The "Surgeon's" photograph

There can be no doubt that the Loch Ness Monster exploded into the public awareness in the 1933, thanks to a few sightings that made national news in Britain. What I'm wondering is if there is any evidence at all that there were sightings before 1933.

The first movie about the monster, 1934's The Secret of the Loch, has the locals claim that they've always known the monster is there. (It also has one of the very same locals theorizing the monster hatched recently from a prehistoric egg disturbed by road construction -- consistency is not the movie's strength.) That suggests that very early in the Loch Ness phenomenon this meme of the monster being an ancient legend was established, but I'm curious if there's any truth at all to it.

I know about the Saint Columba story, but that account doesn't occur in Loch Ness at all and is from a book full of tall tales. I'm looking for sightings of a creature in the Loch and ones that can be verified as having been recorded before 1933. In other words, people coming forward after 1933 saying "I saw the monster 20 years ago!" don't count, unless they can show that somebody wrote down the details of that account at the time.

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    What does this question have to do with skeptics? Is it commonly believed that there are sightings before 1933, and you have reasonable doubt about that? Apr 6, 2011 at 1:09
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    @blueraja Isn't the definition of a skeptic someone who doesn't accept the common belief without proof? I certainly have reasonable doubt that there are any recorded sightings before 1933, considering no one has offered a single one as yet. My point in asking this question, in case it wasn't obvious, is to show that paranormal phenomenon take on a aura of credibility they don't deserve very quickly. It was widely assumed even in the 1930s that the monster was a well established phenomenon, yet I'm not seeing any history before 1933. Apr 6, 2011 at 2:54
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    And if there's any doubt that most people think the Loch Ness Monster had sightings befre 1933, check out the sightings lists at Legend of Nessie. (nessie.co.uk/htm/the_evidence/sight.html) I count two dozen before 1933, but not enough information is provided to figure out if those were recorded before 1933, or were reported after the monster made the news. The few I recognize I know are retroactive reports. "Twenty years ago I saw something in the Loch..." etc. Apr 6, 2011 at 3:08

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Tim Dinsdale wrote in his book Loch Ness Monster

Another more recent, though equally delightful passage, from monster history is recorded in the Chronicle of Fortingall, which printed the following account in 1870:

"There was ane monstrous fish seen in Lochfyne, having great in the head thereof, and at times waed stand aboon the water as high as the mast of a ship; and the said had upon the head thereof twa croons..."

A sighting by Duncan Campbell in 1527 is also mentioned in the book, but the source for that one is "one of several legendary excerpts and stories recorded by Mrs. [Constance] Whyte, who has done much useful research on the subject."

This terrible beast - issuing out of the water early one morning about mid summer, he did very easily and without any force of straining of himself overthrow huge oaks with his tail and therewith killed outright three men that hunted him with three strokes of his tail, the rest of them saving themselves in trees thereabouts, whilst the aforesaid monster returned to the loch.


This is from the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition

[The history of the exhibition] all began in 1882, just as stories of a "huge fish" were circulating in the village of Drumnadrochit.

In 1916 a local gamekeeper [James Cameron] came into the hotel "with his face as white as paper". His encounter, in a small boat on Loch Ness was, like other accounts, not something people cared to talk about in those days.

Associated with the Exhibition is the Loch Ness Project, which has a Loch Ness Timeline (it's a history about the loch and not just about monster sightings)

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    Loch Fyne is different from Loch Ness, and is in fact an ocean inlet. I don't see a reason why that first account is a monster sighting at all, as opposed to a whale or basking shark. With that in mind I'd need a little more detail before I believe that the second story is something that's supposed to have happened in Loch Ness, and not somewhere else in Scotland. Apr 5, 2011 at 17:39
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    I find it very telling that even as late as as when the Exhibition website was created the people promoting in a belief in the monster were using phrases like "[monster sightings were] not something people cared to talk about in those days," referring to the pre-1933 period. Sounds like a retroactive explanation for why there aren't any recorded reports. The Timeline is also helpful, as it doesn't show any credible monster reports pre-1933, except the same 1916 one, which it doesn't give a source for. Without a source, it could be yet another post-1933 report of alleged pre-1933 events. Apr 6, 2011 at 11:36
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    @Oliver An absence of newspaper reports about an unusual occurrence in a period when newspapers were common is evidence of absence. If I were to say WWIII occurred in 1986, would you look in the newspapers from 1986 to see what happened? When you found that no paper mentioned a world war in that year, what conclusion would you come to? When something happens, people have a tendency to write it down. Perhaps a monster in a Loch is not the most newsworthy of subjects, but you'd expect SOMETHING if dozens of people had seen it in the decades and centuries before 1933, which is the current belief. Apr 6, 2011 at 14:04
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    @Oliver The Kelpie is an interesting legend, but I don't see much evidence that Kelpie was considered a physical creature, and it certainly wasn't localized to Loch Ness. My concern here is the belief, stated as early as 1934 in the movie I referenced and considered gospel by Nessie believers today, that knowledge of a physical creature living in the loch existed long before the initial burst of publicity in 1933. You need to keep in mind we can never prove a negative, but I'm seeing little evidence that the belief is true. If it were there should be some datable sources before 1933. Apr 6, 2011 at 14:11
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    @Oliver So far, it looks like you should prepare for surprise. My own collection of Loch Ness books includes several where the authors did onsite investigation and looked through newspapers, but where they give enough informtion to be sure the pre-1933 sightings are retroactive. Granted, my collection isn't up-to-date, which is why I'm asking the question. You'd think that the it would be an obvious thing for Loch Ness researchers to do, collecting pre-1933 press clippings (or diaries, or letters) yet I can't find any. That leads me to think they don't exist. Apr 6, 2011 at 16:07

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