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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The Daedalus Sea-Serpent, 1848, And the Start of Perceptions of Sea-Serpents as Plesiosaur-Shaped.

"Old-Fashioned" View of the Sea-Serpent Common in ca 1800.

Going generally by the list of Sea-Serpent reports in Heuvelman's In The Wake of the Sea-Serpents (1967), it can be stated that as of 1800, nobody even considered that Sea-serpents could be anything other than shaped like enormous snakes, but by 1850 the going conception "In the best circles" was that Sea-Serpents were shaped like Plesiosaurs. Heuvelmans sets the "First definite Longneck sighting" in 1846 and as a matter of fact the next possible Longneck sighting after that was the very famous and very important Daedalus sea serpent, reported in 1848. Phillip Gosse's Romance of Natural History was the first popular book to focus on the idea that The Great Sea Serpent was a relic Plesiosaur, but by 1891 Antoon Oudemans had solidified the conception further by specifying that ALL major Sea-serpent reports referred to the same creature which he called Megophias megophias and figured as a very large and very elongated Plesiosaur-shaped creature which turns out to be basically an interpretation of the Sea-serpent sighting made by the Daedalus.
One of the first "Modern" (Non-serpentine) Sea-serpents was seen by Reverend Donald Maclean and others at Coll in the Hebrides and although the limbs on this creature were not discerned. the differentiated widths of the neck, body and tail were noted by the witnesses. The overall effect would have been like a partial view of Oudeman's version of the Sea-seropent, as seen from above. The witness was expecting the creature to be a maned "Merhorse" but was not able to discern any mane: Likewise although mentioning that the creature had a tail, he does not indicate how long it was.
The text quoted is excerpted from Charles Gould, Mythical Monsters

[At the time of the stranding of a "Sea=serpent" carcass at Stronsay, a "Pseudoplesiosaur"] the Rev. Donald Maclean, of Small Isles in the Hebrides, was requested to draw up a statement of what he recollected of the creature which had so much alarmed the fishermen in the summer of the same year. Before he penned his letter, which was printed as an appendix to Barclay's Memoir in 1809, he had clearly been questioned by persons who were under the full persuasion that what he had seen, and the Stronsa animal, were identical with Pontoppidan's sea serpent. Maclean informs us, that it was about the month of June, 1808, when the huge creature in question, which looked at a distance like a small rock in the sea, gave chase to his boat, and he saw it first from the boat, and afterward from the land. Its head was broad, of a form somewhat oval; its neck rather smaller. The shoulders, if they can be so termed, considerably broader , after which it tapered toward the tail.. It moved by undulations up and down. When the head was above water, its motion was not so quick; when most elevated, it appeared to take a view of distant objects. It directed its "monstrous head," which still continued above water, toward the boat, and then plunged violently under water in pursuit of them. Afterward, when he saw it from the shore, "it moved off with its head above water for about half a mile before he lost sight of it. Its length he believed to be from seventy to eighty feet." "About the same time the crews of thirteen fishing boats, off the island of Canna, were terrified by this monster; and the crew of one boat saw it coming toward them, between Rum and Canna, with its head high above water"
Mr. Maclean adds, evidently in answer to a question put by his correspondent, that he saw nothing of the mane; and adds, "when nearest to me it did not raise its head wholly above water, so that the neck being under water, I could perceive no shining filaments thereon, if it had any." And he also observes: "It had no fin that I could perceive, and seemed to me to move progressively by undulations up and down."

 Oudemans conjectures that when seen diving past the boat through clear water the creature was holding its limbs close to the body and so they could not be discerned, yet the rest of the description is remarkably similar to Oudeman's overall reconstruction done much later. Although a tail is mentioned and evidently it tapered down to a point, the proportionate or absolute length of the tail was not mentioned and evidently the tail was not seen when it was "Low in the water" either. When it was "Low in the water" is when the humps appeared-or in other words it was awash while the waves flowed over its back.
About the same time that witnesses in Britain and the Atlantic generally-and even sometimes in North America-were coming to realise that their sea-serpents were not entirely serpentine but had diffentiated diameters and even limbs, the Scandinavians were finding that out for themselves also. Here is a justly famous observation which is the first one to distinctly note a Sea-serpent with long neck, bulky body and foreflippers."On the 28th of July 1845, J. C. Lund, bookseller and printer; G. S. Krogh, merchant; Christian Flang, Lund's apprentice; and John Elgensen, labourer, were out on Romsdalfjord, fishing. The sea was, after a warm sunshiny day, quite calm. About seven o'clock in the afternoon, a little distance from shore, near the ballast place and Molde Hove, they saw a large marine animal which slowly moved itself forward, as it appeared to them, with the help of two fins on the fore-part of the body nearest the head, which they judged from the boiling of the water on both sides of it. The visible part of the body appeared to be between forty and fifty feet in length, and moved in undulations like a snake[or rather like the classic Sea-serpent. These would be waves going over the back again-DD]. The body was round and of a dark colour, and seemed to be several ells [yards?] in thickness. As they discerned a waving motion in the water behind the animal, they concluded that part of the body was concealed under water. That it was one connected animal they saw plainly from its movement [Actually they accurately reported the forepart as a round body with flippers and a long neck, but the "Waving motion in the water" was something they noticed as different-DD]. When the animal was about one hundred yards from the boat, they noticed tolerably correctly its fore-part, which ended in a sharp snout; its colossal head raised itself above the water in the form of a semi-circle; the lower part was not visible. The colour of the head was dark brown, and the skin smooth. They did not notice the eyes, or any mane or bristles on the throat. When the serpent came about a musket-shot near, Lund fired at it, and was certain the shots hit it in the head. After the shot he dived but came up immediately; he raised his head like a snake preparing to dart on its prey. After he had turned and got his body in a straight line, which he appeared to do with great difficulty, he darted like an arrow against the boat. They reached the shore, and the animal, perceiving it had come into shallow water, dived immediately, and disappeared in the deep." [The neck was raised into the typical stretched-s or "Periscope" shape and the creature then had difficulty getting into a position with the neck pointed straight ahead for ramming. The difficulty probably has more to do with the fact that it was shot twice near the head: besides being in pain, it might actually have been disoriented-DD]
And here is the Daedalus report as presented in the same book:
Considerable interest was excited in 1848 by the account of a sea-serpent seen by the captain and officers of Her Majesty's ship Dædalus while on her passage from the Cape of Good Hope to St. Helena, in lat. 24° 44´ S. and long. 9° 22´ E. In this case the usual concomitants of calm weather and absence of swell are wanting. The official report to the Admiralty is as follows:—


H.M.S. Dædalus,
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 newspaper, of a sea-serpent of extraordinary dimensions having been seen from Her Majesty's ship Dædalus, 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 P.M. 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 whom and Mr. William Barrett, the master, I was at the time walking the quarter-deck. The ship's company were at supper.

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 vertical 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 water; 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.,

This drawing was figured in the Illustrated London News in illustration of a short but very valuable memoir, and is reproduced upon a smaller scale here.

The account of the creature seen by the officers and crew of the Dædalus excited more than the usual attention given to these stories; for the professional status of the observers guaranteed at once the veracity of their statement, and the probability of their judgment being accurate. Considerable correspondence ensued, including a very masterly attack upon the identification of the creature by Professor Owen....

Daedalus Officer E. Drummond's drawing for his view of the Sea-serpent. He does indicate the equidistant points back of the head where limb (Flipper) action was noted by witnesses, but different to Captain McQuahe, he does not indicate the back as breaking the surface of the water. He shows the length behind the front part of the neck as being awash.

Closeup of the Illustrated London Times' version of the Sea Serpent's head, which was the focus of a debate with Professor Owen. Professor Owen thought the head's portrait looked too much like a seal. Below is an amendment more in line with the averages of Longnecked Sea-serpent reports and more like the drawing of the serpent's head as drawn by Drummond. The lower drawing is my development of the same image by photomanipulation.

Dale's scale mockup for the Daedalus SS giving measurements, basically adjusting from Drummond's version which has the creature's back awash but still indicates the location of the flippers at work. This should be compared to both the Illustrated London News Daedalus SS Illustration and also with Oudemans' reconstruction, both of which are supposed to be drawn from the same sighting and the same data.

The City of Baltimore sighting from the Middle of the Indian Ocean turns out to be closely similar to the Daedalus SS, with a length of head-neck and then two sets of flipper splashes further back. At the time the Daedalus SS was being popularised, several other witnesses came forth to say "Yes, we saw something of that nature, too" and one such example was the Captain of the Royal Saxon. Some took to calling the position of the SS as shown in the Illustrated London News as "A fleur d'eau" after Captain MacQuahe's phrase, but that actually just means "At the surface of the water"
(and he might have been mistaken in his view that the back of the creature was actually breaking the water if Lt. Drummond was correct in that point)

City of Baltimore SS sighting.

Anton Oudemans' Composite Reconstruction for The Great Sea-Serpent, 1891
The profile view above is actually drawn from the Daedalus account and Oudemans has added fore and hind flippers at about the distances back from the head as specified in that report. The widths (view from the top) are drawn from a different, unrelated report. The great length of the tail is basically arbitrary and Oudemans made it that long because it looked better to him that way. Three reports in his book specify a great length of tail but they are all useless to figure a useful proportion of the tail length to the full length (Oudemans is quite candid in admitting all of this, by the way). Heuvelmans classifies these reports as different types of animals. .

After Oudemans' book came out, the reports tended to be more specifically Plesioisaurian in shape (and with better indications for lengths of measures and proportions. R. T. Gould's book includes the Umifuli SS which he later remarks is very similar to some reports of the Loch Ness Monster. At this stage in the game, it was more common to use a "Whittled-down" version of Oudeman's reconstruction, such as the "Half-Oudemans" mockup I have made here. Both Gould and Sanderson made up their model composites during the 1930s and both of their composites are roughly like the mockup. During the 1930s it was possible for one "Cadborosaurus" witness to assume it had proportions like Oudemans' full version and another "Caddy" Witness to assume the Half-Oudemans model. The latter is very much closer to an actual Plesiosaur in outline. Mary Anning discovered the first Plesiosaur skeleton in 1824, by the way, but by that time the first Plesiosaur-shaped Sea-Serpents were already being reported. It evidently just took most of the rest of the century following that for the image of a Sea-serpent in the shape of a Plesiosaur to become the most recognisable categories. The process of recognition is what Heuvelmans mistakenly believes to be the extinction of one type of Sea-serpent and the rise of another: in fact the original model of the String-of-buoys SS has been replaced by the more reasonable long-necked model.

And of course the date if 1846 is basically arbitrary for the first sighting of the type. Heuvelmans also allows that the very early sightings from Maine in the 1700s was very likely one of the Longnecks. And that makes the type as old any other in his book.

"Old News-Sea Serpents Sighted off Maine" (1700s)

And just to conclude with all the appropriate paperwork, here is the closing section of Charles Gould's Mysterious Monsters on the Sea-Serpent, mentioning both the Plesiosaurian theory of Gosse and also his own version of the Giant Salamander theory.

Best Wishes, Dale D.:

p. 295

The attempt to classify these presents difficulties. Mr. Gosse, however, has very ably reviewed the somewhat scanty materials at his command, and, agreeing with the suggestion made originally by Mr. Newman, has elaborated the argument that one of the old Enaliosaurs exists to the present day. This form [The earliest Reptiles-DD], Palæontology tells us, commenced in the Carboniferous,[The group that contained the Plesiosaurs-DD] attained its maximum specific development in the Jurassic, and continued to the close of the Cretaceous periods. This rational suggestion is supported by the collateral argument that some few Ganoid fishes and species of Terebratula, have continuously existed to the present time; that certain Placoid fishes, of which we have no trace, and which consequently must have been very scarce during Tertiary periods, reappear abundantly as recent species; that the Iguanodon is represented by the Iguana of the American tropics, and that the Trionychidæ, or river tortoises, which commenced during the Wealden, and disappeared from thence until the present period, are now abundantly represented in the rivers of the Old and the New World. [The argument of the Iguanodon is better replaced by the tuatara-DD]
The points of resemblance between the northern and most often seen form of the sea-serpent and certain genera of the Enaliosaurs, such as Plesiosaurus, are a long swan-like neck, a flattened lizard-like head and progress by means of paddles. A difficulty in this connection arises, however, in respect to the breathing apparatus. Palæontologists favour the idea that the Plesiosaurus and its allies were air-breathing creatures with long necks, adapted to habitual projection above the surface. Such a construction and habit is, as I have before said, to my mind, impossible in the case of an animal of so scarce an appearance as the sea-serpent; and I am incapable of estimating how far the theory is inflexible in regard to the old forms that I have mentioned. May there not be some large marine form combining some of the characters of the salamander and the saurians; may not the pigmy newt of Europe, the large salamander tenanting the depths of Lake Biwa in Japan, and the famous fossil form, the Homo Diluvii Testis of Sheuzberg, have a marine cousin linking them with the gigantic forms which battled in the Oolitic seas?

 [As a counter to this, advocates point out that the nostrils of the plesiosaur are located at the top of its head and a Plesiosaur need not do more than show the barest top of its head to be able to breathe at the surface. This would be virtually invisible at any normal distance under any normal viewing conditions-DD]p. 335


  1. Getting back into the 1700s, Sea Serpents were also still being represented as "Sea Dragons" of a more Plesiosaurian shape: AND the earliest naturalist's descriptions of long-necked seals appeared (Along the lines of the Hoy SS but the rear flippers were not drawn long enough in the standard 1751 illustration given. And unfortunately no place of origin was given for it either, although it could easily have been around Scotland or in the North Sea)

    It is also a rather interesting point that "Pseudoplesiosaurs" were being recognised as shaped like Sea-serpents before Plesiosaurs were officially discovered. The Stronsa beast (And Rev. Maclean's sighting) were sixteen years before Mary Anning found the first Plesiosaur fossils.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  2. Also, the Daedalus Sea-serpent is a "Merhorse" male Longneck because it had "something like the mane of a horse, or rather a bunch of sea-weed" washing about at the back of the neck. It would be the sort of creature Rev. Maclean presumed he was watching. It would also be somewhere about the same size as Torquil MacLeod's creature at Loch Ness if the measurements were right. Captain McQuahae stated that at least sixty feet of the "serpent" was visable at the surface, but Lt. Drummond's sketch makes that out as more like 45 to 60, comparable to MacLeod's statement. As I remarked before, if MacLeod was correct in this, then his creature was the only fully-grown adult male that lived in the Loch. 35-45 feet is a good estimate of the size of a female adult and the more usual average total length estimate given by Dinsdale and Gould: most of the valid Loch Ness Monster sightings would have been of females

  3. Just a minor point. If you were to change your blog, you could replace your term "[yards?]" with "cubits" or maybe use a footnote stating that an ell was typically 18".

    You were quoting from Mythical Monsters ["The body was round and of a dark colour, and seemed to be several ells [yards?] in thickness."] and added your comment assuming ells might be yards. Not that it makes much difference, but the ell was a viking measurement roughly equivalent to a cubit (elbow to finger tip). Since your source said several ells thick, the results would be roughly half the number of yards you were thinking of. [Obviously any measurement based on a body part depends on the speaker's interpretation, and since no actual measurements were made with the body, but from a distance, and the word several was used, instead of a number, the exact size is still indeterminate.]

    As with most measure names used over a large period of time and space (presumably English uses derived from the days when Vikings had been common in what is now the United Kingdom), they are fluid. I would guess that Wikipedia will cover some of the differences, though as always, don't take their claims too seriously. [I did not actually check Wikipedia, but surely they must have something on it.]

    John Stuart

    PS Often times sources will talk about a double ell, which was used in cloth. They call it that because the cloth was two ells wide - except that early makers and users of such cloth did not consider it to be two ells wide; rather such cloth was sold folded in half lengthwise to be used double thickand wound on a form just over an ell wide. Poor people would unfold it, getting twice the cloth width that rich people got from it who were using it double thick (and the stitching the rich used because of that double thickness is amazingly fine). Eventually the cloth width became known as a double ell (I'm assuming because there were so many more poor people than rich).

    1. No actually the suggestion that Ells could be read as yards in this passage was made before me and I was merely making note that the suggestion had been made that the substitution should be used. Apparently the idea was that English speakers would find it easier to think in terms of yards than in ells. Since neither one was intended as an exact measure, the point is moot. At a guess, the thickness was meant to be understood to be something like ten feet . Charles Gould in 1884 said in his footnote that one ell was two feet and subsequent retellings used the word yards as a "Translation". For my part I would have said "About ten feet" and I would have left it as that. However it would also be improper for me to alter the original reading to insert the proper measurement and therefore I have reprinted your letter here as a comment.


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