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90 years: The first photo of the Loch Ness Monster

Authored by Alice Broome
Published on 12th November, 2023 5 min read

90 years: The first photo of the Loch Ness Monster

Today (12/11/2023) is the 90th anniversary of the first photo of the Loch Ness Monster.

The first alleged sighting of a monster near Loch Ness occurred in 565 AD — the creature was spotted in the river Ness. It was during the nineteenth century, however, that sightings started to occur more regularly. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster gained substantial attention after The Inverness Courier published an article on the creature on 2 May 1933. The article discussed a sighting by Aldie Mackay. She claimed that she was driving along the A82 with her husband on 15 April 1933 when she saw a huge creature swimming in the loch. Journalist Alex Campbell wrote that the

creature disported itself, rolling and plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale, and the water cascading and churning like a simmering cauldron. Soon, however, it disappeared in a boiling mass of foam. Both onlookers confessed that there was something uncanny about the whole thing, for they realised that here was no ordinary denizen of the depths, because, apart from its enormous size, the beast, in taking the final plunge, sent out waves that were big enough to have been caused by a passing steamer.[1]

Another sighting three months later, on 22 July 1933, sparked further interest in the monster. George Spicer and his wife are said to have seen a large creature with a long, wavy, narrow neck cross the road in front of their car before disappearing into the loch. The Courier published an account of the sighting on 4 August 1933, leading to numerous letters being sent in describing multiple sightings by readers. The “Loch Ness Monster” was decided upon and this has since developed into the affectionate name “Nessie”.

In 2013 researchers at Columbia University suggested that Spicer’s sighting was fake: that the monster described closely resembled a long-necked dinosaur that featured in the movie King Kong (1933), a film that was extremely popular at the time.[2] They concluded that this fictional character, which lived in a lake, shaped the myth of the Loch Ness Monster.

The first photograph of the Loch Ness Monster was taken on 12 November 1933 by Hugh Gray. The image, featured below, was taken near Foyers, a village on the east shore of Loch Ness. Gray was walking his dog when he allegedly saw the monster and took the photograph. It is suspected that the image is actually of his dog carrying a stick, although it has also been suggested that the photograph could be of an otter or a swan.

Photograph by Hugh Gray

The most famous photo of Nessie was published in the Daily Mail five months later (21 April 1934). The photo, featured below, was allegedly taken by Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynaecologist. It depicts the creature’s head and neck. Wilson wanted to remain anonymous and so the photo became known as the “surgeon’s photograph”.

The Surgeon’s Photograph

For almost 60 years people took this picture as evidence of the creature’s existence. The photo was viewed as coming from a credible source — Wilson’s status as a respected doctor generated widespread acceptance. Yet an article published in the Sunday Telegraph on 7 December 1975 included details of a confession that Ian Wetherell had made regarding the image. This testimony was published by numerous newspapers in 1994. The truth was that Wilson’s image had been an elaborate hoax, orchestrated by Marmaduke Wetherell.

Marmaduke Wetherell worked for the Daily Mail and had been publicly ridiculed by his employer after he claimed to have found Nessie’s footprints. It was later revealed that the footprints had been made with a Hippo’s foot. Wetherell developed a plan to get revenge on the Daily Mail. He enlisted the help of co-conspirators Christian Spurling (a sculpture specialist), Ian Wetherell, and Maurice Chambers. The group bought a toy submarine from Woolworth’s and added wood putty in the shape of the creature’s head and neck. They placed the model on the loch and Wetherell captured the famous “surgeon’s photograph”.

Chambers then called upon his good friend Robert Kenneth Wilson, who is said to have been a keen practical joker. Wilson sold the image to the Daily Mail, concealing Wetherell’s involvement. Although many believed the image, the scale of the photo was controversial. The image is often shown cropped, which distorts the scale of the monster, making it appear larger than the model actually was. An analysis of the full photograph carried out in 1984 indicated that the object was only about 60 to 90 cm long.[3]

Although evidence of Nessie’s existence is anecdotal and the credibility of photographs have been disputed, fascination with the legend of the Loch Ness Monster endures. Nessie remains an iconic creature.

 

[1] SPP Reporter, “Report of strange spectacle on Loch Ness in 1933 leaves unanswered question – what was it?”, The Inverness Courier¸ 11 September 2017.

[2] Daily Mail, “Did King Kong inspire the myth of the Loch Ness monster?”, Daily Mail, 17 August 2014.

[3] Museum of Hoaxes, “The Loch Ness Monster and the Surgeon's Photo”, Museum of Hoaxes, 9 December 2003.


Authored by Alice Broome

Alice Broome

Alice Broome is an Editorial Assistant at British Online Archives. She is a Philosophy, Politics, and Economics graduate from the University of York.


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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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