We have recently acquired a nice little set of new books from a retiring Professor. One of the books is Rupert Gould’s The case of the sea-serpent (Philip Allan, 1930).  In it Gould examines reports of sea-serpents from the mid 18th century to the 1920’s. He gathers as much evidence as he can about each report, including witness statements from the time and letters from those still living, and evaluates it to reach a conclusion about the existence of the creatures. One of the main reports he covers is that of HMS Daedalus in 1848.

Captain M’Quhae and a few other crew members saw a creature in the sea on 6th August while in the South Atlantic. The captain made a report which was published in The Times and Illustrated London News. Richard Owen, the famed naturalist, published a letter questioning what the Captain saw and he responded to say that the report was true. Gould concludes that

“….. M’Quhae’s honesty was not –and, obviously, could not be, – seriously called in question. That a British post-captain, paying-off his ship and desirous of further employment, should deliberately go out of his way to embroil himself with the Board of Admiralty by playing off upon them a purposeless hoax….was not merely improbable – it was frankly unthinkable.”

Gould goes on to give an account of the sighting witnessed from the HMS Hilary. In May 1917 numerous members of the ship’s crew, including the captain, saw a sea serpent while sailing near Iceland. The captain tries to get a closer look and then uses the serpent as target practise. Gould mentions that under the Admiralty Manual of Scientific Enquiry the captain had every right to fire on the creature but that he has “…. no sympathy with wanton cruelty in any form, ‘sporting’ of otherwise”. Sadly the Hilary was sunk a few days later by a German submarine.

Monster seen from the HMS Osborne

After looking at various sightings (including one where a witness forgot to use his camera in the excitement) Gould then considers a question which Owen brought up: If these creatures exist why have no remains ever been found. Owen thinks that they are the type of creature that would float to the surface upon death and therefore be washed up on a beach. Gould disagrees with this and concludes that he thinks remains will never be found.

In the chapter entitles Theories vs Facts Gould examines the evidence from the various sightings he has covered stating that he has only cover about 10% of the material available on this subject but it is the “cream” of it. The photos here shows the various explanations which have been put forward for such sightings, including hallunications, whales and sea weed.

In conclusion Gould states that he believes in “.. the real existence of more than one type of creature not yet scientifically described.” He judges there to be three types, a giant turtle, a long necked seal and a creature like a plesiosaurus. Gould goes on to say that he belives they live in the Atlantic, like sunshine and hot weather and are migratory. He also hopes that one day better proof of the creatures existence will be found and either be in photographic or film form. He is very against the animal being hunted as he fears it might go the way of the Dodo.

This is not the only book Gould wrote on this topic, he published a book in 1934 all about the Loch Ness Monster. He was the first person to do a scientific investigation on the monster, riding around Loch Ness on a motorbike. He also published two other books which are seen to touch on the fortean, about unsolved scientific mysteries, Oddities in 1928 which was followed by Enigmas in 1929.

Rupert Gould is probably best known for his work on John Harrison’s (1693-1776) marine timekeepers and for becoming “Stargazer” on BBC radio as well as joining the Brains Trust. However, Gould’s life was turbulent with nervous breakdowns, a public separation from his wife which led to the loss of friends, access to his children and no work, having to live with his mother until she died and then being left with only a small income. He seemed most happy while working on his collection of typewriters, chronology and playing tennis.

Mao showing the sightings investigated by Gould


Library Assistant


Betts, J. Time restored: the Harrison timekeepers and R.T Gould, the man who known (almost) everything (Oxford University Press, 2006)