9. London Leviathans
In 2006 many onlookers marvelled at the appearance of a bottlenose whale that became stranded in the Thames – the first recorded sighting of such an animal since 1913. However during the summer of 1658 another whale turned up at Greenwich; unfortunately the creature had been struck with a harping iron out at sea, become weakened and died. In a newsletter written by a John Barber to the Viscount Scudamore, dated June 8th of that year, he says:
The people of this Towne have gratified their eyes for almost a weeke together with a Succession of novelties: Green-goose-faire is the preface to the trapanning of a young whale betwixt Blackwall and Greenwich: a strange and unwonted spectacle here; it is sayd to be faeminine, & about 58. foot long, & about 12. in thicknesse; She was first discovered neare Blacke-wall, pursued by hideous cries of watermen, strucke first by a fisher man’s anchor, throwne from a bold hand, & then attempted by severall engines, V[iz.], musket-shot, resented his wounds soe highly that he made an outcry the most terrible that fancy could create; in fine they kill’d him, & drag’d him at a loyter [lighter, a boat used for lading] to Greenwich where then thousands of people in a day are to see him: men & ladies are carried on porter’s backes to him as he lyes in the water . . . to the great content of the beholders: a gent that I know, with 7. or 8. more were at once in his mouth: his tongue is the whole breadth of his mouth: of the tonge of some great whales have bin made no less then 4. tun of oyle, as I am told: but as for the throat of the greatest Leviathan it is no wider than the thicknesse of mans arme, which confirmes that of Jonas to be purely a miracle: This monster hath hugely inrich’d Greenwich & Deptford, but is now remov’d to Blackwall to perfume that place, for he stinks intollerably: some say the protector doth challenge it, as being a fish royall, but had it bin but a sturgion the Lord mayor might have had it.
However such appearances are certainly not the most mysterious to occur in waters around London. During 1993 several witnesses observed a creature resembling a seal, but with a very long neck, as it swam up the Thames Estuary; whilst fifty years previous a seal was in fact caught in a Hampstead pond after several bemused witnesses reported seeing an animal they couldn’t identify. Long-necked seals, however, do not exist – certainly not of a size to be confused with a sea serpent.
The strangest watery beast to appear in London was observed in 1925 by Captain F D B Haselfoot and Commander M R Southern who were aboard HMS Kellet in an area known as Black Deep. They saw a long neck come out of the water and rise some ten feet above the waves – the beast was so close that the two startled witnesses were able to see clearly the long teeth…
By Neil Arnold
Image of Gustave Doré’s 1865 engraving ‘Destruction of Leviathan’ via Wikimedia Commons.