May 04, 2021 I Brent Swancer

The Strange Case of the Canvey Island Mystery Monsters

Sitting out in the Thames estuary of Essex, England, and near the mouth of the River Thames, is a speck of reclaimed land measuring just 7.12 square miles called Canvey Island. Once a thriving, fast-growing seaside resort between the years of 1911 and 1951, it would later largely be abandoned after a massive flood in 1953, to then go on to become a parish with a current population of around 38,000. The island has a fairly long history, having been inhabited since the Roman invasion of Britain, and has its fair of folklore and ghost stories, but one of the weirder tales to come from this place was when a series of strange carcasses washed up on shore here to become known as “The Canvey Island Monsters.”

Canvey Island

In November of 1953, a strange carcass was found washed up on a beach here, which was unlike anything anyone there had ever seen before. The creature was described as somewhat frog-like, about 2.5 feet long, with five-toed horseshoe-shaped feet and legs that seemed to suggest that it had been capable of walking, yet with no forelimbs, as well as thick reddish-brown skin, bulging eyes and gills, and a formidable gaping maw filled with myriad sharp teeth. The outlandish creature caused quite a stir at the time, with one resident by the name of Colin Day recalling of that day:

I was THERE. I was a young lad of nine at the time. I noticed a group of peers in a crowd on the beach. Kids were prodding it with their spades. I actually touched it! I thought it was a person at first as I could only see part of it through the crowd. Its flesh was NOT fish-like scales. It was a pinkish colour and looked like wobbly human flesh with cellulite, a sort of orange peel texture. I remember shouting to the other kids "It’s a mermaid" over and over. I have to say that even at 66, my long-term memory is excellent, especially about the day I saw my first mermaid.

Rather unfortunately, the carcass was allegedly only given a cursory examination, before being deemed harmless and being cremated without any firm identification by the zoologists who had been called in to examine it. At the time that would be that, but another of the creatures would apparently wash up here in 1954, which on this occasion was found bobbing around in a tidal pool by a Reverend Joseph Overs as he walked along the beach with his children. Overs would later say that it was “'a sort of fish with staring eyes and a large mouth underneath. It has two perfect feet, each with five pink toes.” It was by all accounts very similar to the first mystery creature that had been found the year before, only this one was considerably larger, measuring over 4 feet in length. When it was examined, it was found to have rubbery pinkish skin like that of a pig, as well as clear clawed feet “arranged in a 'U' shape with a concave center arch.” As odd as this was, once again the find was sort of shrugged off and the carcass was disposed of, leaving us to wonder just what these mysterious creatures were. The story would really become well known when it was featured in the book Stranger Than Science, by paranormal researcher and radio personality Frank Edwards. In the book, Edwards would take some scant news reports from the era and really play up the woo woo factor, as he was wont to do, in this case leaning into the monster angle, making it seem more mysterious than it perhaps really was.

In modern times, it is believed that the carcasses were perhaps merely misidentified large specimens of angler fish or monk fish, which undeniably look similar to what is described in the Canvey Island monsters, but considering we have very little photographic evidence and no bodies it has been debated and discussed to this day. Indeed, the few photos supposedly taken of the Canvey Island Monsters are unverified, and a popular alleged photo of the creature which obviously seems to show an anglerfish, has never been positively proven to have been actually of the carcass in question. In fact, although photos were allegedly taken of the corpses, these haven’t ever been proven or authenticated, leaving the mystery of what happened to the photos adding more intrigue to the case. The site Anomaly Info has said of the photograph conundrum:

The idea of an angler-fish as the identity of the unknown carcass was generally agreed upon with very little to prove it... until the next piece of evidence appeared in 2007, when the 1954 newspaper article "Fish With Feet" and the related photo from a newspaper of an angler-fish were posted together on the internet. Both surfaced on the website sometime in 2007 or 2008 as part of an article about the photographer Joseph Overs [link here]. The article itself is only incidentally related to the tale of the Canvey Island 'monster,' as it's mostly a memory of the character of Joseph Overs himself; but included with the article is a picture of the 1954 "Fish With Feet" newspaper clipping and the angler-fish picture, both attributed to Canvey historian Geoff Barsby. Barsby has written a number of books on the history of the island, and has been interviewed on television on the topic as well... so he's the man who would have access to the answers. In the website article, the angler-fish picture is captioned as "The only known Photo of the legendary Canvey Island Monster.” But the article and the angler-fish are presented as separate images; and while the article includes a claim to be from 1954 as part of it, the angler-fish photo has no date associated: so a connection between the photo and the article is only implied. In addition, there is no statement of what newspaper either the article or the photo came from, so it's impossible to verify them... which is the little problem that's been driving me nuts! The article and the photo only count as evidence if they can be shown to be from the right place at the right time, because it's very possible to fake articles and clippings after the fact of an event.

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The disputed alleged photo of the monster

The photo in question certainly does not seem to show what was described in reports, and it is also hard to see an angler fish or monkfish being possibly described as having strong hind legs for walking with clearly delineated toes, and we must also remember that zoologists supposedly looked at the carcasses and even they were not sure what they were. Considering the photographic evidence is sketchy and the case has been lost to time, we will probably never have an answer to this one.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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