Friday, 20 January 2017

Hunting down the Taylor Film





The above article was recently published by the South African Daily Maverick newspaper and I will return to that later on in this piece. But looking back three and a half years ago, I published that still frame picture on my blog appealing for any information that would lead to the discovery of its film taken by a Mr. G. E. Taylor at Loch Ness in 1938. The first part of that strategy was fulfilled in that the article was highly visible on the Internet. In other words, a google search for "G E Taylor Loch Ness Monster" put the article as the number one hit.

The second part, in which someone would actually reply with some new information, never came to pass. While this was disappointing it was also somewhat worrying as one would assume that anyone who was a descendant or close associate of Mr. Taylor and knew about the film would be sufficiently Internet savvy to at some point search for this film and find the article.

This digital silence could mean one of several things. People may have relevant information but do not wish to divulge it. Or it could be that such people are unaware of such a film, either because they have not looked for it or because the film is now no more. I hope it is not the last of these possibilities, but it would always be a hard thing to confirm.

The other problem was that I did not know G. E. Taylor's full name. Descendants of Mr. Taylor may have searched for information on him by using his full name. Also, if they were not aware of his Loch Ness connection, then "loch ness" would not appear on their search input and so my article would be way down the list of hits (I have recently updated the article to "seed" it with common names that may match the "G" and "E". These are there only to lock into certain google search patterns).

That article remains, but it is not clear if it now still fulfils its original purpose. Expanding the search, enquiring of ancestry websites was the other obvious pursuit, though for me it resulted in tenuous matches. Scotland has a good genealogy site, as do others, and South Africa is also providing such online services. One problem is it costs money, the other problem is one of priority.

A search of the National Archives of South Africa indicates that the digitised archive does not go beyond 1950. Presumably, that is a fluid situation as more births, deaths and marriages are scanned and put online. But this is not a surprise as the service primarily caters to historians and genealogists and that means categorising the older data first and then working your way up to the present day.

The trick is again knowing what the "G. E." stands for. and I suspect this may involve going through the paywall of various genealogical websites to get some (if any) information. However, the main source of information would be the register of births, deaths and marriages in Pietermaritzburg. That may ultimately require the paid employment of a local researcher.

Other lines of enquiry were more proactive. I contacted the National Film Video and Sound Archive in South Africa regarding the old newsreels to see if anything regarding Loch Ness Monster films appeared on the "African Mirror" newsreels around 1938 or 1961. Again, nothing turned up.

I then paid for an advert to be placed in the Notices sections of the popular Sunday Times for three weeks running. Again, nothing, but it piqued the interest of a local journalist who contacted me and with my input ran an article concerning South Africa's claim to fame in producing the first colour film of the Loch Ness Monster and the subsequent disappearance of that film.

That also ended with an appeal for more information. Where that will lead remains an open matter. At the time of writing, there are only a couple of leads but nothing that is truly substantial. However, I have enough new material for an article on the G. E. Taylor film. That will go ahead, but ultimately there can be no really incisive analysis without the actual film.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







Wednesday, 18 January 2017

That Man Gasparini

I was recently sent a newspaper clipping from the Adelaide Advertiser dated 23rd March 1959 which tells a story which has been covered here before but adds a twist (thanks for the information, Katie). It concerns the Italian journalist, Francesco Gasparini, who claimed he invented the Loch Ness Monster back in 1933. The clipping is shown below and you can click on the image to read it more clearly.



We have mentioned this man before in relation to another man who claimed ownership of the Nessie story. That other person was Digby Geharty, whom you can read about here and here. Neither man should be taken seriously as the parents of Nessie. Indeed, even the most seasoned sceptics cast doubt upon their claims.

However, what caught my attention was Gasparini's claim that he saw a two line headline from the Glasgow Herald from 1933 stating that a strange fish had been caught in Loch Ness. Now, I do not recall seeing such an article, but I would not claim to have covered all of 1933. Alternatively, Gasparini may have made this up or simply misremembered after 26 years.

My favoured theory is that he put a nearby strange fish story into Loch Ness. I think particularly of the fish caught near Findhorn in July 1934, which I reprinted here five years ago and from which I reproduce the picture below. 



But such a thing should not be put aside, so an archive search should be done. I have not done such a search yet, so I invite anyone else to see if there is any truth to this strange fish story.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Ancient Serpent Stone of Loch Ness




There are some things which reside at the periphery of the Loch Ness Mystery and sometimes present themselves as a mystery within a mystery. I had been meaning to write on this object for some time, but was awaiting further information which has now arrived. One could best sum it up in the words of Nicholas Witchell's "The Loch Ness Story", back in 1974 (p.16 1st edition).

This carving, believed to be neolithic in origin, was found at Balmacaan House, which used to be near Loch Ness until it was knocked down in the 1930s. It has been speculated that the serpent-like form my be some reference to the animals in Loch Ness.

However, the story of this stone goes further back than this. Ted Holiday first mentioned it in his 1968 book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness", where he recounts something akin to a jungle expedition in 1965.

On June 15th I had now been at Loch Ness for nine days. Heavy rain pounded down during breakfast, After going round to Strone for a last word with Clem and Brian, who were leaving for London, I finally spent the rest of the morning searching the grounds of derelict Balmacaan House for a view of the ancient carved stones on which an unidentified creature is depicted. After beating the rhododendron jungle for an hour, I gave the search up as hopeless.

Witchell's circumspection was overshadowed by Holiday's firm belief that this stone showed a Pictish representation of the "Great Orm". In other words, this carving depicted the first recorded "sketch" of the creatures. As he relates further on in the book:

In his dealings with the Orm the neolithic artist seems to have adopted one of two stylized approaches. Usually, the creature was represented in a sort of plan-view with its body coiled in two wide undulations. The head was ovoid with pear-shaped eyes and a bluntly conical nose. This particular treatment was often incorporated with a symbolic device or pattern known to Archaeologists as a 'Z rod' which may possibly have indicated the rank of the leader for whom the carving was executed. The alternative rendering was a depiction of the head and neck alone. Usually this showed a long neck topped by a small head embellished with a number of feelers or tentacles. 

To which Holiday adds a small note beneath a drawing of the stone:

A neolithic carving found at Balmacaan, near Loch Ness. The creature appears to be a stylized depiction of the Orm and incorporates numerous features reported by witnesses such as vertical undulations, wide head, oval eyes and conical nose. 

One could of course argue that the conical nose, oval eyes and sinusoidal curves were equally emblematic of a common snake. However, the discovery of the stone beside the shores of Loch Ness made this more than a matter of land based serpents. To delve further into this neolithic puzzle, we need to know more about the stone.

Though the stone was said to reside at Balmacaan house, the actual site of discovery was beside the river Enrick near Urquhart Bay. According to William Mackay in the 1886 Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, it was accidentally dug up on Drumbuie Farm about 1869  along with another symbol stone which were laying on top of a cairn. The site of that discovery gives the stone its proper title of the "Drumbuie Stone". However, it was removed to the Earl of Seafield's estate prior to 1886. The original location is shown below as the central green circle.




As it turns out, Ted Holiday was wasting his time looking for the stone amongst the rhododendrons in 1965 as it had been removed ten years earlier to the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh for safekeeping. The stone had left Loch Ness, but did the mystery of its serpent remain?

The stone is itself one of over 300 items known as Pictish symbol stones. The Picts were a mysterious race of people who populated the northern parts of Scotland, but little is known of their culture, even after converting to Christianity. The stones are rough hewn slabs of stone carved with known and unknown objects which are found either erect or laid flat on cairns and so on. They are to be found all over the north of Scotland with the preponderance being located in the north east and they date between the 6th and 9th centuries AD.

They have presented a bit of a challenge to archaeologists since the symbols carved on them have remained undeciphered and represent a kind of Highland Hieroglyphics lacking a Highland Rosetta Stone to unlock them. By that I mean, some carvings are clear enough in depicting boar, fish, eagles, deer and so on. Others appear to be more abstract, though some may represent man made objects such as mirrors and combs. But why they are there and how each carving on a given stone relates to those around it has no universally accepted solution.

The Drumbuie stone is no exception in that the serpent is depicted with a construct known as a "Z rod" interlacing it. What this and the double disc below it signifies is a matter of unresolved conjecture. Such abstract symbols are seen across Scotland adorning stones in various ways. 

When I considered these discs and the serpent, I thought of Holiday's subsequent book, "The Dragon and the Disc" which explores the links between alleged ancient dragon and disc worshipping cultures. Surely, the Drumbuie stone would be "Exhibit A" in such a theory with its combined discs and serpent? But, surprisingly, Holiday (as far as I can tell), makes no mention of the stone in his book. A curious omission, I thought.

Then again, maybe not. As I continued to research the matter, I found a very useful website mapping out the large number of symbol stones across Scotland. It is run by Strathclyde University and can be found here. Some observations can be made using their information. Firstly, there are 23 symbol stones containing a serpent and 13 of these are this serpent plus Z-rod combination. Moreover, these serpents are combined with so many different other symbols as to look almost random in occurence.

But the second point is that the other serpent stones are located largely in the east of Scotland where there is a dearth of loch monster traditions. Most of the folkloric tales of kelpies, water horses and water bulls reside in the west and centre of the Highlands. This is shown in a rough overlay I did of the distribution of loch monsters and symbol stones.




The folkloric lochs are shown as white circles and the symbol stones as red circles. One can almost argue for a negative correlation between the two classes. The conclusion is that the serpent carvings are not related to any ancient idea of loch monsters (though one cannot quite discount the river varieties). 

That may or may not be a surprise, as it depends on what the function of such a Pictish symbol stone was. Was the serpent a real snake or a symbol for something like a notable family or leader? That we'll leave to the experts, but perhaps Holiday himself came to realise the stone serpent was nothing to do with the Loch Ness Monster when he omitted it from his Dragon book.


CONCLUSION

I said the stone was sent to Edinburgh in 1955 and so we complete the story with its current status. I contacted one of the curators who confirmed it was still there and he kindly sent me the latest picture of it, which I reproduce with their permission. At last, we can see the actual stone and not sketches (probably derived from rubbings).


Copyright of the Trustees of National Museums Scotland


The stone is not on display at the museum due to its somewhat fragile condition and it awaits some restoration work. Therefore, it remains boxed up at the museum's warehouse facility and was not amenable to a visit by myself. At least we know this curious stone still exists and is in good hands.

The Loch Ness Monster may continue to be a mystery, but there is no mystery connecting it to this stone. The mystery of this stone firmly resides in the little known ways and customs of the Pictish people. There may be other symbols that equate to creatures the Picts regarded as aquatic and monstrous, such as those on the Aberlemno II stone and the well known Pictish Beast. To these we must look for clues as to the monster lore of these people.

HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE


Balmacaan House was the property of the Earl of Seaforth and was located on his estate to the south west of Drumnadrochit (see map from 1930s with house in bottom left). The house and its 40,000 acres would have served as hunting grounds and indeed were rented to rich clientele such as the American Bradley Martin. It was used as a home for war evacuees in the 1940s but was evidently abandoned as a sale of assets in 1942 suggested its days were over (perhaps due to the onerous death duties imposed by the British Labour Party on the aristocracy).




By the time Ted Holiday arrived with his machete in 1965, the house was in a severe state of disrepair and was soon demolished, perhaps in the 1970s. There were reports of ghosts appearing as the house was levelled!



The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Monday, 9 January 2017

Monster Programs Alert

To all UK readers, Channel 5 has two hours of sea monster programs and Nessie may make an appearance. Programs start at 7pm.


Saturday, 7 January 2017

Archive of Annual Nessie Reviews

This blog enters its eighth year as of 2017 and has been publishing end of year reviews since 2012. So if you want a summary of what has been going on in and around the loch and its famous monster during those years, just click on the links below. I note I did not do reviews for 2011 and 2010. I will backfill these with articles when I have time.

Review of 2016 - link

Review of 2015 - link

Review of 2014 - link

Review of 2013 - link

Review of 2012 - link

Review of 2011 - to be done

Review of 2010 - to be done


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Thursday, 5 January 2017

Vote for the Best Nessie Sighting of 2016


Source: link

The Inverness Courier are running their annual poll on the best Nessie sighting over this week. The poll closes at midnight on January 8th. The candidates can be viewed at this link, but to vote you need to go to this link and scroll down to the bottom right of the page until you see the voting buttons appear.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Miscellaneous Loch Ness Articles

Here find an index of past articles on subjects not specifically on the Loch Ness Monster or its satellite subjects, but rather convey information on the history and geography of the loch and its environs. Of course, the monster may get a mention or two, but you can cut through that to the main stuff. This article will find its way to the webpage side links and be updated as and when.

Pictish Symbol Stones at Loch Ness - link

Metal Monsters in Loch Ness - link

Saint Cummin's Bell - link

Contour Map of Loch Ness - link

The Other Serpent Stone of Loch Ness - link

New Record Depth for Loch Ness? - link

 Boleskine House Ablaze - link

How Many People can Loch Ness hold? - link

A Piece of Loch Ness History - link

The Treasure of Castle Urquhart - link

Loch Ness Steamships - link and link

The Mysterious "Footprints" of Loch Ness - link

Wrecks of Loch Ness - link

Cool Picture from Loch Ness - link

Porpoises in Loch Ness? - link

Ice Age and Loch Ness - link

Another Car Accident at Loch Ness - link

60th Anniversary of John Cobb's Death - link

Another Monster on Loch Ness - link

Loch Ness in 1912 - link

An Interesting Catch near Loch Ness - link

The World's Biggest Spirit Level - link

 The Blighting of Loch Ness - link



The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com