Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Creatures of the Deep: Sea Serpents - Part Two

Sea Serpent by Julia-Aurora
Yesterday we learned about some of the sea serpents in mythology - the Leviathan, Midgard Serpent, Hydra and Master Stoorworm.  Today we are going to look at historical accounts of sea serpents from ancient to modern times.

The earliest account of sea serpents can be traced hack to the 4th century BC, in Aristotles 'Historia Animalium' or History of Animals.  This account tells us of mariner's experieces with sea serpents near Libya.

'In Libya, according to all accounts, the length of the serpents is something appalling; sailors spin a yarn to the effect that some crews once put ashore and saw the bones of a number of oxen, and that they were sure that the oxen had been decoured by serpents, for, just as the were putting out to sea, serpents came chasing their galleys at full speed and overturned one galley and set upon the crew.'

Great Norwegian Sea-Serpent in the Sea of Darkness, by Olaus Magnus, from his History of the Northern Peoples.
According to Olaus Magnus, in his Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus or Description of the Northern Peoples, which was printed in Rome in 1555, sea serpents of around 75ft were sighted by sailors of the North in 1522.

'There is also another serpent of an astonishing size in an island called Moos, in the diocese of Hammer: which portends a change in the Kingdom of Norway, as a comet does in the whole world, as it was seen, anno 1522, raising itself high above the surface of the water and circling like a spire.  Seen from afar this serpent was estimated by conjecture to be fifty cubits long; this event was followed by the banishment of King Christiernus and by a great persecution of the Bishops; and it also showed the destruction of the country, as Isidorus tells us of the birds of Diomedes.'

Great Sea Serpent and the Maelstrom by Olaus Magnus.
Another account from the same literature tells us of sighting near Norway, where the serpent was some 200ft in length.  Note how, in both accounts, the sighting of the sea serpent is linked with the occurrence of death or banishment of royalty or the start of war. 

'They who, either to trade, or to fish, sail along the shores of Norway, relate with concurring evidence a truly admirable story, namely that a very large serpent of a length upwards of 200 feet, and 20 feet in diameter lives in rocks and holes near the shore of Bergen; it comes out of its caverns only on summernights and in fine weather to devour calves, lambs and hogs, or goes into the sea to eat cuttles, lobsters and all kinds of sea-crabs.  It has a row of hairs of two feet in length, langing from the neck, sharp scales of a dark colour, and brilliant flaming eyes.  It attacks boats, and snatches away the men, by raising itself high out of the water, and devours them: and commonly this does not happen without a terrible event in the Kingdom, without a change being at hand, either that the princes will die or will be banished, or that a war will soon break out.'

In John Josselyn's An Account of Two Voyages to New England, printed in 1674, with the voyage sighting occurring during the first voyage of 1638, we are told the following:

June the Six and twentieth day... where amongst variety of discourse they told me... of a Sea-Serpent of Snake, that lay quoiled up like a Cable upon a Rock at Cap-Ann: a Boat passing by with English aboard, and two Indians, they would have shot the Serpent, but the Indians disswaded them, saying, that if he were not kill'd out-right, they would be all in danger of their lives.'

Sea Serpents off Maine Coast
A similar reference was by Obadiah Turner, writing from Lyon, Massachusettes in September 1641, where we are told 'some being on ye great beache... did spy a most wonderful serpent a shorte way off from ye shore.  He was as big round in ye thickest part as a wine pipe; and they do affirme he was fifteen fathome of more in length...  Wee have likewise heard yt at Cape Ann ye people have seene a monster like unto this which did there come out of the sea and coil himself upon the land.'

This sea serpent later became known as Gloucester's Sea Serpent, named after a harbor just north of Boston, with sightings continuing through the 18th and 19th centuries.

In 1722, Hans Egede, known for his work as a missionary in Greenland, wrote a report to the Bergen Comapany, which was published in 1729 as Det gamle Gronlands nye perlustration or A Description of Greenland.  Here he wrote of 'an enormous huge serpent and when it dived again underwater, it plunged backwards into the sea, and so raised its tail alopf, which seemed a whole ship's length distant from the bulkiest part of the body.' 

Sea serpent reported by Hans Egede

Another account of Hans Egede's encounter appears in A Full and Particular Relation of his voyage to Greenland, as a Missionary, on the year 1734, published at Kopenhagen in 1740.

'Anno 1734, July.  On the 6th, appeared a very terrible sea-animal, which raised itself so high above the water, that its head reached above out main-top.  It had a long sharp snout, and blew like a whale, had broad, large flappers, and the body was, as it were, covered with a hard skin, and it was very wrinkled and uneven on its skin; moreover on the lower part it was formed like a snake, and when it went under water again, it cast itself backwards and in so doing it raised its tail above the water, a whole ship-length from its body.'

Maned sea serpent from Bishop Erik Pontoppidan's 1755 work Natural History of Norway.

In a Natural History of Norway, Bishop Pontoppidan relates the following encounter with a huge maned sea serpent, which he had heard from Captain de Ferry:

'The latter end of August, in the year 1746... it happened when we arrived with my vessel within six English miles of the aforesaid Molde... I heard a kind of murmuring voice from amongst the men at the oars, who were eight in number, and observed that the man at the helm kept off from land.  Upon this I enquired what was the matter; and was informed that there was a Sea-Snake before us.  I then ordered the man at the helm to keep to the land again, and to come up with this creature, of which I had heard so many stories...  In the mean time this Sea-Snake passed by us...  As the Snake swam farther than we could row, I took my gun... and fire at it: on this he immediately plunged under the water...  The head of this Snake, which it held more than two feet above the surface of the water, resembled that of a horse.  It was of a greyish colour, and the mouth was quite black, and very large.  It had black eyes, and a long white mane, that hung down from the neck to the surface of the water.  Besides the head and neck, we saw seven or eight folds or coils of this Snake, which were very thick, and, as far as we could guess, there was about a fathom distance between each fold.

Of the many sea serpent sightings and accounts from the 19th century, the most interesting comes from August 1848, when the Officer of Watch, aboard the Royal Navy Frigate HMS Daedalus spotted what he believed to be a sea serpent.  The following letter from Captain McQuhae recounts the experience.

The sea serpent spotted by the crew of HMS Daedalus in 1848.
H.M.S Daedalus
Hamoaze, Oct. 11.
Sir - In reply to your letter of this day's date, requiring information as to the truth of a statement published in the Times nespaper, of a sea-serpent of extraordinary dimensions having been seen from Her Majesty's ship Daedalus, under my command, on her passage from the East Indies, I have the honour to acquaint you, for the information of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, that at 5 o'clock PM. on the 6th of August last, in latitude 24° 44´ S. and longitude 9° 22´ E, the weather dark and cloudy, wind fresh from the N.W., with a long ocean swell from the S.W., the ship on the port tack, heading N.E. by N., something very unusual was seen by Mr. Sartoris, midshipman, rapidly approaching the ship from before the beam.  The circumstance was immediately reported by him to the officer of the watch, Lieutenant Edgar Drummond, with who and Mr. William Barrett, the master, I was at the time walking the quarter-deck.  The ships' company were at supper.

Another of the original illustrations of the HMS Daedalus encounter
On our attention being called to the object, it was discovered to be an enormous serpent, with head and shoulders kept about four feet constantly above the surface of the sea; and as nearly as we could approximate by comparing it with the length of what our main topsail-yard would show in the water, there was at the very least sixty feet of the animal à fleur d’eau, no portion of which was, in our perception, used in propelling it through the water, either by verticle or horizontal undulation.  It passed rapidly, but so close under our lee quarter that had it been a man of my acquaintance I should have easily recognized his features with the naked eye, and it did not, either in approaching the ship or after it had passed our wake, deviate in the slightest degree from its course to the S.W., which it held on at the pace of from twelve to fifteen miles per hour, apparently on some determined purpose.  The diameter of the serpent was about fifteen or sixteen inches behind the head, which was, without any doubt, that of a snake; and it was never, during the twenty minutes that it continued in sight of our glasses, once below the surface of the ater; its colour, a dark brown with yellowish white about the throat.  It had no fins, but something like the mane of a horse, or rather a bunch of sea-weed, washed about its back.  It was seen by the quarter-master, the boatswain's mate, and the man at the wheel, in addition to myself and officers above mentioned.
I am having a drawing of the serpent made from a sketch taken immediately after it was seen, which I hope to have ready for transmission to my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty by to-morrow's post.
I have, &c.,
To Admiral Sir W. H. Gage, G.C.B.

'Caddy' the sea serpent was first sighted in 1892, with the following account having been printed in Port Townsend newpaper and in Key City Graphic originally:

Cadborosaurus AKA Caddy by Timothy Donald Morris
    Yesterday morning, while the steamer Monticello was coming from Angeles to this city, and when almost directly opposite Dungeness, Captain Oliver says he saw the water in the Straits lashed into foam.  Drawing near, to the surprise of the captain and all on board, a huge sea serpent, wrestling about in the waters as if fighting with an unseen enemy, was seen. It soon quieted down and lay at full length on the surface of the water. Captain Oliver estimates it to be about fifty feet in length and not less than four feet in circumference of the body. Its head was projecting from the water about four feet. He says it was a terrible looking object. It had viciously sparkling eyes and a large head. Fins were seen, seemingly sufficiently large to assist the snake through the water. The body was dark brown in color and was uniform all along. From what he says it would be capable of crushing a yawl boat and its occupants.
    As the steamer passed on its course, the snake was seen disporting itself in the water. At the time the Straits were calm, and there could have been no mistake in recognizing the object.

            Found here

In 1933 'Caddy' was given the scientific name Cadborosaurus willsi after British Columbia's Cadboro Bay, where repeated sightings had been made.  In Amphipacifica Journal of Systematic Biology, Dr. Paul H. LeBlond and Dr. Edward L. Bousfield stated that the many historical sightings and accounts of this this serpent provided sufficient evidence to conclude 'the animal is real and merits formal taxonomic description,' and gave Caddy its name.

The Sea Serpent by by Aaron-Radney

Please check out some of the awesome artists for the art on these blog posts (just follow the link below the artwork) and, if your interested in sea serpents and want more information, the following blog post is definitely worth a look.
New Page Books: Creature of the Month The Sinuous Sea-Serpent by Oberon Zell Ravenheart


Useful Links
The History of Animals (Historia Animalium) by Aristotle
The Natural History of Norway by Erich Pontoppidan
An Account of Two Voyages to New-England: made during the years 1638 & 1663 by John Josselyn
A Description of Greenland by Hans Egede, who was a missionary in that coutry for twenty-five years
Creatures in the Mist: Little People, Wild Men and Spirit Beings Around the World by Gary R. Varner
The New England Mariner Tradition by Robert A. Geake
The Great Sea Serpent by Antoon Cornelis Oudermans
10 Sensational Sea Serpent Sightings by Lance David Leclaire

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