On 21 April 1934 the Daily Mail published the purported first photo of the Loch Ness Monster, called “Nessie”. The phot was taken by the London gynaecologist Robert Kenneth Wilson. Wilson’s refusal to have his name associated with the photograph, so it being nicknamed the “Surgeon’s Photograph”.
He claimed that he was looking at the loch when he saw the monster, so he grabbed his camera and snapped four photos. Only two exposures came out clear: the first one shows what was claimed to be a small head and back, while the second one shows a similar head in a diving position. The first one was more iconic one, while the second attracted little publicity because it was difficult to interpret what was depicted, due to its blurry quality.
The first Loch Ness Monster photo
Since 1994, most agree the photo was an elaborate hoax. It had previously been outed as a fake in an issue of The Sunday Telegraph dated 7 December 1975, but this article fell to obscurity. Details of how the photo was accomplished were published in the 1999 book, Nessie – the Surgeon’s Photograph Exposed, that contains a facsimile of the 1975 article in The Sunday Telegraph. Essentially, it was a toy submarine built by Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell.
Wetherell was a big game hunter who had been publicly ridiculed by his employers in the Daily Mail, after finding “Nessie footprints” that turned out to be those of a hippopotamus-foot umbrella stand. To get revenge on the Mail, Wetherell committed the hoax, with co-conspirators Spurling (sculpture specialist), Ian Wetherell (his son, who bought the material for the fake), and Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent).
The toy submarine
The toy submarine was bought from F.W. Woolworths and its head and neck made out of plastic wood. After testing it out on a local pond, the group went to Loch Ness, where Ian Wetherell took the photos in the vicinity of Altsaigh Tea House. When they heard a water bailiff approaching, Duke Wetherell put his foot out and sank the model. It is presumably still somewhere in Loch Ness.
Chambers handed over the plates to Wilson, a friend of his who enjoyed “a good practical joke”. Wilson then took the plates to Ogston’s, an Inverness chemist, where he gave them to George Morrison for development. He sold the first photo to the Daily Mail, who then announced that the Loch Ness Monster had been photographed.
The second Loch Ness Monster photo
Little is known about the second photo and how it came to be. It is often ignored by researchers, who believe its quality is too poor and its differences with first photo too large to warrant analysis. It shows a similar head to the first photo, with a more turbulent wave pattern and possibly taken at a different time and location of the loch. It has been speculated as to what appears in the second photo, with some believing it to be an earlier, cruder attempt at a hoax, and others (including Roy Mackal and Maurice Burton) believing it to be a genuine picture of a diving bird or otter that Wilson had mistaken for the monster.
Morrison reported that when the plates were developed, Wilson wasn’t interested in the second photo, allowing him to keep the negative and the second photo to be rediscovered some years later. When questioned about the second photo by the Ness Information Service Newsletter, Spurling “… was vague, thought it might have been a piece of wood they were trying out as a monster, but was not sure.”
The hoax story
The hoax story is disputed by Henry Bauer, who claims this debunking is evidence of bias, and asks why the perpetrators did not reveal their plot earlier to embarrass the newspaper.
Alastair Boyd, one of the researchers who uncovered the hoax, argues that the Loch Ness Monster is real, and that although the famous photo was hoaxed, that does not mean that all the photos, eyewitness reports, and footage of the monster were as well. He asserts that he too had a sighting and also argues that the hoaxed photo is not a good reason to dismiss eyewitness reports and other evidence.
Documentary about the Loch Ness Monster
Country list of the Loch Ness Monster Doodle
81st Anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster’s most famous photograph will be visible in these countries:
Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Laos, Macedonia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States