The Sunday Express has published a summary of my research into official files on The Loch Ness Monster. The article by Mark Branagan is headlined: ‘The day big game hunters were called in to kill Nessie…and almost sparked war’ and begins:
‘It was a tourist attraction and a national treasure to those dreaming of an independent Scotland. Now previously unpublished documents can reveal that when London put a bounty on landing the Loch Ness Monster in the 1930s, big game hunters were not the only ones sharpening their harpoons for the kill….
‘Now previously unpublished documents can reveal that when London put a bounty on landing the Loch Ness Monster in the 1930s, big game hunters were not the only ones sharpening their harpoons for the kill.
‘In fact, the normally demure Natural History Museums of England and Scotland were also at each other’s throats… over who would get the carcass, while there concern among the newly re-emerging Scottish Nationalist movement that the monster’s dead body might be put on show in London.
‘The story has been uncovered by Sheffield based author David Clarke for his new book, Britain’s X-traordinary Files.
‘Clarke already knew about the Nessie Files in Edinburgh but was “astonished” to find another set at the Natural History Museum. “Many influential people, including MPs and famous naturalists like Sir Peter Scott, believed in the existence of Nessie and a lot of pressure were placed on the Scottish Office to give it special protection,” he says.
‘Indeed when sightings began again after the war, the Duke of Edinburgh suggested calling in the Royal Navy to solve the mystery.
‘“During the 1930s the Monster became an important symbol for Scottish Nationalists who wanted the police to protect the creature from big game hunters,” adds Clarke. “Nessie had become a Scottish icon, a symbol of national identity. There was genuine outrage at the possibility that the corpse of the monster might be taken for display in London.”
‘By 1934, both the Natural History in Museum in London and the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh wanted Nessie, dead or alive. Yet while Scotland hoped that the bounty hunters could be kept at bay long enough to get new laws passed to protect the creature, London preferred it shot on sight.
‘The Scottish Office opened a file on the monster in December 1933 after being bombarded with inquiries from the Press.
‘Now “Nessie Files” have also been found at the Natural History Museum, and the recently revealed contents do no favours for Anglo Scottish relations.
‘In March 1934 an unnamed official at the National History Museum, responding to a question about the museum’s policy on Nessie, made no bones about how they thought bounty hunters should deal with the creature. His message to them was very clear:
“Should you ever come within range of the ‘Monster’ I hope you will not be deterred by any humanitarian considerations from shooting him on the spot and sending the carcass to us in cold storage, carriage forward. Short of this, a flipper, a jaw or a tooth would be very welcome.”
‘According to more files found in Edinburgh, pressure was already growing for a special Act of Parliament to prevent Nessie being killed or captured.
‘The campaign was led by Inverness MP Murdoch MacDonald who assured the Secretary of State Sir Godfrey Collins the creature was no myth.
“Evidence of its presence can be taken as undoubted. Far too many people have seen something abnormal to question its existence.”
‘He demanded a bill be put before Parliament to protect the creature and asked Sir Godfrey what could be done to spare it from harm in the meantime.
‘The advice obtained by Sir Godfrey was not exactly encouraging to those who wanted to save the Monster from a watery grave, or at least stop England claiming the remains.
‘Officials advised him there was “no law for the protection of Monsters” and “great fish, including those of no known denomination, may be claimed by The Crown”.
‘By this time, the threat to Nessie had reached the ears of the bosses of the Royal Scottish Museum.
‘In 1934, they wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland, staking Edinburgh’s claim to the carcass.
“The museum urges strongly that the RSM have the reversionary rights to the ‘Monster’ if and when its corpse should become available…We think the Monster should not be allowed to find its last resting place in England. Such a fate would surely outrage Scottish nationalism which at the moment is thriving greatly under the Monster’s beneficent influence.”
‘By 1938, the threat to Nessie was becoming very real. The Chief Constable of Inverness William Fraser had stationed constables around the Loch, but the word from Sir Godfrey was the officers could do no more than enforce the existing laws of trespass and use of guns on private property.
‘Meanwhile, the big game hunter Peter Kent had announced he intended to hunt the monster down with a force of 22 men and a specially made harpoon gun.
‘A halt to such expeditions was brought by the Second World War, during which Loch Ness was patrolled by the Royal Navy.
‘A fresh wave of sightings would ensure a new lease of life for the story throughout the 1950s, peaking in 1960 when aeronautical engineer Tim Dinsdale shot the best known cinema footage of Nessie. By that point however, scientific interest from London had already cooled.
‘In October 1959, the Natural History Museum wrote to employees warning them the trustees “do not approve of the spending of official time or official leave on the so-called Loch Ness phenomena.
“They have no intention of curtailing the granting of special leave for approved purposes, nor of interfering with the manner in which members of staff of the Museum spend their private leave. They take this opportunity of warning all concerned that if as a result of the activities of members of staff the museum is involved in undesirable publicity, they will be gravely displeased.”
The disapproval of the museum did not stop naturalists going public in support of the creature’s existence however.
Sir Peter Scott, son of Captain Scott of the Antarctic and an Olympic yachtsman and Vice President of the World Wildlife Fund declared there was not one but a whole family of plesiosaurs living in the Loch.
By 1962, Natural History Museum director Sir Terence Morrison-Scott had opened his own file on the phenomena.
Sir Terence was lukewarm on the whole idea and was concerned at what he called Tory MP David James’ “obsession with Nessie”.
James had met Prince Philip to discuss his Loch Ness project earlier in 1962 – and the Duke encouraged him to contact the Royal Navy for assistance
Sir Terence wrote: “He has spoken of his plans to the Duke of Edinburgh, tried to gain the support of Sir Solly Zuckerman (MoD’s Chief Scientific Advisor) and will no doubt continue to explore explore all high profile avenues. I don’t think he, or anyone else, is yet in a position to enlist the support of the Museum. Much more convincing evidence is needed that there really are big beasts in Loch Ness. It is up to David James to provide the evidence.”