Stories of the existence
of a Loch Ness 'monster' were first recorded by
the seventh century chronicler of the life of St Columba.
The saint allegedly drove away a 'water monster'
from the loch by the power of prayer, but his actions clearly
did not succeed as the monster periodically returns to the
loch to disturb the peace. In more recent times this has presented
Scottish ministers with a unique problem.
A government file held at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS),
dating from the 1930s, which remained closed for up to 50 years,
reflects how ministers handled the issue of 'Nessie'. Some of the
papers (NAS ref. HH1/588) can be seen in the NAS exhibition 'An
In 1933, following a number of alleged sightings and the publication
of articles and grainy photographs by newspapers, the Scottish Office
were asked to confirm the existence of a 'monster' or
'sea serpent' in Loch Ness. A parliamentary question was
tabled in the House of Commons asking whether, in the interests
of science, an investigation would be made into the existence of
the monster. The question was ridiculed by the press at the time.
cartoon image and transcript - Acrobat PDF 170KB, new
Ministers and civil servants were sceptical to say the least, but
they had to take it seriously. They concluded that while scientific
circles and the general public viewed the existence of a monster
with some scepticism, in order to determine whether it existed,
it was proposed that reliable observers could be stationed around
the loch equipped to take photographs. They also suggested that
arrangements could be made for aerial observation. If the monster's
existence was then proved, the next step would be to trap it without
injury, but given the size and depth of Loch Ness this could prove
a difficult task. In the end it was felt that as the monster provided
public interest and amusement, it would be better to let it continue
to do so than to kill it, or the tales told about it.
However, this did not stop monster hunters from frequenting the
shores of Loch Ness in the hope of seeing the monster, capturing
or killing it. This caused some alarm locally and concerns were
expressed that the government should take measures to protect 'Nessie'
from hunting expeditions. The police could only warn people of the
desirability of leaving the creature alone but were powerless to
provide protection. A letter from the Chief Constable of Inverness-shire
reflects the arrival of a hunting expedition in Fort Augustus in
1938, which claimed to have made "a special harpoon gun"
designed with the specific purpose of "hunting the monster
down". The letter concludes that "there is some strange
creature in Loch Ness seems now beyond doubt".
letter image and transcript - Acrobat PDF 108KB, new window
Fortunately the 1930's hunting expedition was
unsuccessful as 'Nessie' continues to appear in Loch Ness
from time to time, particularly during the summer months.