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Postby shipstamps » Sun Sep 21, 2008 4:33 pm

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In June 1874, reports started to appear in the Indian newspapers about an incident in the Bay of Bengal in which a 150-ton schooner had been attacked and dragged under by a giant squid in full view of a passing ship. Then, a few weeks later on July 4, an account was published in the trustworthy London Times.
"The following strange story has been communicated to the Indian papers," it began.
The first part of the account was by a passenger who had been on board the steamer STRATHOWEN He reported: "We had left Colombo, had rounded Galle, and were well in the Bay (of Bengal), with our course laid for Madras, steaming over a calm and tranquil sea. About an hour before sunset on the 10th of May we saw on our starboard beam and about two miles off a small schooner lying becalmed. There was nothing in her appearance or position to excite remark, but as we came up with her I lazily examined her with my binocular, and then noticed between us, but nearer her, a long, low swelling on the sea, which, from its colour and shape, I took to be a bank of seaweed.
"As I watched, the mass was set in motion. It struck the schooner, which visibly reeled, and then righted. Immediately afterwards, the masts swayed sideways, and I could clearly discern the enormous mass and the hull of the schooner coalescing - I can think of no other term. Almost immediately after the collision and coalescence the schooner's masts swayed towards us, lower and lower; the vessel was on her beam-ends, lay there for a few seconds, and disappeared, the masts righting as she sank, and the main exhibiting a reversed ensign struggling towards its peak."
The second part of the Times report consisted of the account of the captain of the schooner, James Floyd. He stated that the PEARL - "as tight a little craft as ever sailed the seas" - had left the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius bound for Rangoon with a crew of six and its hold full of ballast. She was due to return to Mauritius with a cargo of rice. On the outbound leg of the journey, the Pearl had put into the port of Galle for water.
According to Captain Floyd, the PEARL left Galle on May 7 and sailed along the south coast of Ceylon. She would have passed the Great Basses lighthouse - an impressive feat of engineering that had only commenced operation the year before - and then headed northeast into the Bay of Bengal towards Rangoon. Three days out of Galle, on May 10, the schooner was becalmed at latitude 8 degree 50 minutes North, longitude 85 degree 05 minutes East. This position is about 170 miles due east of Vandeloos Bay.
Around 5 p.m. on that fateful day, Captain Floyd sighted the STRATHOWEN a few miles off. A short time later, as the PEARL lay becalmed, "a great mass rose slowly out of the sea about half-a-mile off on our larboard side, and remained spread out, as it were, and stationary; it looked like the back of a huge whale, but it sloped less, and was of a brownish colour; even at that distance it looked longer than our craft, and it seemed to be basking in the sun.
"'What's that?' I sung out to the mate. 'Blest if I knows; barring its size, colour, and shape, it might be a whale,' replied Tom Scott; 'and it ain't the serpent,' said one of the crew, 'for he's too round for that 'ere critter.'"
At this point Captain Floyd rushed to his cabin to fetch his rifle. When he returned to the deck he hurriedly took aim at the advancing creature. As it happened there was a Newfoundlander among the crew called Bill Darling who not only knew that it was a giant squid, but also understood that bullets were ineffectual against such soft flesh and merely served to enrage.
Perhaps he had seen a stranded specimen back home (it is significant that Newfoundland had a spate of strandings during this time) or had heard seafarers' tales of an earlier giant squid attack on a ship. In any event, when he saw the captain preparing to fire, Darling held up his hand in warning and exclaimed, 'Have a care, master; that 'ere is a squid, and will capsize us if you hurt him.'
Regrettably, Captain Floyd took no notice of the sailor - with disastrous and tragic consequences. "Smiling at the idea," he candidly related, "I let fly and hit him, and with that he shook, there was a great ripple all round him, and he began to move. 'Out with your axes and knives' shouted Bill, 'and cut at any part of him that comes aboard; look alive, and Lord help us!' Not aware of the danger, and never having seen or heard of such a monster, I gave no orders, and it was no use touching the helm or ropes to get out of the way."
For a ship's captain this is a remarkable public confession. His excuse that he was unable to give orders to the crew "having never seen or heard of such a monster" is lame. It is in such dire circumstances that a captain is expected to make whatever decisions are necessary to save his ship. Instead Captain Floyd allowed Bill Darling to give the vital orders and to rally the crew. He had failed in his duty to his crew - and he knew it.
Captain Floyd continued: "By this time three of the crew, Bill included, had found axes, and one a rusty cutlass, and all were looking over the ship's side at the advancing monster. We could now see a huge oblong mass moving by jerks just under the surface of the water, and an enormous train following; the wake or train might have been 100 feet long.
"In the time I have taken to write this the brute struck us, and the ship quivered under the thud; in another movement, monstrous arms like trees seized the vessel and she keeled over; in another second the monster was aboard, squeezed in between the two masts, Bill screaming 'slash for your lives.' But all our slashing was to no avail, for the brute, holding on by his arms, slipped his vast body overboard, and pulled the vessel down with him; we were thrown into the water at once, and just as I went over, I caught sight of one of the crew, either Bill or Tom Fielding, squashed up between the masts and one of those awful arms."
After a few seconds the PEARL filled with water and went under along with the hapless Bill Darling and Tom Fielding. Captain Floyd and the four surviving crew-members were picked up by the STRATHOWEN. All were eager to tell their rescuers of the horrific experience they had undergone.
According to the passenger quoted earlier, "each narrator had his own version of the story, but in the main all the narratives tallied so remarkably as to leave no doubt of the fact."
Several respected authors have investigated this extraordinary story in England only to discover that there is no record of the STRATHOWEN in Lloyd's Register, at the National Maritime Museum, or with shipping lines and other likely sources. Despite this the marine writer Frank Lane felt confident enough to declare: "The most reasonable explanation seems to be that the account was a report of an actual incident, including the presence on the PEARL of a man from the one place (Newfoundland) where, at the time, giant squids and their behavior were reasonably well known."

Also not anything found on her in the Times on line.

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