Sunday, 19 March 2017

Nessie Sceptics at work in 1934

I have masses of e-clippings going back to 1933 and before detailing Nessie and her kelpie predecessor. This particular one is taken from the Hull Daily Mail of 23rd January 1934. The Natural History Museum had not long declared Marmaduke Wetherell's Loch Ness spoors to be the product of a hippo foot.

In that light, two investigators got a hold of their elephant foot waste basket and headed to the beach, as I reproduce below. One thing that escapes me though, didn't the Natural History Museum say that one of the other Wetherell spoors belonged to a rhinoceros? Perhaps someone can confirm that?

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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Poor Old Alex Campbell (Part I)

If you had to pick one local person from Loch Ness that was most influential in the story of the famous beast, then it would be Alex Campbell. There were, of course, more famous men that came up from England and across from America. There were also other locals that were influential such as Constance Whyte, Cyril Dieckhoff and I would also include our present day Steve Feltham, who more than qualifies as a local after 25 years by the loch side.

However, Alex Campbell was there at the birth, so to speak, of Nessie. Indeed, he had a hand in the delivery by writing up the first story of the modern era that appeared in the May 2nd 1933 Inverness Courier. That "strange spectacle on Loch Ness" endures to this day and Alex continued to investigate and report these matters to the Courier for years after that.

However, this series of articles will not purely be a biographical tribute to the man, but rather a response to the critics that rose up (conveniently) after his death. Having been respected by the monster hunting fraternity for decades, a different group rose up from the 1980s onwards to accuse him of fraud. Let us see how weighty these libellous statements are.

We first begin with a letter that appeared in The Scotsman dated 5th September 2003. It is anonymous and appears to come from someone claiming to be a confidant of Campbell:

IT IS September, and the end of the tourist season is upon us. It has been a very good year by most measures - save one. Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster were nearly absent. I detected only three appearances. All lacked drama or conviction. The BBC even broadcast a programme saying there is no beastie in the depths. Cheek.

Of course there is no Loch Ness Monster in the peaty waters. The monster swims in our imaginations. We need monsters to animate our minds. 

I was privileged to befriend the man who invented the leviathan in the Great Glen. Alex Campbell was not only the water bailiff at Fort Augustus at the south end of Loch Ness, he was also the local stringer for the Inverness Courier. He confided it had been worse than a slow news week in 1933. There was absolutely no news, even on the shinty field. 

He told me he decided to file his copy about seeing a strange and enormous creature from his row boat. Harmless fun and the source of happy my-mying and tut-tutting amongst the Courier’s readers. 

Alex Campbell said he had not reckoned on the power of the media. If there was no news in Glengarry there was very little in Fleet Street. His innocent fraud was transmitted by the night sleeper by two young journalists who retold the glimpse of a monstrous reptile. Nessie has swum on ever since that exciting week.

The London press defined the enigma as very much like a plesiosaur. This was topical, not just because dinosaur skeletons were prominent at the Natural History Museum and everyone has a notion of these long-gone lumberers. More importantly the best fossil of a plesiosaur had just been found at Barrow. The real bones seemed to match the thrashing flesh reported up in the far north. 

The suggestion his creation was a left-over from aeons before startled Alex Campbell. He told me he had no thoughts of a reptile nature and that he had indeed seen a monster caught in the canal basin at Fort Augustus earlier that spring. What had been trapped was a sturgeon. 

They are rare in Scottish waters but not unknown. Their Caspian cousins can exceed 20 feet ... good enough to count as a monster to me. The struggling freelance said that he thought the sturgeon could only breed in the shallow bit of Loch Ness at Urquhart Bay by Drumnadrochit. 

Alex Campbell alternated between wry amusement at the phenomenon he had created with the occasional feeling perhaps there was a big something at home 800 feet down. He preserved his dignity. He was not being a fraudster. He was being a reporter, or more kindly perhaps, a storyteller. 

What Campbell had tapped into was our appetite for dragons. Of course the Gaels had their waterhorse myths and St Columba had demonstrated his saintlihood by admonishing a great kelpie in Loch Ness, according to his public relations adviser St Adamnan. 

I take pleasure in recalling the last pair of Scottish beavers were killed on Loch Ness in the 1650s. I like the romance that a few survived to waddle across the view of gullible visitors. A family of beavers provide a perfect set of humps, though they can’t do serpent-like necks. The tourist bodies might invite beavers back into the waters. 

It is banal of the Americans to sweep the loch with sonar and show there is very little life of any sort in the loch. Good manners should inhibit them. It is equally wrong-headed to say the Loch Ness Monster was devised by clever tourist marketing folk. They are not that bright. It was an accident. A glorious accident.

Take the monster away and the Highlands are much more dull. The biggest wild creature is the stag. It is noble but it has little mystery quality. 

Just as the Stone of Destiny has lost its power to provoke now it is back in Edinburgh, so a freshly stuffed plesiosaur in the Museum in Chambers Street would have only a mild curiosity value. The essence of the monster is never to be caught in nets or on film. It exists just over the horizon of proof. 

I think Alex Campbell should be feted amongst journalists. His creation was perhaps the best Scottish story of the 20th century. He was paid one shilling for his creation. That is footling but he also secured a kind of immortality no other journalist can.

Having read this, I can quite confidently say it is not Alex that is guilty of telling stories, but this anonymous author. Seasoned monster-philes will have perhaps noticed some glaring errors in this letter already. In fact, there are enough inconsistencies in it to completely dismiss it as a fabrication. Any rookie lawyer would have a field day in a court of law ripping it to pieces.

It seems clear to me that the 2003 sonar survey sponsored by the BBC may have been the catalyst for this letter. Perhaps the author thought the so called demise of the monster merited another tall tale about Alex Campbell.

Getting to the gist of this first of multiple attacks on Alex Campbell, we can cut through the psycho-babble about people needing monsters. Mankind has spent millenia eliminating monsters from their horizon. Be it the woolly mammoth or today's magnificent whales, mankind's perverse interpretation of being the superior species gives the exact opposite sense of a need for monsters.

On the Nessie narrative, the author here speaks utter nonsense when he claims that Campbell had confided in him that on a "slow news week" he:

"decided to file his copy about seeing a strange and enormous creature from his row boat"

This is simply not true, Alex Campbell had actually written a short report on a sighting by another person, a Mrs. Aldie Mackay who had seen the creature from her car. The idea that Campbell decided to indulge in a 1933 version of Fake News has already alerted us to a possible hatchet job in progress.

Untruth is rapidly followed by untruth as our anonymous confidant of Alex Campbell then claims the story was virtually in the Fleet Street newspapers by the next day as his alleged story "was transmitted by the night sleeper by two young journalists".

Again, this is Fake News. This story did not make its way into the national newspapers. In fact, it was a letter written three months later to the Inverness Courier that raised greater awareness of the monster. It had nothing to do with Alex Campbell and was written by a George Spicer.

We could stop right there and throw this letter in the digital dustbin, but I shall continue.

As an aside, the author mentions "the best fossil of a plesiosaur" that had been unearthed at the town of Barrow around that time. Though not Nessie related, this looks wrong as well. There was an almost complete fossil of the species "rhomaleosaurus megacephalus" found at Barrow Upon Soar, but that was eighty years before in 1851! Perhaps someone could enlighten me as to whether something even better was found around 1933 in Barrow, but I think this is wrong as well.

It is then related that Alex Campbell had seen a monster of sorts in the spring of 1933. It was a sturgeon caught in the canal basin at his home town of Fort Augustus. Now when I read that, I had to admire the gall of this writer. Let us see now. Slow news in the Glen, nothing to write about and then a sturgeon is caught at the mouth of the loch!

It seems pretty strange to me that Alex Campbell, our "struggling freelance" writer, totally failed to write this one up for the Inverness Courier because no sturgeon had ever been recorded as being seen in Loch Ness, let alone caught. Are there any reports of this more than interesting account in the local newspapers in the spring of 1933?

I have never seen such a report and no one I have read has ever found such a thing. You can be sure that if it was in the papers, our sturgeon loving sceptics would have found it and trumpeted it long ago.

Conclusion? More Fake News and going by the style and prose, I suspect it was another "stringer" who wrote this particular piece.

The anonymous storyteller then drifts off into more psychology about monsters, finally holding up Alex Campbell as the creator of the Loch Ness Monster. No, he wasn't, but he certainly had his part to play in the mystery as he examined eyewitnesses and reported his findings back to Inverness.

Why did our anonymous writer produce this badly researched piece of garbage? I don't know. You may argue that the passage of time had clouded his or her memory. That is an arguable point, but there is so much wrong with this piece, it is beyond redemption.

This is not the first attempt to label Campbell as a fraudster, but it is certainly the most brash. I will pursue several more as this series of articles unfolds. The time has come to put Alex Campbell back in his rightful and former place in the Loch Ness mystery.

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Thursday, 9 March 2017

Early Reports about Morag the Monster of Loch Morar

It isn't often I put up guest posts on this blog; come to think of it, I don't think I've ever done it. However, long time cryptid and general anomaly researcher, Ulrich Magin got in touch with me about new information he had found on the Loch Morar Monster, also known as Morag (or Mhorag).

Ulrich is known in Loch Ness Monster research circles from decades back. In fact, by coincidence, I recently found a letter he wrote to me back in the 1980s concerning Scottish sea serpents. Amongst the various articles and books he has written, he is to be thanked for the prodigious task he undertook as a youth of going over to Scotland to find and collate the hundreds of Nessie reports from the Inverness Courier and other papers.

In fact, he didn't start at 1933, but went back into the 19th century to find the 1852 account of kelpies, ponies and somewhat concerned natives. You can find his list of sightings in Henry Bauer's "The Enigma of Loch Ness". Going back to Mhorag, these are mainly pre-1933 Nessie era stories which range from the mythical to something more in keeping with the format of modern reports.So, without further ado, I hand you over to Ulrich.

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The monster, or mermaid, of Loch Morar was news long before its cousin from Loch Ness hit the headlines. I have fond personal memories of a bed & breakfast at Morar where I stayed in 1980, only to be lent the first book to ever mention the creature, James Macdonald’s “Tales of the Highlands” which contained an encounter between its author and a mermaid or monster-like creature in Loch Morar in 1887. The landlady said it was the very same copy Elizabeth Montgomery Campbell had used, the lady who wrote “The search for Morag”. I was still a schoolchild then, and when I returned, my parents urged me to send the valuable book back. When I visited Morar for the second time in 1981, the lady who had lent the book to me had died, and her children had thrown it away. I only hope there are further copies out there.

James Macdonald said Morag was a mermaid who only appeared when members of a certain family died. That is the siren of ancient lore, yet when he himself encountered Morag he gave no description at all. Still, mermaids were sometimes seen in Scottish lochs.

Then there are the mermaids, the kelpies of the south and the water bulls and horses of the north, of the lochs and streams, as stoutly believed by the peasantry who now live beside them as they were centuries ago. […] As to the mermaids of the lochs, they still exist past all dispute – at least with their friends the Highlanders. The railways, telegraphs and newspapers, like the heartless poachers they are, have sweeped or seined them well out of the lowland shires. They are and were both dangerous and beneficent personages. In olden times they were not above giving recipes for rashes, ringworm and other common ailments. Today they have all retreated to the shadowy Highland lochs, where they find comfortable flat stones to sit upon, and there, while combing their masses of long, yellow hair, sing in plaintive tones much that is ill or good to be heard. I know one canny auld wife of northern Perthshire who gets along very comfortably through her confidential relations with a mermaid that at present passes the summer season at Loch Ranoch.” (Kentucky New Era 18 July 1891, also Los Angeles Times, Jul 19, 1891)

First news about a monster in the loch come from the end of the 19th century, in the decade following Macdonald’s book. As reported by Mike Dash in Fortean Times 267, p.71, he discovered a mention of Morag in the notes of Father Allan McDonald from 1896/97. McDonald writes:

The monster called ‘Morag’ that is said to live in Loch Morar has many eyewitnesses … I heard the names of several living witnesses given but I had no opportunity of testing them at first hand.

These early testimonies were confirmed when Alexander Carmichael collected local folklore at the turn of 20th century. His informer was a certain Ewan MacDougall. His notes were found in 2013 by Dr Donald Stewart, a senior researcher on the Carmichael Watson project at the University of Edinburgh library while reading a “mad mixture” of tales from 1902, as reported in the BBC News of 25 February 2013 (to which Andreas Trottmann drew my attention). These snippets read:

Morag is always seen before a death and before a drowning. There is a creature in Loch Morar and she is called Morag. She is never seen save when one of the hereditary people of the place dies. The last time she was seen was when Aeneas Macdonnell died in 1898. The Morag is peculiar to Loch Morar. She is seen in broad daylight and by many persons, including church persons. She appears in a black heap or ball slowing and deliberately rising in the water and moving along like a boat water-logged. The Morag is much disliked and is called by many uncomplimentary terms.

Great distress. Like the other water deities, she is half-human, half-fish. The lower portions of her body is in the form of a grilse and the upper in the form of a small woman of highly developed breasts with long flowing yellow hair falling down her snow white back and breast. She is represented as being fair, beautiful and very timid and never seen save when one of the Morar family dies or when the clan falls in battle. Then she is seen rushing about with great speed and is heard wailing in great distress, bemoaning and weeping the loss of the House of Morar laid desolate. The Morag has often brought out of their houses at night the people living along the shores of the lake and in the neighbourhood of her haunts, causing much anxiety to the men and much sore weeping to the women.

Here, Morag is still part-time mermaid, part-time monster. Loch Morar became news globally when it was found that the lake was of immense depths.

Careful soundings just taken of Loch Morar, in Moidart, show that its greatest depth is 1000 ft. As its surface is only 31ft above sea level, its bottom is 989 ft below the latter, which is stated to be ‘the greatest depression to be found on the British plateau.’” (Otago Witness 1 October 1896, p. 54)

This was confirmed later:

The survey of the fresh-water lakes of the United Kingdom which is now in progress, under the superintendence of Sir John Murray, reveals the fact that Loch Morar, in Inverness-shire, is the deepest lake in the kingdom.

The complete chart of the loch shows that the greatest depth observed was 1009 ft, or 168 fathoms. For a distance of over seven miles the floor of Loch Morar falls lower than 600 ft beneath the surface, and the deepest part of the loch sinks 972 ft below the surface of the sea, from which the loch is separated by a narrow strip of land.

(Otago Witness 10 December 1902, p. 58; the news was also in the Sydney Mail, a little belated on 24 December 1902) 

We come across Morag again in the first decade of the 20th century, with three reports, all of them about a monster. The first is from a novel, Ethel Forster Heddle‘s The secret of the Turret, published by Sir Isaac Pitman in 1905. The book has 229 pages; the quote is on p.56. The characters discuss Scottish folklore.

"The fairy trees keep off evil. Màri told me. She says in Skye you can see the fairies dance on Midsummer Eve in the Cave of Gold, if you go with a naked dagger, or a bunch of rowan. The lilies are cold and faultless, and the stems are so long, and cold, and slimy. One thinks if one fell in — how the long arms would suck one down, and drown one — and how one might die unseen!

Now, in this context, there is word of a monster in Loch Morar:

Almost mechanically he began to tell me a story of Loch Morar, and its deep, deep waters, and how a man had been drowned there, pulled down by the long arms of the water plants, and hidden in the great leaves — held as in the dreadful embrace of a mythical sea-monster.

A review of the book, in the Otago Witness, 31 January 1906, says this: 

“THE SECRET OF THE TURRET. By Ethel Heddle. London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons. This is precisely the style of story one expects to find eagerly followed through the weekly pages of such journals as Forget-me-not, Home Notes, and others of a similar class. It is the story of a charming girl - they always are charming; an American heiress and orphan - they are always heiresses, these Americans, - and her stay in a romantic castle in the Highlands of Scotland. All the proper accessories to a modem mystery are considered, glibly grafted on to the stage properties of the earlier romance, so that the ‘Secret of the Turret’ may lack nothing in the way of accessories.

But ‘the kilts’ are the real ‘piece de resistance’ of the picturesque attractions! The crumbling stair and narrow plank which lead to the turret room; the stormy loch, with its ‘sea horses’; the old bell with its, quaint inscribed instructions to the traveller — these are all the well-worn, threadbare accessories, but the kilts - new kilts, worn kilts, dress kilts, kilts of all sorts, these are the everyday interpreters of romance!"

It would possibly be interesting to get a copy of the novel for a rainy afternoon and see what more could be found in it. The next story was in The Cairngorm Club Journal, published by the Cairngorm Club (vol. 5, 1908, p.73–74). We learn that Loch Morar is difficult to visit

as the owners and tenants of deer forests have decided objections to intrusion upon their fastnesses.

this is followed by:

“But a sail on Loch Morar from the lower end is unhindered, and the scenery of the loch itself is very fine. Permission to fish may also be obtained, and the successful angler will be much pleased with the size and beauty of his captures. He may be thankful if he escapes the fear of capture himself. For the lake is the haunt of a remnant of the old- world monsters that till recently - if all tales be true - frequented our lonely lakes and streams. Mòrag - little Sarah, though why I do not know - seldom shows herself, and, so far as I have ever heard, has always been satisfied with frightening the intruder out of her realms. The best authenticated tale that has come to my knowledge was given me by a man who had made Mòrag's acquaintance. He was rowing across the loch, in going from Meoble to Tarbet on Loch Nevis. Glancing over his shoulder to see if he was nearing the shore, he saw between him and the landing-place the apparition. But, evidently believing that Mòrag was as shy of the company of human beings as they were of hers, he held on his course and landed without skaith.” 

Still in 1908, the monster is mentioned in William T. Kilgour’s "Lochaber in War & Peace: being a record of historical incidents, legends, traditions & folk-lore with notes on the topography & scenic beauties of the whole district". (Gardner, 1908, p.173–174).

Morar Loch – the deepest lake in the three kingdoms – has gained the reputation of harbouring a monster so mysterious and uncanny that the dwellers in these parts live in perpetual terror of it. ‘Morag,’ as the apparition has been christened, is said to have been seen by a number of persons of unquestionable veracity. One of them in recounting his experience alleges that early on a summer morn when rowing across the loch, he happened on nearing the further shore, to catch sight of ‘Morag’ — ‘a huge, shapeless, dark mass, rising out of the water like an island.’ It suddenly disappeared, and the disturbance of the water sent a ripple towards his boat, which caused it to roll slightly. The belief is prevalent among the residents by the lake, that the sea monster in Loch Morar never rises save when some MacDonald or a Gillies is about to exchange the barren hills of Morar for a fairer and more salubrious clime.

Morag here still announces local deaths, but she is transformed into a version of the kraken or island beast, much closer to what we would expect from a lake monster.

The Highland News, on 14 April 1917, p.5, carried an article about the folklore of the Highlands entitled “Traditional Monsters of the West”. The long article lists goblins, the pterodactyl-like Lochhourn monster, the one-legged humanoid of Glen Etive and then refers to Morag, the Loch Morar monster:

A monster is still located in Loch Morar. Some places are pointed out where it feeds; the marks of its feet are found at Camus-nam Bràthan; traces of it exist at Ruidh nan Deorcag and Coll-nam-muc. This Loch Morar creature gets from the natives the name ‘Morag’. It appears only when one of the natives of the place die (‘aon de dhùthchas an aite’). The last time it was seen was in 1898, when Aonghas an Traigh died. ‘Morag' is seen in daylight. As its appearance foretells a death, it is called ‘Morag Dhubh’'; ‘Morag Odhar’.

Montgomery Campbell’s book has several mentions after this, and I will now only note material I have found by accident, and which might not be well known. "Fear by Night", a woman’s thriller by Patricia Wentworth (published in 1934 in Philadelphia and London by the J. B. Lippincott Company, refers to the monster (I regret but I forgot to note the page): the

monster of Loch Morar, whose appearance is believed to presage disaster. So much for folklore.

On 27 November 1948, the first sightings appeared in newspapers. the Pittsburgh Press had this story on p. 15: 

“Scottish Monster Sighted On Loch.
GLASGOW – It’s back, folks – the ‘monster’ of the Scotch lakes. A party of nine on Loch Morar, deepest lake in Scotland, called the attention of boatmen John Gillies to an unusual object a quarter of a mile away. ‘Through my binoculars,’ says Gillies, ‘it appeared about 20 feet long and had prominent humps. Neither head nor tail was visible.’” 

This is sighting no 7 in "The Search for Morag". In 1949, Doré Ogrizek had this to say in his Great Britain: England, Scotland, and Wales in the “World in colour series” (Whittlesey House, 1949, p. 431):

“Not far from Mallaig are two unusual pieces of water. One is Loch Morar, the deepest hole in Europe at more than 1000 feet. The other is Loch Hourn, the ‘Loch of Hell,’ and there is said to be a monster in it which bears a distinct resemblance to the monster in Loch Ness.”

The English Review magazine, vol 2–3, Eyre and Spottiswoode 1949, also refers to

“Loch Morar, in depth just under 1000 ft and the haunt, like Loch Ness, of a Monster.”
In 1955, the New York Times on July 3, reviews a book titled “Folk-Tales and Tall Tales” which contained:

“many stories that were new to me, such as ‘Morag and the Water Horse’ (surely a foreshadowing of the legend of the Loch Ness monster).”
I want to finish with two brief further quotes. One, from a letter-to-the-editor in the New York Times of July 30, 1960, on p. 16, which says:

“As a Scots visitor to the United States whose home is not far from Loch Ness, I was interested to read in your paper about the famous monster which inhabits this loch [Ness]. […] It is only because Loch Morar is so isolated that monsters there are rarely seen.”

And in 1961, The Scottish Naturalist (vol 70-71. p.88) tantalizes with:

“The ‘beast’ of Loch Morar was named Morag. Father Allan says it had been seen by reliable acquaintances of his.”


Saturday, 25 February 2017

Analysis of the G.E. Taylor Film

I say "analysis", but there is no film to view, but there is enough to present some new angles. So, let's get straight to the story of how this first colour film of the beast came to be. The only previous analysis of this footage had the unique privilege of full access to the 16mm colour film. Maurice Burton was the man with that advantage after a Dr. T. H. Crouch contacted him with news of a film taken by a Mr. G.E. Taylor of Natal, South Africa. The film was shot at Loch Ness on the 28th May 1938 opposite Foyers and was composed of two separate sequences. At about noon, Mr. Taylor noticed an object lying in the water about 200 yards away:

Its body was large and rounded, with a tapering down to the neck which dipped under the water, becoming visible about 18ins away, rising in an arch to about 6ins. above water before dipping again. Where this arched neck re-entered the water it had every appearance one would associate with a head. The body showed about 1ft above the water. Its colour was very dark.

He continued his loch tour and met an elderly lady, to whom he described his experience. Expressing a desire to see this, he drove her back and they arrived at about 12:45 to see the object was still there:

When we returned the object was quite fifty yards nearer. The sun gave it what I would call a straw colour.

He shot off another sequence of film and that was that. I could not ascertain how the experience ended, whether the object was left as it was found or whether it submerged. One would assume the former scenario. Very little of Taylor's original words make it into the book. The only words I could find were those I just quoted above.

Be that as it may, the account of this sighting by Taylor or the anonymous woman do not make it into the newspapers of the time and so this had to wait 22 years before it emerged into the public arena. In fact, I would speculate that the film may have lain dormant longer unless another film of the Loch Ness Monster had not gained worldwide attention in 1960. That was the Tim Dinsdale film and I suspect the publicity surrounding this convinced Mr. Taylor (perhaps spurred on by his associate Dr. Crouch) to contact Burton.

And so Mr. Taylor sent Burton the film as well as his diary around 1960 and the analysis subsequently appeared in Burton's 1961 book, "The Elusive Monster". Indeed, since it was allocated over a chapter of material, it received more attention than any other item of Nessie evidence in the book. Dinsdale's just released film got one page of attention, Taylor got eleven pages.

For better or worse, the rest of the analysis goes through Burton's sceptical filters, for there could only be one outcome to this particular analysis. In the end, the only thing that approximated to primary sources were one still from the the film and the above quotes. The author of "The Elusive Monster" was now the author of the elusive monster film.

So runs Mr. Taylor's account. Given that this was an extract from his diary, we can presume it is of good accuracy and not subject to the vagaries of recalling an event over twenty years later from memory alone.


I had earlier updated readers on my own attempts to find this film so that a second analysis may be effected. As of today, there is no success in finding any trace of this near mythical film. Unlike the McRae and Currie films, we know for certain that this film existed, the problem is we do not know its current status.

However, the time to have homed in on this film was back in the 1960s when the trail was relatively warm. In that respect, I refer to the writings of Holiday, Mackal and Costello which  raised the interesting question of whether Burton possessed a copy of the Taylor film.

First, Ted Holiday in his 1968 book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" tells us that he wrote to Burton requesting the address of Taylor in the hope of borrowing the film. But Burton replied saying he had a copy of the film and may be willing to let Holiday see it. When Holiday said he would like the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau to scrutinise it, Burton declined and there things ended.

In case one thought Holiday had got his wires crossed, Roy Mackal stated the same thing after meeting Burton in July 1968 after a BBC television programme. In his book, "The Monsters of Loch Ness", Mackal says he got talking to Burton about the Taylor film after the show and he agreed to let him see the film. Sadly, repeated attempts by Mackal to contact Burton to arrange the viewing all failed as Burton refused to answer his letters or calls.

Peter Costello had a slightly different experience with Burton a few years later. In his book, "In Search of Lake Monsters", he opined that Burton refused him access to any of the stills he had in his possession. A different request, but the same complete lack of cooperation. It seems Maurice Burton's conclusions were final and it was obvious to him that nothing was to be gained by letting the "believers" anywhere near the evidence.

It seems clear to me that Burton had a copy of the film and dozens of still photographs taken from the film. However, in contrast to this, sceptic Steuart Campbell in his book, "The Loch Ness Monster - The Evidence" makes no mention of any film. I emailed him recently and he confirmed his correspondence with Burton back in the 1980s made no mention of any copy of the film. When I contacted Maurice Burton's son, Robert, about the film; he was rather more forthright.

If I had a fiver for every enquiry about this film! In his book, my father said he was lent the film. It was returned to Mr Taylor after the analysis. When I watched it I concluded that if the object had been seen anywhere other than Loch Ness, it would have been unremarkable!

So, we have a diversity of opinion on whether a copy exists or not. I will just have to leave that particular matter there and let readers form their own opinion. Let us move on and look at what we do know and what we can know.


Before I proceed with my own thoughts on this film, it would be remiss not to mention Maurice Burton's observations and conclusions on the matter. After all, he was the one who had full access to it. When he introduced us to the film, he stated:

I have no hesitation in saying that this film contains the most important piece of evidence on this vexed problem it has so far been my privilege  to examine.

You get it? Burton was labelling this film as the most important item in the decades long Nessie debate. A clear shot across the bows of the recently launched ships of O'Connor and Dinsdale. However, the inevitable conclusion was soon to follow as Burton stated that the object was:

animal-like only in showing movement, but the movements are those of an inert floating object.

Burton goes through a frame by frame analysis and describes an object which seems extraordinary in its fluctuations as the presumed body, head and neck varying in height, length and form. This includes variation in hump count as it changes between one and two humps. However, Burton thinks any movement is dictated by the surrounding waves rather than anything in the object itself.

Given this was the first colour film of the Loch Ness Monster, Burton observes apparent changes in the intensity of colour regions which even change position! Burton speculates whether this may be due to a rolling motion. Towards the end of the film, the object takes on a straw colour.

Also fascinating was the fact that Burton observed the object suddenly disappearing under the water after morphing to only a single hump. This act took only one frame after which there is no monster for fifteen frames (about one second). Then for the next nine frames, a slight shadow intensifies back into a single hump. The more I read this, the more I wish I could see this film!

Burton also thought that since the object never raised its neck above the water, this was to be considered a fact against it being an animal, since he expected any animal to raise its head for a look around. I do not find that argument particularly convincing. Likewise, since the object seems to have done very little in the 45 minutes between the two film sequences, Burton also considered this an un-animal feature.

Burton had shown the film to a select audience to garner opinions. A minority thought it animal ("it will take a lot to convince me that is not an animal") while the majority opinion was best summed up by the comment that it looked "more like a sheet of sacking being gently tossed on the waves", their conclusion was that it was an inanimate body of unknown identity.

However, at the end of it all, Burton offers no personal explanation to what this object actually was. The closest we actually get to this was over twenty years later when he mentioned to Steuart Campbell that the film was shown to the National Institute of Oceanography and they plumped for a dead horse or cow.

Indeed, Burton told Campbell that a "four horned monster" had been reported in the loch around that time and had been identified as the bloated body of a horse with its four legs sticking up in the air. As it turns out, no researcher has ever found this report and it is now presumed that Burton misremembered it. It is also unclear to me how a rigid corpse could be reconciled with the dynamic quote that the object was like a sheet of sacking being tossed in the waters.

Let us now move onto this author's own analysis.


As you can see from the still above, which was published in Burton's book, there is a sufficient view of the background hills to identify the location. According to the book, Taylor was on the northern shore of the loch at a point opposite Foyers. That places us around the location circled on the map below.

Of course, there is nothing like being there to conduct an onsite investigation, and that is what I did back in 2014. Parking my car at a spot which may well have been occupied by Taylor's car 78 years previously, I took some comparison shots starting with this one just off the road.

The view was not too great and I suspect Mr. Taylor had a clearer view of the loch back in 1938 due to the cutting back of trees for the earlier road expansion. Making my way a little further down the hill presented a better view for a sequence of comparison shots for better analysis (picture below).

However, a problem presented itself when I got back home to compare and contrast the images. The contours of the distant hills did not match Burton's image. Had I reached an impasse? Was the location wrong and perhaps not even taken at Loch Ness?

The matter was resolved in a simple manner. The Burton image was flipped over and the solution became apparent - as you can see below with the overlay of the two images at the end to confirm the congruent hills. The upshot is that for fifty five years we have been looking at a reversed image and not what G. E. Taylor actually saw and filmed. This will impact the proceeding analysis of the film.


One can see how Burton may have made this error as a 16mm film strip may look the same flipped over if one is not familiar with the content of the film. Whatever the reason, we move on. How big is the object in the photograph?

That is not so easy to ascertain on its own, but we can get a sense of it with some modern comparison photographs. Ideally, I wanted a boat of known size to pass over the same spot as the creature. From this, an estimate of the creature's visible size could be made. After waiting a long time, a Caley Cruiser passed by, although further out.

Applying an overlay gives us a view of the relative sizes of the objects. Since the object is closer to us but relatively smaller than the 30 foot cruiser, it is absolutely smaller than the cruiser. The account given to Burton states the object as being no more than 200 yards (about 200m) from the northern shore. If we assume the Caley Cruiser is motoring in mid-loch (a common sight), we can estimate the size of the object as being about 5.5 feet across at the waterline (object at 200m, boat at 625m, boat measures 14mm, object measures 8mm, scale down from 200m to 625m gives 5.5 feet).

Burton states Taylor as estimating the object at no more than six feet across the waterline, so this is a good agreement. However, Burton thought it could be as long as twelve feet, but we will go with the numbers in agreement of about six feet. Now, clearly, there is no aquatic animal in Loch Ness which could expose this much body line above water. In fact, using my normal heuristic that only one third of the whole animal shows above water, this gives us a potential creature size of 18 feet.


Now in the course of general Loch Ness investigations, I came across some more stills from this mysterious film. During one of my frequent visits to the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, I was actually looking for more information on the Peter O'Connor photograph, which Burton also had a stake in. He had written various articles for the Illustrated London News, and so it was that the 26th November 1960 issue yielded two more stills. The one we already know about is shown first for comparison.

The two new stills are in the correct orientation and do not need flipping like the first one. Clearly, Mr. Burton had more stills than one may have initially assumed. In fact, I would wager he had a very large number of them and no one else was going to get a look in. Whether there are more of these frames published in unknown journals at unknown dates is a matter of conjecture. The point now is that I fear they have all been destroyed by those who saw no point in letting anyone else see them. But I digress.

Now, Taylor said he shot two sequences separated by 45 minutes in which the creature was said to have moved. These stills would bear out that fact, if we assume Taylor was roughly in the same spot each time. Using the elongated area of treeless ground on the opposite shore as a reference point, it is evident that the top two stills were from the same sequence while the last one was from the other sequence.

Mr. Taylor said that the creature had moved 50 yards closer to the northern shore in between the two film sequences. If we overlay the first and third stills and use the object length of six feet previously calculated, the distance between the objects in the two stills is an apparent 20 yards. However, there may be a degree of foreshortening due to perspective between the two which would increase that actual change in distance.

The next pertinent question concerns the chronological sequence of the three stills. The first and second stills are from the same sequence and so they cannot be separated chronologically. However, was the third still exposed before or after the first two? There is no conclusive way to decide this from the stills alone. but Burton gives us the answer on page 88 of "The Elusive Monster":

.. the monster has moved so that it is now only about 150 yards from the north shore of the loch, and appears to have moved slightly west ...

In other words, the west is to the right of the stills and so the third frame is from the second sequence and the first two from the first sequence. However, if this is an inanimate object, we have a problem as the prevailing wind moves from the south west of the loch to the north east. In other words, the wind proceeds from right to left in the frames. Meanwhile, the object has moved from left to right in the opposite direction.

Burton himself confirms this south westerly wind when he describes the choppiness of the waves in his analysis. So how does an inanimate object move against the prevailing wind? Burton is ambivalent on this question and does not really address it by downplaying the effect ("moved slightly") and talks more about how the object retains is position against the wind and waves (pp.89-90).

I myself do not regard a counter move of at least 20 yards as something slight and rather something indicative of a living entity. This is why a second set of eyes on this film was always necessary. Of course, the sceptic may suggest the near mythical seiche effect which is an underwater wave which can make objects such as logs appear to move of their own volition. Finding examples of this effect at Loch Ness proved to be elusive themselves, but I found an alleged film of a log being driven counter to the surface waves at this link.

However, there was 45 minutes between the two film sequences. I estimate the object moved 20 yards which equates to a speed of 16 inches per minute. Mr. Taylor's estimate of a 50 yard move gives an average speed of  40 inches per minute. Is that how fast a seiche moves? The problem here is that the object appears not to have moved during the actual film sequence - certainly Burton makes no mention of it.

If the total film sequences last three minutes, then that is a movement of up to 120 inches or 10 feet. I doubt such a movement was noticed which suggests the total movement happened while G.E. Taylor was away between film shots and was no seiche. As an aside, Burton states the weather conditions as follow on page 68:

.. the weather was fine. The sun was shining ... fair amount of white cloud. The surface of the loch showed wind borne waves continuously moving in a north easterly direction with a small amount of foam cap.

Overall, I would say the motion analysis is suggestive of a self propelling object. And remember my comment about whether the original still being reversed had an analysis impact? Clearly it does in the matter of proving the object had moved against the loch currents.


Maurice Burton may not have left many frames of this film for other researchers to examine, but he certainly left a lot of drawings based on the film. Burton tells us that the two sequences of Taylor's film were one minute and forty seconds and one minute and thirty seconds respectively. The second sequence was stated as consisting of 1450 frames or 36ft of film. This gives us three minutes and ten seconds of film in total. From these frames, Burton tells us he painstakingly sketched over a thousand drawings from them.

A selection of these drawings are printed in his book, but the most interesting are 96 drawings representing the first 96 frames of the first film sequence. This adds up to six seconds of footage and Burton reproduced them in his book to demonstrate the "rhythmic up and down movement of the object". These are shown below and this provided an ideal opportunity to sequence them into an animation. That animation is shown below. However, the expected running time of the animation will most likely not be six seconds as it will depend on your computer's processing power. My laptop was actually running the animation for just over nine seconds.

Now as you watch this animation, you may get a sense of the fluctuations that Burton talked about. However, even at the slower speed that your computer may render this clip, it seems very fast for anything alive or much anything else for that matter. Burton admits to the problem of mapping a somewhat blurred frame of an object 200 yards away onto a crisp and sharply delineated sketch.

Given the blurriness and imprecision of the only enlarged still that we have, shown at the top of this article, I am doubtful of the accuracy of this process. That is not to deny that there are noticeable variations in the object's appearance during the film, they just seem exaggerated in this animation. The resolution is of course to view the film, but that opportunity seems a distant prospect from here.


Burton had a feast upon which to base his analysis, we have only the scraps that he deigned to leave behind. That he refrained from sharing evidence was not so much a sign of professional sloppiness but rather a sign that he did not wish to see monster believers induct this film into the Nessie Hall of Fame. Mackal would class the film as positive evidence in his later book as others followed suit in the monster fraternity.

I have previously spoken of my own search for this film in a previous article. If a descendant of Mr. Taylor knowingly has the film, I am sure we would have heard of it by now. That may mean the film is at best now mouldering in an attic or store room somewhere, its new owner unaware of its value and importance.

And I do regard it as important. Burton's analysis is not satisfactory as his attempt to downplay the movement of the object against the waves suggests. Also, his suggestion that this is merely a floating carcass does not sit well with the fluctuations described in the object. There is more to the internal than the external when we speak of what moves this mysterious object.

The fact that the object apparently spent the best part of an hour on the surface may be used as an argument against it being our elusive monster. After all, don't Nessies put in rather fleeting appearances? Well, of the 292 sightings on the database that I use which state a duration, about 8% last more than half an hour.

But then again, Mr. Taylor's sighting did not actually last that long as he was absent for 45 minutes. Did the creature disappear during this time or did it submerge only to re-emerge up to fifty yards further on? No one will be giving you an absolute answer on that one.

That would be perfectly in keeping with the mystery. No absolute answers, just opinions from either side of the debate, but - in my opinion - I side with Dr. Mackal in calling this out as a film of the famous Loch Ness Monster.

I will continue to hunt down the whereabouts of this film and doubtless write a follow up for readers. I am confident there is more information out there in old magazine and newspaper archives, it's just a matter of digging.

The author can be contacted at

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Karl Shuker's latest Nessie book and the Surgeon's Photo

I finally finished Karl Shuker's book on Nessie entitled, "Here's Nessie: A Monstrous Compendium from Loch Ness" and review it here, but some things Karl said also merits some thoughts on that most famous of Nessie photographs, the Surgeon's Photo.

Firstly, Karl has brought a lot to the cryptozoological table since the 1990s and his PhD in zoology qualifies him to speak perceptibly on various issues in the field of cryptozoology. Naturally, the Loch Ness Monster is one of those go to subjects and one that gripped the attention of Karl from his youth upwards.

Now the book itself is a compendium, so what we have is an collection of Karl's shorter writings over the years addressing the issue of the monster in its zoological, cultural and folkloric aspects. In that respect, some of the material may be familiar to seasoned Nessie readers. But the main point is that his thoughts are now put down on paper. As I have emphasised before, websites do not last forever. The may end up partially archived on Internet archive websites, but paper adds a degree of permanency which I welcome.

The scope of the book is wide and its depth varied as it moves from detailed analysis of cryptid theories to the lighter aspects of songs written and stamps issued in honour of this most famous of Scottish icons. The book begins in a more serious tone as it looks at the monster as plesiosaur and as long neck pinniped. The long necked seal theory was quite popular back in the 1970s as it was championed by the likes of Bernard Heuvelmans and Peter Costello.

I agree with Karl's conclusions that this is an unlikely candidate for the Loch Ness Monster. There are too many cons outweighing the pros of the argument. I would add the qualifier that I would only consider it viable if the creature was somehow not a resident of the loch, but rather a visitor who breeds and feeds elsewhere. That in itself is another discussion.

The modified plesiosaur also enjoys extended treatment and Karl writes well on this vexed subject. I say vexed because even if plesiosaurs survived the great Cretaceous extinction, we have no idea what they would like today after such a long time. It would be easy to add various adaptions to produce a Nessie-like plesiosaur, but a surviving plesiosaur may actually look nothing like the Loch Ness Monster. 

I also appreciated Karl's lookback at the 1987 symposium on the Loch Ness Monster in Edinburgh which I have read obliquely about in its published papers, but not from the perspective of an attendee. I am trying to think why I did not make this event myself. I suspect it was because I had started working and became a bit too focussed on that! 

Thereafter, the book tends to move towards smaller cultural articles which is probably a wise move as one is more focused at the beginning. 


But let us focus more on the overview of chapter one and Karl's words on the Surgeon's Photo. Karl takes a strong line in viewing the Spurling story of the hoaxed photograph as a hoax itself and bases this conclusion on various inconsistencies he sees in the narrative and which he lists in his book.

Now I myself take the view, based on the balance of the pros and cons, that the Spurling account is true. I don't say that with a 100% certainty as I tend to rate Nessie pictures on a scale of probability which is purely my own personal interpretation (as everyone's will be).

So in the mix of pictures that I regards as fake, real or misinterpretation, I may say a picture is 60-40 in favour of being the monster or I may say it is 70-30 in favour of being a wake or something else. That rating approach will also apply to this famous photograph. Let me now list Karl's objections in no particular order of persuasiveness.
1. There was a suspicious delay in publicising the 1975 Marmaduke article, leading to it being too late to question now deceased people.

2. The clockwork submarine with attached neck would be unstable. Karl does admit that a Japanese TV documentary crew did get a toy submarine stable, though he is not convinced of its closeness to the original setup.

3. The ripples around object show it is not moving, in distinction to the claim that the submarine was moving.

4. A 1987 study by LeBlond/Collins study of the surrounding wave patterns suggests the neck is nearer to four feet high and not the one foot that Spurling claimed.

5. The submarine theory does not explain the second photograph (below).

6. There are contradictions between the Wetherell confession and the Spurling confession.

7. Why did the hoaxers not expose the picture to the world and get their revenge on the Daily Mail?

8. The Egginton letter claimed Wilson told Egginton that the photo was a superimposition laid over an original image and not a model.

9. There is no evidence that the toy submarine was used (no photos of it or its deployment). The descendants of Marmaduke Wetherell manage to produce the hippo ashtray with which he produced his infamous tracks, but they could not produce anything to do with the toy submarine.

Now obviously some arguments carry less weight that others. I would not attach much weight to points 1, 4 and 7 as I can see counter explanations. Point 2 and the stability of the modified submarine was always one that could go either way for me. Spurling said he stabilised it by adding lead strips to the bottom and that is fair enough.

This was basically one that needed to be retried to satisfy curiosities. I can't find a link which shows this Japanese crew trying out their submarine reproduction, if anyone can find it, post a link below. But for me, the main test is not placing this in a bathtub, but seeing how stable such an arrangement would be in choppier waters. 

Points 3, 6 and 8 are all variations on the theme of contradictory witness statements. Was the rigged submarine moving or not? Was it actually a manipulated photo rather than a model? Wetherell does not mention Spurling as a co-conspirator and Spurling does not mention Chambers. Wetherell says it was rubber tubing, Spurling says it was plastic wood.

Now I have to say that if this was a group of eyewitnesses describing a monster sighting, the same sceptics who dismiss these contradictions would quite happily use them against any Nessie report ... because their prejudices demand they be used against the eyewitnesses. I expect nothing less from sceptics and their tactics, but should others fall for this?

The answer can be "yes" or "no" depending on the case. My problem is that Ian Wetherell made his confession 41 years after the event and Spurling made his nearly 60 years after. Clearly, there is going to be a significant degree of memory recall issues after such long periods. In fact, one cannot be sure either of them is being accurate in their details.

In the absence of written records or retained artifacts, I would say it is impossible to distinguish a lie from a memory defect after such a long period. That does not mean the basic story is in doubt, but rather the precise details.

Point 9 has its merits as well as we do have the hippo ashtray (now resident at the Loch Ness Centre in Drumnadrochit) but we have nothing physical to prove the Wilson hoax. Wetherell claimed the sub was stepped on because a water bailiff approached the group. It seems they did not recover it.

I had a curious thought at that point. Was not Alex Campbell the water bailiff at Loch Ness and so was he the supposed bailiff that interrupted the Wetherells? If so, he seems to have said nothing about it to anyone!

Finally, there is point 5 and that mysterious second photograph. I know critics say the wave patterns are different between the two photos, but the point is that the Spurling theory does not predict the photo, let alone explain it. It was on one of the exposed plates, so what does it mean? To date, I have read no persuasive argument regarding it.

So, do you think these nine points swing the argument towards "monster" or keep it in "hoax" territory? I have been aware of these arguments for some time, but I still weigh the pros and cons and come out about 60-40 in favour of this being a hoax. The one thing I would say is that this story has two confessors - Ian Wetherell and Christian Spurling.

Any one individual can make an accusation against a photo and we have had them in this field and that is why I am cautious about accepting one single person's accusation unless there is some corroborating evidence (e.g. Richard Frere and his lone accusation against Lachlan Stuart).

So we have two people on the record and, unless you believe in a conspiracy, that strengthens the case. And that is where I think I would leave this particular case.

The author can be contacted at

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Smirnoff Water Skier Advert

A fellow Nessie fan asked about this advert a while back and I did recall its striking image but could not find it anywhere. I have now, so here it is! It was published in 1978.

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