My previous article was about the sea-monster-based research and writing of Henry Lee, the author of an 1883 book, Sea Monsters Unmasked. Today, I’m going to share with you some more of Lee’s discoveries – they demonstrate the incredible ease with which Lee was able to secure fascinating stories of the monstrous type, and dig out sources of fascinating material. With that said, here’s one particularly intriguing story from the man himself. Lee said: “Traditions of a monstrous cuttle attacking and destroying ships are current also at the present day in the Polynesian Islands. Mr. Gill, the missionary previously quoted, tells us that the natives of Aitutaki, in the Hervey group, have a legend of a famous explorer, named Rata, who built a double canoe, decked and rigged it, and then started off inquest of adventures. At the prow was stationed the dauntless Nganaoa, armed with a long spear and ready to slay all monsters. One day when speeding pleasantly over the ocean, the voice of the ever vigilant Nganaoa was heard: ‘O Rata! yonder is a terrible enemy starting up from ocean depths. It proved to be an octopus (query, squid?) of extraordinary dimensions. Its huge tentacles encircled the vessel in their embrace, threatening its instant destruction. At this critical moment Nganaoa seized his spear, and fearlessly drove it through the head of the creature. The tentacles slowly relaxed, and the dead monster floated off on the surface of the ocean.”
Lee was far from being done. There was the following from his personal papers: “We have also the statement of the officers and crew of the French despatch steamer, Alecton, commanded by Lieutenant Bouyer, describing their having met with a great calamari on the 30th of November, 1861, between Madeira and Teneriffe. It was seen about noon on that day floating on the surface of the water, and the vessel was stopped with a view to its capture. Many bullets were aimed at it, but they passed through its soft flesh without doing it much injury, until at length ‘the waves were observed to be covered with foam and blood.’ It had probably discharged the contents of its ink-bag; for a strong odor of musk immediately became perceptible – a perfume which I have already mentioned as appertaining to the ink of many of the cephalopoda, and also as being one of the reputed attributes of the Kraken.
“Harpoons were thrust into it, but would not hold in the yielding flesh; and the animal broke adrift from them, and, diving beneath the vessel, came up on the other side. The crew wished to launch a boat that they might attack it at closer quarters, but the commander forbade this, not feeling justified in risking the lives of his men. A rope with a running knot was, however, slipped over it, and held fast at the junction of the broad caudal fin; but when an attempt was made to hoist it on deck the enormous weight caused the rope to cut through the flesh, and all but the hinder part of the body fell back into the sea and disappeared. M. Berthelot, the French consul at Teneriffe, saw the fin and posterior portion of the animal on board the Alecton ten days afterwards, and sent a report of the occurrence to the Paris Academy of Sciences. The body of this great squid, which, like Rang’s specimen, was of a deep-red colour, was estimated to have been from 16 feet to 18 feet long, without reckoning the length of its formidable arms.”
Henry Lee: a true hunter of monsters!