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continents, seafaring men were particularly excited. THE year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten. Not to mention rumors which agitated the maritime population, and excited the public mind, even in the interior of continents, seafaring men were particularly excited. THE year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten. Not to mention rumors which agitated the maritime population, and excited the public mind, even in the interior of continents, seafaring men were particularly excited.
THE year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a
mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet
forgotten. Not to mention rumors which agitated the maritime
population, and excited the public mind, even in the interior of
continents, seafaring men were particularly excited.
sailors, captains of vessels, skippers, both of Europe and America,
naval officers of all countries, and the Governments of several states
on the two continents, were deeply interested in the matter.
For some time past, vessels had been met by "an enormous thing," a
long object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent, and
infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than a whale.
The facts relating to this apparition (entered in various log
books) agreed in most respects as to the shape of the object or
creature in question, the untiring rapidity of its movements, its
surprising power of locomotion, and the peculiar life with which it
seemed endowed. If it was a cetacean, it surpassed in size all those
hitherto classified in science.
Taking into consideration the mean
of observations made at divers times- rejecting the timid estimate
of those who assigned to this object a length of two hundred feet,
equally with the exaggerated opinions which set it down as a mile in
width and three in length- we might fairly conclude that this
mysterious being surpassed greatly all dimensions admitted by the
ichthyologists of the day, if it existed at all.
And that it did exist
was an undeniable fact; and, with that tendency which disposes the
human mind in favor of the marvelous, we can understand the excitement
produced in the entire world by this supernatural apparition. As to
classing it in the list of fables, the idea was out of the question.
July 20, 1866, the steamer Governor Higginson, of the Calcutta and
Burnach Steam Navigation Company, had met this moving mass five
miles off the east coast of Australia. Captain Baker thought at
first that he was in the presence of an unknown sand bank; he even
prepared to determine its exact position, when two columns of water,
projected by the inexplicable object, shot with a hissing noise a
hundred fifty feet up into the air. Now, unless the sand bank had been
submitted to the intermittent eruption of a geyser, the Governor
Higginson had to do neither more nor less than with an aquatic mammal,
unknown till then, which threw up from its blowholes columns of
water mixed with air and vapor.
Similar facts were observed on July 23 in the same year, in the
Pacific Ocean, by the Columbus, of the West India and Pacific Steam
Navigation Company. But this extraordinary cetaceous creature could
transport itself from one place to another with surprising velocity;
as, in an interval of three days, the Governor Higginson and the
Columbus had observed it at two different points of the chart,
separated by a distance of more than seven hundred nautical leagues.
Fifteen days later, two thousand miles farther off, the
Helvetia, of the Compagnie-Nationale, and the Shannon, of the Royal
Mail Steamship Company, sailing to windward in that portion of the
Atlantic lying between the United States and Europe, respectively
signaled the monster to each other in 42 degrees 15' N. latitude and
60 degrees 35' W. longitude. In these simultaneous observations,
they thought themselves justified in estimating the minimum length
of the mammal at more than three hundred fifty feet, as the Shannon
and Helvetia were of smaller dimensions than it, though they
measured three hundred feet over all.
Now the largest whales, those which frequent those parts of the
sea round the Aleutian, Kulammak, and Umgullich islands, have never
exceeded the length of sixty yards, if they attain that. These reports arriving one after the other, with fresh.observations made on board the transatlantic ship Pereira, a collision
which occurred between the Etna of the Inman line and the monster, a
proces verbal directed by the officers of the French frigate
Normandie, a very accurate survey made by the staff of Commodore
Fitz-James on board the Lord Clyde, greatly influenced public opinion.
Light thinking people jested upon the phenomenon, but grave
practical countries, such as England, America, and Germany, treated
the matter more seriously.
In every place of great resort the monster was the fashion. They
sang of it in the cafes, ridiculed it in the papers, and represented
it on the stage. All kinds of stories were circulated regarding it.
There appeared in the papers caricatures of every gigantic and
imaginary creature, from the white whale, the terrible "Moby Dick"
of hyperborean regions, to the immense kraken whose tentacles could
entangle a ship of five hundred tons, and hurry it into the abyss of
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