Historical Miscellany #41 – A Sea Monster discovered in Porthleven, Cornwall (1786)

(As reported in the Hereford Journal, Thursday 12 October 1786 – Illustration from The Monsters of the Deep, 1875)

A description of Sea Monster found in Cornwall

The following comes authenticated from a Gentleman of Morillian in Cornwall.

A JUST and particular description of a very curious and most surprising sea monster driven on shore in Portleaven Bay, [sic] on the coast of Cornwall, on the 14th of Sept. 1786, by the strong westerly winds and tempestuous weather, which continued to a violent degree for several days successively, and did much damage at that place and neighbourhood.

This monster was first discovered by two boys who (agreeable to the custom of that place) went in search of wreck soon after day break; and as they stood on the cliff which commanded a prospect of a small sandy cove, they, at a distance of about a mile, discovered something of enormous bulk near the shore, and which after a short time they apprehended to be the side of part of an unfortunate ship which had the preceding night been broken to pieces by the extremities of the shore: they immediately went towards the place with sanguine expectation of great success, and as they approached the spot (the breaking waves at times leaving it dry) they were both struck with the utmost consternation to perceive such motions as convinced them it was something which had life: They then hastened  with great fear to some men of their acquaintance, and related what they had seen in a terrifying manner: –

At first their report was not credited, but after many strong and particular declarations of the fact, a great number of people soon collected themselves into a body, and determined to go armed, some with large sticks and pokers, others with hatchets, spits, &c. which was, after some deliberation, carried into execution. On their coming near the spot they perceived it to be something living, as was represented, and it raised its head, which had not before been perceived, and appeared to direct its course towards them. All were alarmed – some stood their ground, others possessed of greater fear turned back, they could see no legs to it, but it appeared to crawl on its belly, raising its body at times a little from the land. Various were the opinions about this creature; some said it was a Mermaid, others a Whale – but the greater number disbelieving the existence of the former, and adhering to the improbability of the latter, they were all equally at a loss.

When it was agreed to examine what it was, they all went towards it, and after an hour’s beating, stabbing it, &c. it expired with a groan. Its length was found to be from the top of its head to the end of its tail, 48 feet 10 inches, and its circumference in the largest part of its body 24 feet and a half: Its head was large, and prickly in the hinder part, and not formed much unlike that of a man; its eyes were greenish; its mouth large; its nose flat, and from its neck to the naval, resembling nearest to the human kind; its back was hard and more difficult to penetrate than the shell of a turtle; it had two short fore feet, formed like the paw of a monkey, and its hinder parts shaped something like the hinder part of a porpoise; it had a large fan tail, which when spread measured full 7 feet in width at the extent, and but 5 feet long.

It is supposed a large quantity of oil will be produced from it, which, with the shell of its back, and its fins, are judged, if properly managed, to be of great value, and will be of considerable benefit to this neighbourhood. No one that has seen it, knows its name, nor has any monster like it ever been described in record, or come within the knowledge of this kingdom.

Read more about Cornwall and sea monsters here.

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