Today we often laugh about the myths that have grown up around the Loch Ness Monster. Recalling all the hoaxes, we wonder how people could be so gullible. But when the first widely-reported sightings stoked a media frenzy in 1933 it was unclear what was happening and many people, journalists and scientists alike, believed it possible that some type of unusual animal could be living in the loch.
This led to the first ever book on the monster, The Loch Ness Monster and Others (BOOK SOLD), a 1934 collection of eyewitness accounts gathered by Rupert T. Gould (1890–1948), a renowned horologist and former Lieutenant Commander in the British Navy.
The first major Loch Ness sighting was reported by a London man named George Spicer who claimed that on 22 July, 1933, while driving with his wife along the east side of Loch Ness, something like a “pre-historic animal” crossed the road ahead of them “carrying a lamb or small animal of some kind” in its mouth. Spicer’s detailed account was reported in the Inverness Courier a few weeks later and more sightings (many of which were anonymous) began pouring in. The first photograph purporting to be of the creature was taken by Hugh Gray in November of the same year. It was published in the Daily Record and Mail and reproduced as Plate I in Gould’s book:
The most famous photograph was taken the following spring, when a London gynaecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson snapped what became known as “The Surgeon’s Photograph”. Though later revealed as a hoax, this image fueled the mania surrounding the sightings, and is used on the dust jacket and as the frontispiece to Gould’s book.
Spurred on by these media accounts, Gould took it upon himself to investigate the mystery. He was already a well-known horologist: in 1923 he published The Marine Chronometer, “a book so thoroughly researched and well written that it still had no equal seventy-five years later” (ODNB), and in his free time he restored the Royal Observatory’s Harrison timekeepers, which had solved the problem of how to determine longitude at sea. (Gould was was played by Jeremy Irons in the 1999 television adaptation of Dava Sobel’s Longitude.) He amassed a large collection of typewriters, and extensive notes for a possible history of the machines. But he was also interested in mysteries and monsters, having written three books on similar subjects: Oddities (1928), Enigmas (1929) and The Case for the Sea Serpent (1930).
One of the first to systematically investigate the Loch Ness Monster, Gould set off from Inverness on a motorcycle on 14 November, 1938 and circled the Loch twice over a period of days. He interviewed as many witnesses as possible, including the Spicers, and investigated various theories for the sightings, such as the idea that the monster was a prehistoric creature, or perhaps a normal sea animal that had swum into the loch by accident.
The book which resulted from his travels is highly detailed and includes reports on all known sightings, including some that occurred prior to 1933. It’s also copiously illustrated; all three of the photographs then believed to be of the monster are included, in addition to numerous sketches based on eyewitness accounts:
Unfortunately, many of the sketches are more humorous than illuminating:
Others are tragically unconvincing:
One of the best things about our particular copy of the book is that a previous owner left annotations.
There’s a section of photographs of unidentified animals that have washed ashore on beaches around the world–Gould argued that these might be specimens of the same creature that was living in the loch. Below each image our anonymous, and skeptical, reader has scrawled “almost certainly basking shark” (though some appear to me as giant squid or other types of animals):
But their best contribution is this charming illustration in the conclusion:
As you can probably tell from the text in the photo above, Gould’s conclusion was that there was a creature living in Loch Ness. Though he was almost certainly incorrect, he should be remembered as one of the earliest and most thorough of Loch Ness investigators, whom we have to thank for the preservation of much information relating to the creature and the people who saw her.
I’m sorry to say that we don’t have a “Mysteries” section on our website, so I’ve put Nessie into the “Sciences” category, which you can browse here.