Everyone knows what the Loch Ness Monster looks like - it‘s a big-bellied beast with a long tapering tail. thick muscular neck and small ﬂat head. Big. black and Scottish it is unexplained and unproven. Nowhere does the unique Scots legal concept ‘not proven‘ seem to apply more appropriately than to the creature or creatures which may or may not lurk in the murky. peaty depths of Loch Ness.
A symposium this Saturday will review ‘The Search for Nessie in the 198(ls‘. Hosted by the National Museums ofScotIand it will be part ofthe annual meeting ofthe International Society of Cryptozoology. an organisation set up in 1982 to provide a focal point for the investigation and analysis of animals ofunexpected form or size or unexpected occurrence.
Although it is open to the public. a general public debate on the existence of the creature is not the purpose ofthe meeting. ‘lt‘s to report on researches. nothing more. nothing less‘ according to Robert Rines. President of the Academy of Applied Science and aspeaker.
Determination to account for this mythical beast has never been lacking. nor have accounts of sightings. The first is usually credited to St Columba in 565 AD. who heard how a man had been fatally bitten in Loch Ness by ‘some water monster‘. At St Columba‘s instigation his loyal companion swam out into the loch and the beast loomed up ‘with a great roar and open mouth‘ only to melt away at the command of St Columba.
As might be expected. such a romantic myth did not go unnoticed by the Victorians. Sir Walter Scott noted in a lettertoa friend in 1815 how the loch ‘has a sort of legendary fame. for the persuasion of the solitary shepherd who approach its banks is that it is tenanted by a very big amphibious animal called by them a water-bull and which several of them pretend to have seen. Is it not strange that the description popularly given corresponds with that ofthe hippotamus.‘
Hippotamus or not the then Duke of Portland wrote a letter published in The Times and The Scotsman following a spate ofsightings in the 1930s. ‘I should like to say that when I became in 1895. 38 years ago. the tenant of the salmon angling in Loch Oich and the River Garry. the forester. the hotelkeeper. and the fishing ghillies. used often to talk about a horrible great beastie as they called it which appeared in Loch Ness‘ and there are intermittent sightings recorded from 1871 to
It is in the thirties however that the excitement really starts. That this coincides with the building ofa loch-side road in 1933-36 together with much rock blasting does not go unnoticed in any of the many books on the subject. Constance Whyte in More than a Legend notes ‘the changes brought about when regions not even accessible on foot became a motorists‘ highway. ‘Whether or not the road-building and tree-axing that went on had any direct effect on the
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The surgeon‘s photograph: one ofthe pieces ofevidence that scientists will re-examine this weekend. Does the monster exist?
sightings of Nessie cannot be proved. but sight her they did. Eye-witness accounts ofmulti-humped creatures and creatures like ‘huge caterpillars. travelling with a worm-like motion' abound and there was such a rush of sightings that the Secretary and Manager of the Scottiin Travel Association felt impelled to write to the Scotsman in 1933 ‘contrary to rumour the Loch Ness ‘Monster‘ was not ‘invented‘ by this association as a means ofpublicity for bringing people to Scotland‘.
The most famous photograph ofall dates from the thirties - the so-called ‘Surgeon‘s Photograph‘ taken by R.K. Wilson in 193-1. It shows what may or may not be the neck and head ofa creature in the water and was published along with Wilson's account in the The Daily Mail in April 193-1. Wilson. a London gynaecologist who died in Australia in 1969. fought shy ofall publicity and wouldn‘t discuss the incident.
Wilson‘s was not the first photo. however. In 1933 Hugh (iray. a fitter with the British Aluminium Company was taking his usual Sunday walk after church when ‘an object ofconsiderable dimensions rose out of the water‘ with much splashing and commotion. Ile took five photographs. went home and left the film undeveloped apparently fearing ridicule from his work mates. When his brother eventually took the film to the chemist fourofthe frames were blank. but one was printed and published in the press to a mixed reception.
Lachlan Stuart who photographed Nessie in 1951 apparently didn‘t rush to the chemist with his film either
and according to one account the creature was sandwiched between 5 shots of Mrs Stuart and the children and two subsequent ones ofthe house. In between is a picture
«showing three humps ofsomething
and certainly Stuart was convinced of its nature. Ile describes how he got up at b.3(lam as ususal to milk the cow. saw a series of humps on the loch moving at speed from left to right and shouting for his wife and friend grabbed his camera and watched the multi-humped creature move about and raise its head before it disappeard. An employee of the Forestry Commission. Stuart was by all accounts a man ofexcellent reputation and Constance Whyte records in her book her visit to the Stuart‘s house. ‘When Mrs Stuart appeared she seemed to guess at once the cause of my visit. For two days there had been a succession of reporters at the house and her attitude was a mixture of boredom at the constant intrusion and incredulity that the matter could be one of so much interest.‘
()ne ofthe most astonishing personal quests has been that ofTim Dinsdale. a former aero-nautical engineer from Reading. speaking at the Symposium on "Three Decades ofNessie: A Personal ()dyssey‘. By 1989 it will be thirty years since he began research on Nessie and became a deeply committed ‘monster hunter‘ as he saw the evidence mount. He had a sighting on his first visit and with a cool nerve and steady hand carefully filmed what he saw. It was a ‘back‘ or hump sighting described in detail in his book Loch Ness Monster. ‘It looked
exactly like the tip ofa submarine conning tower just parting the surface and I watched successive rhythmic bursts of foam break the surface - paddle strokes.‘ The developed film proved disappointing. ‘the shabby little black and white image that traced its way across the screen was a poor imitation ofwhat I had witnessed‘ but a few months later it was transferred to 35mm by the BBC with the result that contrast and definition were considerably enhanced. The BBC broadcast the film in June 1960 and Tim Dinsdale was flooded with encouraging mail. In 1966 it was submitted to JARIC. the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre of the RAF who made a technical analysis. Their assessment was that the object was neither a boat nor a submarine ‘which leaves the conclusion it is probably an animate object.‘ Inevitably many have tried to bring technological advancements to bear on the creature from yellow submarines to strobe cameras and
. sonar. In 1972 Robert Rines.
President of the Academy of Applied Science in Boston. another ofthe speakers at the symposium. led a team which obtained ‘pietures that were electrifying. but who can say what they are.‘ They also got what they believed to be unambiguous sonar tracks and because of the mounting evidence a two-fold presentation was planned in 1975.
Reports ofthe new findings were to be made in Edinburgh. under the auspices ofThe Royal Society of Edinburgh and at the House of Commons. In the event The Royal Society cancelled the meeting following undue publicity. The parliamentary presentation went ahead and Dinsdale described the result as ‘a draw‘.
Shortly before this Sir Peter Scott the naturalist had invented a new name Nessiteras Rhombopteryx for the creature in an article published by Nature. The anagram wizards had a field day and promptly came up with the reconstruction Monster Hoax by Sir Peter S. Robert Rines was quick with his riposte. another anagram - Yes, both pix are Monsters R.
Mac/tan was the name given to a submersible observation chamber designed. built and tested on Loch Morar by Adrian Shine in 1974. He is currently engaged in fieldwork and will be speaking at the symposium on Recent Fieldwork by the Loch Ness and Morar Project. Like Robert Rines and Tim Dinsdale he has new projects planned.
Shine‘s expedition will apparently involve depth sounders while Robert Rines will be using de-classified American defence sonar equipment for the first time. The search for Nessie goes on. the feelings don‘t change — only the equipment grows increasingly sophisticated in the battle to prove the creature(s)‘s
The symposium is at the Royal Museum of Scotland. Chambers Street, Edinburgh on 25 July. See Open Page Listings.
10 The List 24 July — 6 August