Senior Police Officers Believed in “Nessie” in the 1930s

Loch Ness, the largest expanse of freshwater in the British Isles is a very beautiful and tranquil place, however, this part of the Scottish Highlands is perhaps best known as the lair of a strange beast – “Nessie”.  Many sightings, pictures and even sonar and video images have been taken of the “wee beastie” that is supposed to lurk in the peaty waters of the Loch, indeed, many other Lochs in Scotland have their own stories of strange creatures in the water.  This phenomenon is not just restricted to Scotland, many locations in the northern hemisphere have their own stories and myths of strange lake monsters.  There is “Champ” in Lake Champlain and a myriad of similar strange animals reported from Lakes as far apart as Norway, Sweden, the United States, Ireland and Turkey.

However, perhaps the most famous (or should that be infamous) lake monster of them all is Nessie and papers from senior figures in authority dating from the 1930s, put on display for the first time; reveal that for many people at the time the Loch Ness Monster was very real.

With the upgrading of the A82 that skirts around the northern shore of the twenty-five mile long loch, there were more vehicles and travellers passing by the deep, dark waters and there were a spate of monster sightings, even one from a couple who claimed that Nessie left her watery home and hauled herself passed their car, perhaps the creature was going ashore to sample the night life of Fort William.

In a time, when movies like King Kong were causing a sensation and monsters (even dinosaurs) were big news, even bigger than they are today, it was one particular photograph, taken in 1934 that really set the world’s attention on the Loch Ness area and sent every would-be monster hunter to this part of the Highlands in a bid to “bag the beastie”.

In April 1934, a sensational photograph purportedly taken by a respectable London surgeon was published in many newspapers around the world.  It seemed to show the head and neck of a strange creature breaking the surface of the waters of the Loch.

The 1934 “Surgeon’s” Photograph

Picture Credit: Keystone/Getty

Colonel Robert Wilson’s photograph seemed to confirm the sightings and reports, that there was a strange animal unknown to science lurking in the waters of Loch Ness.  It was not until 1994 that the photograph was revealed to be a hoax, the picture shows a model of the “monster” taken just a few feet from the shore and not the head and neck of a large Plesiosaur (extinct marine reptile).  However, this photograph and the spate of sightings and reports seemed to convince a number of senior figures in authority as to the creature’s existence.  In papers and letters put on display at the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh, the then Chief Constable of Police in Inverness-shire, William Fraser, was even making plans to try to protect the monster from big game hunters.

As the new Chief Constable for the region, Mr Fraser wrote in August 1938 to the Under Secretary of State in the Scottish Office, urging the Government to do all it could to “protect the monster”.  Mr Fraser expressed his concern over the steady stream of trophy hunters and sportsmen who visited the Loch with the intention of capturing Nessie, the letter, one of a series of documents put on display, part of the “Secret Nessie Files”, reveals that Mr Fraser believed that the monster was real.

This letter along with other documents on display demonstrates the extent to which the belief in Nessie was established amongst senior authority figures and their determination to protect it.

Mr Fraser, who led the force until 1951, described a London couple, Peter Kent and Marion Stirling, who were “determined to catch the monster dead or alive”.  They planned to have a “special harpoon gun” made and intended to return with “twenty experienced men” the following week “for the purpose of hunting the monster down”.

It could be argued that Mr Fraser was thinking in terms of public safety when he wrote those comments but he goes onto add:

“That there is some strange fish creature in Loch Ness seems now beyond doubt, but that the police have any power to protect it is very doubtful.  I have, however, caused Mr Peter Kent to be warned of the desirability of having the creature left alone, but whether my warning will have the desired effect or not remains to be seen.”

It appears that the Chief Constable had a case of “monster fever”, perhaps he was an early cryptozoologist (a person who believes in the existence of strange and bizarre creatures, as yet unknown to science).

From time to time, remarkable discoveries of animals not known in the western world are made.  For example, recently a new species of giant monitor lizard was discovered in the Philippines.

To read more about this recent discovery: If You go Down to the Woods Today – Discover a new species of Monitor Lizard

A spokesperson for the archives stated that other authority figures were less convinced:

“It’s certainly remarkable that a senior police officer was prepared to accept the existence of a “strange fish” or rather “creature” in the Loch”.

The files put on public display for the first time, also reveal that other officials were more sceptical and certainly less inclined to express strong views in favour of the existence of a monster.

For Adrian Shine, a naturalist who founded the Loch Ness and Morar Project (Loch Morar is deeper than Loch Ness and has its own monster legend), believes that Mr Fraser was not alone in believing in Nessie.

He said:

“When the first stories began to burgeon from Loch Ness in the summer of 1933, people in fairly high and respectable positions were quite properly and respectably interested to see what was happening and wanted to investigate and protect whatever was there if necessary.”

Mr Shine commented that it was possible that Nessie was a species of migratory sturgeon.  Another theory behind the more than 1,000 sightings is that the unique environment of Loch Ness creates optical illusions, or perhaps there really is a marine reptile, a Plesiosaur swimming around the Loch.  Unlikely, but you never know, however, we at Everything Dinosaur don’t believe in the possibility of a Mesozoic relic such as a Plesiosaur being alive today, certainly not a population of them living in Loch Ness, a feature that was only formed a few thousand years ago.

A Model of a Plesiosaur (Elasmosaurus) – Could this be Nessie?

Bullyland Elasmosaurus from Everything Dinosaur

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view a model of an Elasmosaurus and dinosaur models: Dinosaur Toys for Boys and Girls – Dinosaur Models and Toys

Strange things do turn up from time to time.  Not long after Mr Fraser wrote his letter in the Summer of 1938, the first live Coelacanth was discovered off the African coast.  Coelacanths belong to an ancient group of fish that were once thought to be the ancestors of land animals.  They are found in the fossil record in strata from the Devonian Period through to the Cretaceous.  Scientists believed them to be extinct, until by chance, one came to the notice of western science shortly before Christmas1938.

To read more about Coelacanth catches: Coelacanth caught off the island of Zanzibar

Periodically, there are more pictures published of the Loch Ness Monster and people still travel to the area in the hope of catching a glimpse of the beast.  Quite a large tourist industry has sprung up in the area, fuelled by the myth of the monster.

As Adrian Shine says:

“People still come and they still see.  We have to accept that we don’t have all the answers.”

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