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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MUIRHEAD`S MYSTERIES: Cheshire Odd Fish reports in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Dear folks,

I have recently come across a defunct journal (it ran from 1878 to 1990 apparently) called The Cheshiire Sheaf, which is available from the County Record Office, Cheshire, England for the price of £35 in the form of 2 cd discs.* Already I have found about half a dozen interesting stories of a cryptozoological or Fortean zoological nature in the first three volumes alone. Today I am concentrating on two weird fish stories from the River Dee. The Dee rises near a place called Chirk near the Welsh-English border and flows into a coastal stretch of Liverpool Bay, or what was called Liverpool Bay in my 1965 atlas.

Here is the story from the Chester Courant of May 14,1782:

`STRANGE FISH TAKEN IN THE DEE

On the 8th May, 1782 while some fishermen were casting their nets for salmon,about two miles beyond the Lower Ferry, near to this city, to their unspeakable astonishment they observed a FISH of uncommon size rolling about, a part of its body appearing above the surface. The tide, having then been some time ebbing, had left an insufficiency of water for its enormous bulk. On the approach of the boat it appeared extremely agitated, its strength being nearly exhausted by the want of its natural element, and the length of time it must have been beating about in this situation. One of the fishermen very resolutely jumped on its back, and, cutting a hole in the dorsal fin, fastened a rope through it, by which means they, on the return of the tide, floated it up, with the help of two boats, to the New Crane.

There, with the utmost difficulty, they effected its landing, not less than ten horses being employed for that purpose. When brought to shore, its form and size struck every person with inexpressible amazement; many opinions were given by seafaring men and others respecting its species - several pronouncing it a basking shark, others a spermaceti whale, and others a grampus, to none of which (as described by our modern writers on Icthyology) it bears any certain similitude. The length is 25 feet; the girth proportionably large, though very unequal; it has two dorsal and six pectoral fins – two of the latter of a very singular form, partaking of the nature of feet. The tail is perpendicular, of prodigious size and strength; there are five gills on each side.

The mouth, when open to its extremity, is three feet wide; there are not any teeth, but a vast quantity of small, irregular, sharp prominences, which are evidentaly given it for the purpose of comminuting its food, the orifice of the throat being astonishingly narrow for a creature of such magnitude. The upper and under jaws are each furnished with ten strong protuberant bones, horizontally placed, which meet when the mouth closes, in such a manner as to appear capable of breaking almost any substance.

The eye is situated very near the mouth, and scarcely larger than that of an ox: the nose is hard and prominent; the whole body is covered with a very thin [?thick] skin, and the weight of the Fish is between four and five tons. We have been thus particular, as it is probable that some ingenious Naturalist may favour the public with the certain information of its real species.- Chester Courant, May 14,1782 (1)

Can anyone work out what this creature might have been?

Jumping back about 130 years, we find, again,

STRANGE FISH TAKEN IN THE DEE

In Harleian MSS. No 1929 (one of the Randle Holme collection) is the following entry:- “June 23,1659, a great fish the length of 3 yards was taken upon the Sands in Saltney,** after this forme-The sines on its back, taile, and under it belly of the same substance of the fish, the colour on the back is black and shining like unto iet, and the belly very whit.”

It is difficult to form an opinion from the sketch accompanying the description as to what kind of fish was meant but it is probably intended for one of the Shark tribe.

Again, what might this have been, anyone?


* CDs available from Cheshire Record Office, Duke St, Chester, U.K., CH1 1RL

01244 972574 www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/recordoffice



** Saltney is a town just to the W. S. W. of Chester


1 comment:

Max Blake said...

That first fish has to be a basking shark. The five gills, weight and tough skin are the best bits of evidence.