Wednesday 8 December 2010

Whales and other strange creatures in the River Thames

In 2011 my book Mystery Animals Of The British Isles: London will hopefully be published by CFZ Press. As a teaser for what I can only describe as the best book I’ve ever written, here are a few weird accounts of unusual animals in the River Thames.

From The Kentish Notebook by G. Howell of 1891 in reference to an appeal for whale sightings in the stretch of river, a chap named ‘Bookworm’ responds, ‘’Whales In The Thames (Sept. 12th 1891) – I can assure “T.C.U.” that the whale is no uncommon visitor to our River, for numerous records, both ancient and modern, testify to the fact of its appearance at different times. I have made a brief compilation, from various sources, of the discovery of whales and other monsters in the Thames, which may interest “T.C.U.”:

1457 – In this year a considerable commotion took place, caused by several whales in the river. After considerable trouble two of them were caught off Erith, together with a sword-fish, and a fish called a Mors Marina.

1642 – On July of this year a “terrible monster” was caught by “a fisherman near Wollage (Woolwich”, and afterwards exhibited at Westminster. A tract published at the time informs us that the monster “is like a toad, and may be called a Toad-Fish; but that which makes it a monster is, that it hath hands with fingers like a man, being neere five-foot long and three-feet over, the thicknesse of an ordinary man.”

1699 – On the twenty-sixth of March, after an extraordinary storm, there came up the Thames a whale 56-feet long.

1718 – On August 30, great excitement occurred among the waterside inhabitants of Gravesend, in consequence of a whale forty-feet long being captured just below the town.

1746 – On the 25th of July a young whale came up the river and was killed near Execution Dock, after having sunk three boats; it measured 18 feet in length.

1762 – In February a whale was caught in the Hope and after being chased by the boats, some time it was secured and killed by digging holes in it. It was fifty-four feet long and 14-feet broad, and was landed on the shore by Greendland Dock, near Deptford. No doubt the Watermen found plenty of employment, as an immense number of people visited it by land and water. It was computed that on the first day, Sunday, upwards of fifty thousand visitors inspected it.

1809 – “On the 25th March, a whale 75-feet long and 25-feet in circumference, was wounded and driven on shore off the Bligh Sands below Gravesend, by a pilot named Barnes. It weighed upwards of thirty tons. The Lord Mayor ordered it to be removed in a barge above the bridge, when it was exhibited at one shilling per head, until the officers of the admiralty claimed it as a droit, and forcibly took possession. The blubber was valued at one hundred and fifty pounds.”

1842 – In November a whale was caught off Deptford pier, 16 feet long weighting two tons. It was purchased by three individuals, and exhibited there for some time. It was afterwards shewn at the half Moon Inn, Boro’, where 2,000 persons paid for admission in one day. On being dissected, the skeleton was taken to the British Museum.

1849 – A whale 21-feet long, was taken in this year off Grays, in Essex.

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