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The Loch Ness Monster
The existence of a Loch Ness ‘monster’ was first recorded by the seventh century chronicler of the life of St Columba. The chronicler relates how St Columba drove away a water monster from the loch by praying. The monster does not appear to have gone far however, as there have been various sightings of it since then, presenting Scottish ministers with a unique problem.
A government file from the 1930s demonstrates how ministers have handled the issue of 'Nessie', as the monster is called.
A Nessie Cartoon, 1933
In the early 1930s there were a number of alleged sightings of Nessie and indistinct, grainy photographs were published in a number of newspapers. A parliamentary question was tabled in the House of Commons at Westminster in 1933 asking the Scottish Office to investigate the existence of the monster in the interests of science.
Ministers and civil servants were sceptical about the existence of Nessie but they had to appear to take the matter seriously. They proposed that reliable observers with good cameras should be stationed around the loch and that arrangements should be made for aerial observation. If good photographs of Nessie proved her existence, then a plan could be made to try and trap her, without injuring her – although it was admitted that this would be a difficult task due to the size and depth of Loch Ness. In the end government decided that tales of Nessie provided so much public interest and amusement that they should be allowed to continue regardless of whether Nessie really existed.
This cartoon, from an unidentified publication, shows how the newspapers viewed discussions about the existence of a Loch Ness monster at a time of national economic crisis. The local resident in the cartoon, dressed in tartan trousers and bonnet, is shown holding newspapers with headlines such as ‘Gov[ernmen]t Notice Price of Food’, ‘Means Test’, ‘Economy’, ‘Cuts’, ‘Tax’ and ‘Rent Gov[ernmen]t Notice’. He is depicted as a stereotypical Highlander, reassuring a worried looking Nessie in broad Scots that the House of Commons is keeping a protective watch on it.
LOCAL RESIDENT: ‘Ye puir feckless beastie – get oot o’ sicht while ye’re safe! D’ye no ken the Hoose o’ Commons, Nineteen-thirty-three, has its eye on ye!’ (The question of the Loch Ness Monster was raised in the House yesterday.)
(National Records of Scotland reference: HH1/588 p.76)
Monster hunters continued to visit Loch Ness in the hope of seeing Nessie, capturing or killing it. Local residents were alarmed and asked the government to protect her from hunting expeditions. This letter from the Chief Constable of Inverness-shire to the Under Secretary of State at the Scottish Office in London follows the arrival of a hunting expedition in Fort Augustus in 1938 which claimed to have designed ‘a special harpoon gun’ for ‘hunting the monster down’. The letter concludes that the presence of ‘some strange creature in Loch Ness seems now beyond doubt’. The hunting expedition must have been unsuccessful however as Nessie continues to make occasional appearances in Loch Ness.
(National Records of Scotland reference: HH1/588 p.31)