So is the great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made therein.
Psalm 104 verses 25-26
The coastline of Cornwall is mysterious as it is majestic. That wide, wild ocean that is full of so much potential is also full of the unknown. The unseen. Legends and superstitions are as much a part of the fisherman’s life as sea salt and fish scales.
Stories abound all around the world of terrible creatures lurking in the dark depths of the ocean. In South Africa there was the Coelacanth. The Southern Sea had monstrous squid called Kraken. And Greek legend told of the many-armed Scylla. In Cornwall there is the Mermaid of Zennor luring sailors to their deaths in the murky depths. The witches of Gunnards Head calling up storms from that rocky headland just to spite their neighbours. Remember the wicked-hearted Wreakers with their lanterns coaxing ships to their doom. And of course the curse of Loe Pool which claims a life every 7 years. And then there is the Morqawr.
Morgwar means sea-giant in Cornish. And strange creatures, giant serpents and sea monsters have been spoken about here from earliest times. However they seem to have been particularly popular in the 18th and 19th century. Indeed right up until 1999 there have been regular reports of something large and snake-like in the waters off the Cornish coast. The sightings seem to have been mostly on the south coast from Lands End up to Portscatho.
In April 1876 a group of fisherman were returning home to the little harbour at Portscatho. The waters in Gerrans Bay were very clear as it was a calm spring day. Suddenly the men spotted something strange just 500 yards from the shore. “A serpentine creature.”
The encounter was reported in the Royal Cornwall Gazette. “Upon their approach it lifted up its head and showed signs of defiance”. The serpentine creature was chased and eventually captured. But when the fishermen brought ashore to show the people of Portscatho it caused such a stir that by the time the newspaper reporter arrived, much to his disappointment, it had been killed and thrown back into the sea.
Earlier still was this report from Mevagissey:
A Great Sea Serpent – One of those great serpents . . . was brought into Mevagissey last week, by fisherman named John Hicks, which weighed 95 lbs. It is supposed to be the largest ever caught there.
West Briton, 20th October 1837
Similar sea monsters have been spotted off the coast of Lands End in 1906, near Mevagissy in 1944, off Pendennis Point in Falmouth in 1975 and most recently again in Gerrans Bay in 1999.
Spotted in Falmouth Bay
The serpent sighted from Pendennis Point by Mrs. Scott and Mr. Riley in September 1975 was described as “a hideous humped creature with a long bristled neck and stumpy horns”. They claimed to have seen it catch a small conger eel in its mouth before disappearing under the waves. It’s a description that is eerily close to so many historical sightings and also the “tortuous monster” in the biblical Book of Job.
When I was younger I remember hearing stories of giant eels in the deep waters of the Carrick Roads and Falmouth Bay. I would guess that in all likelihood this might be where these stories come from, coloured and exaggerated by the telling. I wonder if anyone has spotted anything recently . . . Do let me know your stories from the deep!