Thursday, 18 September 2014

Tim Dinsdale's Operations Newsletters

Tim Dinsdale spent over 25 years in his quest for the Loch Ness Monster. They were exciting times, frustrating times and challenging times, but something drove him on for a quarter of a century. That something was the prospect of another glimpse of that thing that had seized his attention long before in April 1960.

He wrote occasional books, magazine articles and gave lectures, but he also kept Nessie people up to date on his activities via his Operations Newsletters. I have some of these from 1973 to 1977 and have now put them up for public viewing on my Google Drive. Most of them were sent alongside Rip Hepple's Nessletter but the 1977 one was sent to me by regular reader, Brad. 

That one is particularly fascinating as it was owned by that other monster pursuer, Roy Mackal, whose collection is up for sale. Brad had bought Mackal's copy of Dinsdale's "Leviathans" and the newsletter was found between its pages. 

I am sure there are other newsletters and similar items published by Tim. If anyone cares to provide scans of these, I will add them to this archive.

The newsletters can be found at this link.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Nessie says "No!"

Scotland's most famous citizen (not Alex Salmond) says "No". Mind you, forming a "Yes" would be an interesting proposition. Good on yer, Nessie! It is easier to believe the Loch Ness Monster exists than the promises of the "Yes" camp as far as I am concerned.

Exclusive from Loch Ness here.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Two Forthcoming Lectures on the Loch Ness Monster

I would like to publicise two talks on Nessie which are coming over the next two months. 

The first is part of the Scottish Paranormal Festival which runs in Stirling, Scotland from the 30th October to the 2nd of November. The talk is by our old associate Jonathan Bright who took that controversial picture of what may be the Loch Ness Monster which was analysed on this blog. My own take is that this is the creature. Other have differed and think it is a wave, but I beg to differ.

Jonathan will be giving his views on how the Loch Ness Monster could be viewed as a paranormal phenomenon as well as looking back at his photo and some other items. The talk is at 10am on the 31st October and you can find further details here. Click through to the other talks at the Festival, you may find other things of interest to you.

The second talk is on the 11th November at 7:30pm in which Charles Paxton gives the Edinburgh Fortean Society an update on his statistical analysis of Loch Ness Monster reports. Charles has been working on a project to perform an in-depth analysis of all the monster reports he could find going back to centuries past.

I have had access to this database and it is quite comprehensive and Charles has some results to share from it (though not all of them). I suspect there may be something for both the pro- and anti-monster groups, but we shall see. Charles hopes to publish some more detailed papers in the months ahead. Check out the website of the EFS for updates.

I hope to be at both meetings, so it would be nice to meet up with any regulars (even sceptical ones!) who make it to these events.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Scots, The English and Nessie

So, in nine days the voters of Scotland decide whether to stay in or opt out of the United Kingdom. The main arguments will revolve around currency, tax, oil and so on. It is not likely that Nessie will figure in the debate, which is no surprise but it should be remembered that the Loch Ness Monster is a top attraction in one of Scotland's major economic sectors - tourism.

Whether tourism will decline or rise as a result of independence is unknowable. But the whole debate made me look at who's who in the Loch Ness Mystery. As it turns out, the leading sceptics of the notion of a monster are all English. They are Adrian Shine, Tony Harmsworth and Dick Raynor (pictured below).

Though it has to be said that Tony on at least one occasion has tried to pass himself off as a Scotsman (below). Now, all this English Scepticism, is this a conspiracy against Scotland's Nessie? After all, they don't have any lake monsters in England. Why should Scotland have one if they don't? It's just not fair!

Conspiracy? I would say probably not (though I am now bracing myself for some fruity comments).

But if Scotland does gain independence, will Tony have to dust off that kilt for continual wear? Will Adrian have to dye his impressive beard a ginger colour? Will Dick have to stand in front of the mirror practising his Och Aye The Noos in as guttural tones as he can muster? I would say probably not.

Then again, perhaps all three will be fleeing across the border the day after independence is announced? I would say probably not. But it is all not doom and gloom. After all, our own Steve Feltham is English too and a believer in Nessie. He can be an honorary Scot anytime.

But to be fair, you don't have to be English to be a sceptic. Nessie has had her most able defenders from south of Hadrian's Wall. The roll of honour includes Rupert T. Gould, Tim Dinsdale, Ted Holiday, Alastair Boyd, Paul Harrison and Richard Carter (though one can never be quite certain of every birth country).

So, with there being ten Englishmen for every Scotsman, it is no surprise they have invaded Loch Ness. But where are the Nessie loving Scotsmen? Who has stepped up to the plate for home grown research and hunting in times past?

Well, there was dear old Alex Campbell who stood up for the monster many a time. As a result of this, he has become the especial target of the sceptics. But that is another article in its own right. Constance Whyte, who wrote "More Than A Legend" is an uncertainty. I don't know if she was a Scot. The aforementioned Alastair Boyd has a Scottish sounding name, who knows?

All in all, a meagre harvest as Scots have stood back and let the English dismantle their monster. Come on, lads! We can do better than that. Will independence send the English sceptics homewards tae think again and spawn a new generation of Scottish monster hunters? I would say probably not, but who knows.

And should any English sceptic take this article seriously? I would say probably not. After all, they don't take anything else this blog says seriously.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Those Loch Ness Investigation Bureau Films

Some readers may have read my comments and others on the whereabouts and accessibility of the films taken by the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau during the 1960s. Though no one is expecting any of these films to be game changers, they are nevertheless part of the tapestry of the eighty year long search for the Loch Ness Monster and a minor debate has arisen as to their current whereabouts.

For those who don't know, the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau was an organisation set up in 1962 with the objective of solving the mystery of Loch Ness once and for all. Ten years later, they were disbanded having failed in that objective (though some disaffected and now sceptical members may have left believing the mystery was solved in more mundane terms).

Though various experiments were attempted in pursuit of the monster, the mainstay of investigation was the surface watches using 35mm cine cameras with telephoto lenses. These cameras were either mounted on fixed platforms or taken around the loch on vehicles.

During that time a group of films were shot with varying degrees of success. The only well known one is that taken by Dick Raynor in 1967, but there are others and Roy Mackal in his "The Monsters of Loch Ness" mentions another fourteen such films. However, I only recall ever seeing the LNIB's Raynor film in the public domain.

So do these films still exist? If so, what is their state and whereabouts? How do they compare to what people like Roy Mackal documented in his book "The Monsters of Loch Ness"? The one film that generated most interest on blog comments was an alleged filming of the Loch Ness Monster on land taken in June 1963. Though not likely to be of great value since it was taken at a range of nearly two miles, the interest of myself and other Nessie-philes was piqued. 

Deciding to take the initiative, regular reader, Peter, established email communications with Loch Ness researchers, Adrian Shine, Dick Raynor and Henry Bauer to find out more. His findings are reproduced verbatim below in italics.


I am going to partially “de-cloak” here (allusion to Star Trek), and talk about  more details concerning the LNIB and its film cans.

My name is Peter, and Roland is familiar with me.  I have been lurking on Roland’s webblog for some time, and I always enjoy his postings.  At times, I read the comments sections, but not often.

However, recently, Roland posted an article about land sightings at Loch Ness, and I also read the comments that followed.  This blog article, coupled with the subsequent commentaries, provided the impetus for me to do some more spadework on this topic.

This commentary provides a “map” as to what I have currently learned.  All errors in interpretation of what others have told me are entirely my own. 

I have had correspondence with Adrian Shine, Dick Raynor, as well as Henry Bauer.  All these men were courteous, cooperative, and informative in their responses.  So any brick-bats that I have seen in the comments section were not in evidence in my experiences.  I thank all of them for taking the time to engage in these telepresence “dialogues.”  I should add here that the alacrity with which I was able to obtain the information that I impart here is a product of the Internet Age, as attempting to do this in the “by international post” manner of times past might have taken months.

I should reiterate here that this commentary of my own should not be considered comprehensive, although I attempted to ask a good many questions.  For example, one question I recently asked Dick Raynor was if he could guess-timate the total number of film shoot sequences displayed in the 35mm film cans, and his response was “I do not currently have a useful opinion on that.”  I interpret that to mean that such statistical data is not yet in hand--but I am hopeful that Dick may eventually one day be able to provide this type of numerical data. 

My questions and interest have centered around the LNIB film cans, and the June 1963 event, where potentially a large creature came on shore and was filmed doing so.  Due to the fact that these men were exceptionally informational in their responses, I am going to quote and use data from their correspondences with me so that others can understand context.

Let’s begin with information from Adrian Shine.

When Adrian inherited the LNIB film cans from David James in 1976, it was already known that the film footage was problematic—Adrian described them as “less than spectacular.”  (These problems will be described further on here by Dick as to the quality of the footage.) Compounding that, all the film footage taken by LNIB volunteers was of the 35mm size, the exact counterpart that many feature dramatic films are shot in, as well as projected in theaters.  As Adrian told me, these 35 mm filmstocks “required nothing less than a cinema” for projection and viewing.  So Adrian was not able to see the contents until sometime in the early 1980s, when he was able to arrange a viewing session at the Eden Court theater in Inverness.  Adrian went on to state to me that “I concluded then, that none of the films contained useful research material.  It was also a fact that it seemed difficult to identify the individual sequences” as detailed by LNIB reports.  (Again, Dick’s inputs will provide some context as to why.)  Later on, Adrian passed on all the cans to Dick Raynor.

According to Adrian, Dick Raynor produced clips from all the sequences on hand by a high-resolution printing process.  Subsequently, due to a researcher request in the past, Adrian further had all the film footage digitized.  However, it is not clear to me--based on the information that Adrian kindly provided--whether current researchers can have access to this digitized film footage for independent research purposes if they make a request to do so.

Additionally, Adrian informed me that all LNIB paper reports containing sightings that were collected have been freely available for over a decade at the following URL link:

Adrian further disclosed that individual sighting records are currently being prepared for exhibition at the Loch Ness Center as well, even though there are some issues currently about permissions and addresses of eyewitnesses (that are in the process of being resolved).  And Adrian suggested I get into contact with Dick Raynor.

Dick has been very helpful in responding to the voluminous set of questions that I have had.  The bulk of the information about the LNIB films comes from him.

Based on what Dick has told me, the conclusion that I have personally reached about the LNIB effort is that it was an amateur enterprise, and that it lacked much scientific and technical coordination.  It seems that there was no master catalogue produced of film shoot sequences, neither was there any film can tracking, nor does it seem that there was any effort to provide some simplified technical cinematography training to the volunteers in regards to shooting film.  These apparent shortcomings are borne out by Dick Raynor’s responses to my inquiries.  However, despite the fact of these hobbles, Dick has been engaged in  excellent work, which is currently on-going as he gets time.

Dick provided the following illuminations.

a)—The film cans in Dick’s custody were not catalogued at all:  “There is really no rhyme or reason to the reels and cans, I’m afraid.”  That is, there was no tracking/identification data on them. “They are a collection of slightly rusty tins of varying sizes with no original labels, some containing positive film, and others containing negative material, usually wrapped in preservative tissue.”  He has seen the 35 mm filmstocks projected “a few times.”  All the 35mm films are black-and-white.

b)—He also has seen some 16mm versions of some of the 35mm film stock sequences, which he believes may have been among those shown at some LNIB Xmas parties (and other functions such as volunteer recruitments) in London.  He further told me that “From memory, some of the items on the 16mm film reel [that he has seen] are not in the 35mm material in hand.”  He further adds that it was difficult to see [recognize?] anything on the 16mm films at all “with the exception of Tim Dinsdale’s film and my own [which was taken in 1967].  Of course, I have studied frames from these films using modern digital software, which is far superior to what we had 20 years ago.” 

But there may be other 16mm film cans out there, and Dick would like to be able to learn what is contained as content on those, and maybe even get a chance to view them.  As do I, because I would like to find out if the June 1963 potential “creature on the shore” sequence exists currently, and if so, what this clip actually depicts.  (Subsequently, Dick suggested I get into contact with Henry Bauer for more insights about LNIB films.)  There is also a possibility that the June 1963 potential “creature on the shore” event may only be extant on 35mm film stock, but the whereabouts of this particular film footage sequence is currently unknown.

c)—“With few exceptions,” according to Dick, the films were shot by people who had never used a motion picture camera before.  “The quality is mostly very poor, with soft focus and incorrect exposure being common, leading to a lack of contrast.”  (Contrast helps with seeing detail, as well as with resolving things.)  Indeed, Dick has told me that none of the material he has viewed up to this point has been “meaningful”—that is, shows a large creature unknown to science in the Loch.  Many of the sequences show wakes on the Loch (that Dick feels are products of wind phenomena and boats), as well as bird activity on the Loch’s surface.

d)—One of Dick’s on-going projects is the attempt to “match up” LNIB film sequences with the paper records.  (Only a few sequences have been successfully matched to the reports, according to Adrian.)  Dick is attempting to do this matching up by identifying the background shown in the film shoot sequences, and then hopefully, the camera location.  I consider Dick’s effort near-Sisyphusian, and everyone should take their hats off to him for attempting to pursue this. 

e)—Both Adrian and Dick confirm that there are indeed filmed LNIB 35mm sequences shot that are no longer extant among the existing 35mm filmstock that Dick has.  This includes the June 1963 event that potentially shows a creature coming onto the shore.  According to Dick, he has seen a 1963 vintage film clip, but it does not show anything like the forementioned described event.  As Dick told me, “The two week period of the 1963 expedition was lucky enough to have several sightings.”  He is also currently working on attempting to identify other filmed event sequences that are not among the 35mm film cans he has in hand. 

Based on Adrian and Dick’s commentaries, it seems doubtful that the LNIB ever captured anything of significance dealing with the Loch Ness creature on cine film—that is, the 35mm cine film shoot clips currently in hand. 

However, not everyone shares this viewpoint.  According to Henry Bauer, he feels that there were three occasions where there were “possible filmed contacts” by LNIB personnel regarding creatures unknown to science in the Loch.  He specifically mentions the June 1963 “creature on the shore” event as one of these possible contacts.

Indeed, the story does not end here.  Henry has demonstrated willingness to aid in the effort to possibly locate potential locations of where other LNIB 16 mm film cans reside, and I thank him for that.  And if these efforts subsequently bear fruit, I will provide further updates as they become available.

If anyone has further information on LNIB film cans or film shoot sequences, whether 35mm or 16mm, please post your comments.

So, there you have it. I thank Peter for his efforts and to Adrian, Dick and Henry for their cooperation. Where does this leave us? Firstly, it is good that the films that are available have been digitised and enhanced. It sounds like some of them may end up being displayed at the Loch Ness Centre at Drumnadrochit where Adrian is curator. But how may those who live further afield view these facets of the Loch Ness story? Given that the items are now digitised, the next step to streaming them online is not rocket science. It is also a matter of interest as to what conclusions the researcher who received the digitised films came to. What did he or she find out about these films?

I also had a quibble about Adrian's comment that all LNIB sighting reports were available online. I understand that there are hundreds of such reports of varying clarity and description gathering dust in boxes. I suspect it is the best ones that made it into the LNIB public reports. Loch Ness researcher, Tony Harmsworth, informs us that about a thousand reports were collected by the Bureau (although not a few were of a dubious nature).

Sadly, the alleged land sighting film appears to have been lost and we may never know what this film allegedly showed, But the others are there, enhanced and digitised. Will they ever see the light of day or will they forever remain under wraps and beyond the gaze of thousands of Loch Ness Monster fans?



Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Follow Up to Sceptics, Steamships and Nessie

Having published my first thoughts on steamships and Nessie, it was no surprise that the critique came under attack. In the main, I was told I was underestimating the numbers and was told how steamship commerce actually went from strength to strength. As we say in Glasgow, Mibbes aye, Mibbes naw.

Unfortunately, the need for quantitative analysis was beginning to shrink back into the qualitative as the anecdotal began to muddy the waters. Thankfully, help was at hand to bring us back into the realm of integers.

My original number for yearly passengers was 15,500 based on Len Paterson's "From Sea to Sea", a history of Scottish canals. I took this as the average over forty years and proceeded thusly. However, the graph above from the same book adds more information. It states the number of ship passages per annum through the Caledonian canal between 1825 and 1910.

Now applying a simple assumption we can make a year by year estimate of passenger numbers. That assumption is that passengers numbers are proportional to ship numbers. So, if ship passages go up 10%, we assume passenger numbers go up 10%.

Of course, this won't exactly follow in real life. The canal hosted "tracking" boats and "passage" boats. The first was goods oriented and the second was passenger oriented. The passengers numbers may be overestimated if a greater proportion of the ships transport commodities rather than people. Conversely, numbers may be underestimated if more pleasure cruises than expected ply their way up and down the canal.

Now we see a rise in ship numbers and one may assume that the objection to my initial analysis was correct. But wait, the numbers peak in 1870 and then drops into a horizontal range that is not much more than my original working number. We weren't told about that in the objections. I would suggest this drop was down to the great depression of the 1870s.

In fact, that major economic event was enough on its own to guarantee that the argument for high numbers of tourists was not going to happen. When the economy goes south, what goes first? You got it, discretionary spending such as holidays. Or at best, you pick a cheaper way of doing it. Since going up the Caledonian canal took three boats and three days, it was a no-brainer to find a quicker route by rail which did not consume so many precious days and income.

It is also interesting to note the sub graph for internal passages through the canal. They started a slide before 1860 from which they never recovered. The author speculates that this was due to people moving over to alternative forms of transport such as the railways. This also would divert more potential witnesses away from the loch.

Nevertheless, it is new numbers and so using the 15,500 passengers of 1863 as a baseline, the other numbers were estimated by proportion. In this way, a new total number of passengers for the last 40 years of the 19th century was estimated at 741,000. This compares to my original 40 year estimate of 620,000 or a 20% increase.

Using my estimate of one monster sighting for every 30,769 modern tourists gives us an estimated 24 sightings over 40 years. My original estimate was 20 sightings and so we go from 0.5 sightings per year to 0.6 per year. Clearly, this makes little difference to my original conclusions and again I suggest this argument against the Loch Ness Monster is less than convincing.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sceptics, Steamships and Nessie

A comment appeared on the Internet recently concerning Victorian steam boats and the Loch Ness Monster. It is not the first time it has appeared, and I think I ought to address this from my side of the Nessie debate.

The argument runs that steam ship tourism was popular on Loch Ness during the time of Queen Victoria, so why do we not hear of any sightings from these passengers in the archives of books and newspapers? The argument is a corollary of the general argument that Nessie was just a 1930s fiction inadvertently created by fevered tourists whilst aided and abetted by a story-hungry media.

Now, we do have stories of people seeing the monster from 19th century steamers. We have the accounts of Roderick Matheson and Alexander MacDonald but since these were brought to light post-1933, sceptics dismiss them as lies and exaggerations.

But the argument, like most sceptical arguments, looks plausible on a cursory examination. However, when it is more closely scrutinised, it does not look probable. The word "plausible" is qualitative, but "probable" is more quantitative. We need some numbers here and the problem revolves around observers and sightings.

Today, many more people visit Loch Ness and as a consequence, there are more than a thousand recorded reports of the Loch Ness Monster. Some will be misidentification, some will be hoaxes and others will be genuine sightings of our famous monster. But how does that map to mid-19th century Scotland? Before we can make the semblance of a quantitative assessment, we need an idea of numbers.


The story of Highland tourism is one of a journey from seclusion and inaccessibility to one of improving infrastructure and prosperity. At the time of Samuel Johnson in the 18th century, most travellers either had a scientific, economic, religious or military purpose. In other words, Highland tourism back then was a bit like excursions to the Antarctic or Amazonian rain forests today. This was a worthy setting for our Loch Ness Kelpie to reside and rule.

The building of General Wade's military roads after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion eased access to major population centres, but the infrastructure for travellers such as places to rest and eat were in very short supply. The other hindrance was the native language of Gaelic and the lack of English speakers to communicate with.

It was not until the mid 19th century that the pioneering explorer group gave way to the romantic traveller and aristocratic sportsman. This was aided by the building of the Caledonian Canal, railways, the popularity of Walter Scott's romantic novels and the deployment of steam powered boats. Many parts of Scotland opened up to the traveller, but it was far from the massed hordes we see today.

One source I have consulted for this article is the paper “Evolution of Tourism in the Scottish Highlands” by R. W. Butler published in 1985 as part of the "Annals of Tourism Research", vol.12. To quote Butler: 

A continuing improvement in roads and steamer services, and particularly the extension of rail service to Glasgow and Edinburgh, greatly eased this burden, such that “thousands of summer tourists every year and from every part of the civilized world” [Murdoch 1867:l) ranged over the Highlands and Islands by 1867.

It is here we first get a hint of the numbers involved as "thousands" made their way north every year. Indeed, the travel agency, Thomas Cook, was arranging travel packages to Scotland beginning in 1846 with a notable increase in the "middle and humbler classes". We are told he arranged parties of up to 200 people, the majority of whom, it seems, were ladies. In contrast, we are told he only ran four annual excursion trains from London (two each to Edinburgh and Glasgow).

However, the main reasons for travelling to Scotland were not exactly those of the modern tourist. Many made the trip to fish the rivers, shoot the grouse and bag a stag. It seemed the ideal Scottish souvenir was one that could be stuffed and mounted on the wall. Others were attracted to the alleged therapeutic benefits of certain locations or grand vistas to indulge their artistic hobbies.

By the end of the 19th century, major tourist hot spots had been established. We had Oban, Inverness, Strathpeffer, Fortrose, Tain, Golspie, Portree and so on. From our point of view, it is noted with interest that Inverness was described more as a route centre than a final destination in itself. However, by this time, Groome's Gazetteer only lists 170 inns and hotels in the area (not including fishing and shooting lodges) and their distribution reflected the high demanding for game.


Hardly the number we would expect of hundreds of thousands annually thronging the Highlands. As Butler states:

In general, the numbers of visitors at the turn of the century were still extremely small ...

Moreover, he elaborates:

The relatively high cost of travel, and the time involved, the generally expensive nature of most of the accommodation, and at least until the early twentieth century, the absence of holidays with pay, meant that for the most part the Highlands and Islands remained the holiday area for a fortunate elite and were not subjected to the pressures of large numbers of visitors.

So, we have indications of lower than supposed tourist traffic in the 19th century Highlands. Butler attempts to quantify that number by comparing the 1921 census with that of 1911 and 1931. The advantage to us is that the 1921 census was conducted in June whereas the others were done in April. Therefore, the difference in numbers should reflect the increase in tourists between April and June. As it turns out, the difference between April 1911 and June 1921 in the Highlands turns out to be 3,043 individuals.

I'll say that again - only 3,043 individuals. Butler statistically alters that number to 7,143 to account for the average rate of decrease between 1911 and 1931, but it is still a surprisingly small number. Of course, we would expect July and August to be busier with a drop off into autumn. Assuming modern tourist flows all year round, what would the total projected number of tourists be? The graph below denotes traffic flows between Fort William and Mallaig in the years 2006 and 2009.

Now, I have no idea how well this maps to changes in monthly Victorian tourism, but given the weather is the main driver of holidays, I suspect it will not be much different. So, given the known proportions for the other months relative to June we get the projected numbers below based on the assumption that the tourist season runs from May to September. So we estimate about 36000 tourists in the Highlands in 1921 and presume that this was pretty much the way of it in previous decades.

April 0
May 6428
June 7143
July 8095
August 8333
September 5952

But what proportion of these visitors went to Loch Ness? Comparing this to a recent study on Highland tourism, we note that there were 2.1 million visitors to the Highlands in 2010. How many went to Loch Ness? I have seen estimates ranging from 400,000 to 1 million. Clearly, the monster attraction of modern tourism does not apply to Victorian tourism, but the picturesque Great Glen and the "Royal Route" up the canal popularised by Queen Victoria still made this a top destination.

Applying our modern numbers of 0.4 and 1 million to 2.1 million Highland visitors, would equate to about 6,800 or 17,100 annual visitors to Loch Ness in Victorian times. Compared to up to a modern million, that is not a lot.

By way of confirmation, while I was researching, I found the book "From Sea to Sea: A History of the Scottish Lowland and Highland Canals" by Len Paterson. In this well researched publication, I found some hard numbers for Caledonian Canal traffic.

We find that tariffs charged by the Caledonian Canal authorities changed in 1860. Whereas they were previously calculated by ship tonnage, they were now calculated by passenger numbers. From this we learn that in 1863 15,500 passengers used the Caledonian Canal. This proved to be a bit of a watershed year as the railways were beginning to reach the Highlands and this alternate form of transport was beginning to eat into steam ship numbers.

Our calculation was an estimate between 6,800 and 17,100 (an average of nearly 12,000). So we were not far from the more accurate 15,500. So how does all this relate to the supposed absence of monster sightings in the mid 19th century? From this we can make an estimate as to how many Nessie sightings there may have been based on modern accounts. 

First, we need two numbers from the modern era of accounts. The first is the number of sightings since 1933. This is not too difficult to ascertain and we end up with a number close to 1250. The next question is how many people visited Loch Ness over that period of 80 years. That is not so easy to calculate as tourist numbers have varied quite a lot over that time frame.

For example, we have the manic period of 1933-34 when hordes of expectant travellers went to Loch Ness. In contrast, we have the period of 1939-1950 which included the Second World War and the subsequent rationing of petrol and other items which hindered long distance travel to the Highlands.

So 1933-1950 was a pretty volatile period and one is tempted to exclude it and concentrate on 1951-2013. Feel free to guesstimate tourist numbers for that period as I continue with a more statistically stable data set.

So between 1951 and 2013, I estimate 806 sightings were recorded. If we assume the lower range for visitors over that 62 year period of 400,000 per annum, that is 30,769 visitors per sighting. Using that ratio for the Victorian steamship period of 1860 to 1900, the projected number of sightings is:

15500 * 40 / 30769 = 20 sightings

That is one sighting every two years on average. Hardly a rate of sightings that would propel a Victorian phenomenon to escape velocity.  Moreover, the actual number of sightings could be lower for two further reasons.

Firstly, a proportion of the 806 sightings will be misidentification. Since there was no "Nessie Effect" back in the 19th century, these would have to be discounted. What that proportion could be is very much in the eye of the beholder. For example, if you think it is 10%, the 20 drops to 18.

Secondly, tourists between 1951 and 2013 would likely be spending more time per person watching the loch, because, after all, there is now a monster in the loch. One should not assume that just because a Victorian steamer was in the middle of the loch, that passengers were more consistent observers of the loch. You had the distraction of the restaurant, the bar and your friends. In fact, the third class fare payers were normally kept below to keep them apart from the higher value customers who had more privileged access to the open areas.

If you don't think there is a monster to look for, you're better off admiring the changing landscape rather than the repetitive wave patterns below. Indeed, boat passengers see less of the loch compared to land observers. Watch the loch from Urquhart Castle and you will know how far your vista expands before you.

Being on the loch near surface level makes observation more difficult as a dark coloured object can be lost against the backdrop of the opposite shoreline (this argument is used by sceptics against Tim Dinsdale when he drove to the shoreline to find the creature after his famous footage).

What this all means quantitatively is uncertain, but it seems clear to me that the only advantage of being on the water is that one in theory could be closer to the monster. But then there is the argument that Nessie stays away from noisy, threatening steam ships.


But there is one final item that confirms this analysis. Paterson in the aforementioned "From Sea to Sea" mentions that the steamer ship trade experienced something of a revival in the 1930s. No prizes for guessing why - the Loch Ness Monster. He goes on to say that,

In that decade tourists numbered never less than 9,300 and were as many as 14,800. After a gap this trade revived and grew back again to pre-war numbers, cynics attributing this to the publicity give to the myth of the Loch Ness Monster.

So here we have a perfect opportunity to put Victorian era passengers numbers into a Nessie era setting. How many sightings were made from these boats? Paterson does not state which years these two numbers refer to, but I have no doubt that the high of 14,800 passengers were on the loch in the most manic year of 1934.

Looking at the database of sightings I have, the total number of reported sightings in 1934 from steamships was exactly zero. That is despite there being nearly 200 reports for that year. There are three reports from boats (Donald Williamson, crew of "Sedulous" and A.G. Chambers), but none of these were excursion steamships. If anyone cares to tell me of any steamship based sightings for 1934, leave a comment below.

The calculations here predicted one sighting every two years in the Victorian steamship age. Zero sightings in the one year of 1934 is consistent with that. It seems monster hunting from steamships is not all it is cracked up to be.

In fact, this is a bit of a mystery. Why so few reports from boats? After all, even witnesses on boats can mistake birds, otters, waves, deer, etc from their vantage point. Why do we not even have a goodly number of lightweight reports that can be dismissed as known phenomena?

It would be naive to simply suggest witnesses can better assess objects in the water. After all, an object 400 metres away is no more easier to judge than an object at a similar distance seen from land. Indeed, it could be argued it is harder to judge from the water.

It would be tempting to suggest this has monster connotations, but the truth seems to be that there are simply not enough boat witnesses in proportion to land based witnesses to generate the expected number of reports.

In conclusion, the claim that Victorian steam boat tourists should have been a rich source of sightings is not borne out by the numbers. Doubtless, some did see the monster. If they reported it to the Highland newspapers, they would have been dismissed. What their local newspapers back down in England made of these "kelpie" stories is unknown. It is not even known what proportion were reported to the media and what proportion of that proportion made it into print.

What seems to be certain is that the supposed issue is not as big as some make out.

NOTE: A follow up post has been posted here.