum, Or, Spirit of the English Magazines Volume XII Oct 1822 to April 1823
Unsolved Mysteries of the Sea by Lionel & Patricia Fanthorpe
Hidden Animals: A Field Guide to Batsquash, Chupacabra, and Other Elusive Creatures by Michael Newton
Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael
Livescience - Mermaid Sightings Claimed in Israel