Thursday, 24 July 2014

Tuesday 24th July 1934

It is now 80 years since the date in the title, but you may ask what is the significance of it? Was there an important sighting on that day, a significant photograph taken or did some personality get up to something that has forever lived in modern Loch Ness folklore?

The answer is none of these, for the 24th July 1934 was the day in which the Loch Ness Monster was reported the most times in one day. In total, there were five claimed sightings of the monster on the busiest day of the busiest month of the busiest year ever for loch Ness Monster stories.

Now, these days, I would consider it good going if we had five reported sightings in one year, let alone one day, and this just reminds us just how manic things were up at Loch Ness those long years ago. Once can only dream of such activity now.

However, before I look at that day, I must dismiss the rival claim of Barbara Abbot. If you go to the very first entry of Paul Harrison's 2012 edition of "The Encyclopedia of the Loch Ness Monster" you will read of her claim to have seen Nessie five times at different locations in one day. The whole affair is topped off by Nessie tossing a live seal into the air, catching it in her mouth and eating it. I am not going to take this one any further.

The sources for the reports are all newspapers, The Scotsman for the 25th and 27th July 1934, the Inverness Courier for 27th July and the Northern Chronicle for the 25th July.

The sighting log begins in the morning with Duncan Cameron who reported a long neck moving at speed in Urquhart Bay toward Fort Augustus. The clipping below is from the 27th July edition of The Scotsman.

The account was also reported on the same day by the Inverness Courier, but both do not give a more precise time than the "morning". However, a reading of the other four sightings leads me to conclude this was the first sighting of the day. By 11:15am, the second sighting had occurred when a Mr. Charles Mace saw an object off Ruskie further down the loch. His account is taken from the Northern Chronicle.

The third account occurred at 11:30am a couple miles north of Fort Augustus by the crew of the steam drifter, "Sedulous". They saw a black hump like an upturned boat at a distance of 400 yards which drifted about for a period of time. This account appears in the Scotsman and Northern Chronicle and though generally in agreement, they don't seem to agree on how long the object appeared for. The Scotsman has the object "cruising about" while the Chronicle has the object visible for only a few seconds. The account below is from the 25th July edition of The Scotsman.

Moving onto our fourth account, by about noon, the object (or another object) was back at Ruskie where it was spotted by Robert C. Urquhart. Mr. Urquhart was one of the 20 watchers employed by Edward Mountain for his four week surface watching expedition. Each man was equipped with a camera and a telescope (or binoculars) in pursuit of their quarry.

Finally, our busy day for Nessie closes with the fifth sighting reported by another watcher for the Mountain expedition. This was a Mr. Ralph who was stationed at Temple Pier overlooking Urquhart Bay. His sighting occurred at 3:25pm when he saw a dome shaped object break the surface for a short time. The account below is from the Chronicle but an ink blemish on the original document obscures some of the details.

I have plotted the five reports on a map of Loch Ness, each numbered in chronological order from Duncan Cameron through to Mr. Ralph. The salient details for each sighting are given in tabular form.

Cameron      AM           Urquhart Bay     20 minutes         long neck and head with 50 yard wake
Mace            1115          Ruskie               30 minutes         eel like object with seal like head
"Sedulous"   1130          nr F.Augustus    seconds?            black hump like upturned boat
Urquhart       1200         Ruskie                5 minutes          duck-like
Ralph            1525         Temple Pier        seconds             semi circular object

Now the first question that naturally arises is whether these are all genuine sightings of the Loch Ness Monster? For the sceptic, the answer is easy. It is "No" at all times and all places, till Loch Ness freezes over again.

For the Nessie advocates, each case has to be judged on its own merits. Three of the cases involved the witness examining the object through a telescope or binoculars, which enhances their credibility (Mace, Urquhart and Ralph). Three cases also were of multi-minute duration, which again allows time to assess the object in view as to whether it is common or uncommon. Based on these factors, I would rank the sightings in order of decreasing credibility as Mace, Urquhart, Cameron, Sedulous and Ralph.

The last, by virtue of the fact that part of the account was obscured, made an assessment more difficult. It is also to be noted that one witness (Urquhart) thought the object looked like a duck. Another (Mace) thought the object looked like a seal (in part). Some sceptics when looking at these phrases will subconsciously replace the phrase "looked like" with "was" and conclude misidentification. This is despite the two objects in question being examined through a telescope or binoculars. Note that this "retranslation" of the text does not carry so well when the other phrases "looked like an eel" or "looked like an upturned boat" are examined.

The Urquhart account is the only one to mention photographs being taken. Two of our accounts involved Mountain men, so one would reasonably presume an attempt to photograph the object was also attempted in the case of Mr. Ralph. Then again, perhaps not, as his report suggests the object was in view for only seconds.

Does the Urquhart photograph exist to this day? Well, five pictures were publicised but individual details of each picture are lacking. This photograph was taken opposite Foyers but the Mountain Expedition pictures I have are inconclusive in determining if any were taken from Ruskie.

Another question that may be asked is whether these could all be the same creature? The answer to that is most likely "No". I say this because the Mace and Sedulous accounts overlap by 15 minutes but are about 8 miles apart. So, if these are monster reports, we have at least two creatures. Furthermore, one could conjecture that the two sightings at Ruskie are the same object (Mace at 1115-1145 and Urquhart at 1200).

Meanwhile, what about the two reports near Urquhart Bay? These were Cameron in the morning and Ralph at 1525. One could speculate that this could be the same creature which appeared to Cameron, swam onto Ruskie for the two sightings and then finished the day back around Urquhart Bay. Yes, I know, sheer speculation, but readers will form their own opinion.

So, it was a busy day on the 24th July 1934 and one doubts it will ever get that busy again. Meanwhile, we look forward to the next year which manages to muster five sightings over 365 days.