The Kessingland Sea Serpent, or may be an Oarfish?
A sea serpent reported to be up to 60ft in length and very fast moving has been sighted at least four times off the coast of Norfolk. The descriptions evoke classic sea-serpent characteristics of small head, long slim body and diamond-shaped frill along the back.
The earliest written report appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine in their December 1750 issue:
“The creature was about five feet long from what could be viewed of it above the water, with a head like a dog and a beard like a lion. The skin was spotted like that of a leopard. It passed in a leisurely fashion, finally disappearing beneath the waves to the great amazement of all those watching from the shore…”
In the mid-1800s there were more accounts of “a creature with a head such as a serpent might have with humps behind.”
There is a well-documented account about the reported sighting by the daughter of Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the author, who owned Kessingland Grange in Norfolk. Rider Haggard, was working on a novel at his home in Ditchingham, when he received the following letter from his daughter Lilias, dated 20th July 1912:
“We had a great excitement here this evening, and we are convinced we saw a sea serpent! I happened to look up when I was sitting on the lawn, and saw what looked like a thin, dark line with a blob at one end, shooting through the water at such a terrific speed it hardly seemed likely that anything alive could go at such a pace. It was some way out over the sandbank, and travelling parallel with the shore. I tore into the morning room and got the glasses and though it had at that moment nearly vanished in the distance we could make out it had a sort of head at one end and then a series of about 30 pointed blobs which dwindled in size as they neared the tail. As it went along it seemed to get more and more submerged and then vanished. You can’t imagine the pace it was going. I suppose it was about 60 feet long.”
Rider Haggard went to Kessingland Grange and his daughter’s story was confirmed by the cook and the gardener. Rider Haggard decided to write to the Eastern Daily Press to tell the story and seek further information. On Wednesday 24th July 1912 the paper duly printed the original letter from Lilias to her famous father, together with this note from Rider Haggard himself asking for some clarification or further information. However none was forthcoming.
In August 1923 a survey ship, H M Kellett, was taking observations off the Norfolk coast when Captain F E B Haselfoot and the navigator Lt Commander R M Southern observed something strange . Captain Haselfoot wrote:
“The time was about 9am. It was a summer day and the weather was calm and clear. I am not sure whether the sun was actually shining. I then observed rising out of the water about 200 yards from the ship, a long, serpentine neck, projecting from six or seven feet above the water. I observed this neck rising out of the water twice, and it remained up, in each case, for four or five seconds. Viewing with the naked eye only, I could not make out precisely what the head was like.”
In July 1978 a holidaymaker walking on Kessingland beach was moved to write (although he asked to remain anonymous) to the East Anglian Magazine:
“The sea was quite calm when my attention was suddenly drawn to what I can only say looked like the head of a seal on a long neck sticking up out of the water. There seemed to be some humps behind the head, but the creature only remained visible for a matter of a few seconds before diving beneath the surface. I would be inclined to think that I had imagined everything if I had not read the story of the Kessingland Sea Serpent.”
There appear to be no other recent sightings. However in the 1978 sighting by the anonymous man, he does state he knew about the story, which means it could have influenced what he saw. The men on the ship, however, if they were seasoned sailors, would surely have recognised any known sea creature, yet did not recognise this one. It does sound like a ribbon fish, except ribbon fish do not swim like that and do not hold their heads out of the water . Another interesting story for the archive and to ponder over.