A SHIFTING REEF
The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident,
a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no
has yet forgotten. Not to mention rumours which agitated
the maritime population and excited the public mind, even
in the interior of continents, seafaring men were particularly
excited. Merchants, common sailors, captains of vessels,
skippers, both of Europe and America, naval officers of
countries, and the Governments of several States on the
continents, were deeply interested in the matter.
For some time past vessels had been met by "an enormous
a long object, spindle-shaped, occasionally phosphorescent,
infinitely larger and more rapid in its movements than
The facts relating to this apparition (entered in various
agreed in most respects as to the shape of the object or
in question, the untiring rapidity of its movements, its
power of locomotion, and the peculiar life with which it
endowed. If it was a whale, it surpassed in size all those
classified in science. Taking into consideration the mean
of observations made at divers times-- rejecting the timid
of those who assigned to this object a length of two hundred
equally with the exaggerated opinions which set it down
as a mile
in width and three in length--we might fairly conclude
this mysterious being surpassed greatly all dimensions
by the learned ones of the day, if it existed at all. And
that it DID
exist was an undeniable fact; and, with that tendency which
disposes the human mind in favour of the marvellous,
we can understand the excitement produced in the entire
by this supernatural apparition. As to classing it in the
of fables, the idea was out of the question.
On the 20th of July, 1866, the steamer Governor Higginson,
of the Calcutta and Burnach Steam Navigation Company, had
this moving mass five miles off the east coast of Australia.
Captain Baker thought at first that he was in the presence
of an unknown sandbank; he even prepared to determine its
position when two columns of water, projected by the mysterious
object, shot with a hissing noise a hundred and fifty feet
into the air. Now, unless the sandbank had been submitted
to the intermittent eruption of a geyser, the Governor
had to do neither more nor less than with an aquatic mammal,
unknown till then, which threw up from its blow-holes columns
of water mixed with air and vapour.
Similar facts were observed on the 23rd of July in the
in the Pacific Ocean, by the Columbus, of the West India
and Pacific Steam Navigation Company. But this extraordinary
creature could transport itself from one place to another
with surprising velocity; as, in an interval of three days,
the Governor Higginson and the Columbus had observed it
at two different points of the chart, separated by a distance
of more than seven hundred nautical leagues.
Fifteen days later, two thousand miles farther off, the
of the Compagnie-Nationale, and the Shannon, of the Royal
Mail Steamship Company, sailing to windward in that portion
of the Atlantic lying between the United States and Europe,
respectively signalled the monster to each other in 42@
15' N. lat.
and 60@ 35' W. long. In these simultaneous observations
thought themselves justified in estimating the minimum
of the mammal at more than three hundred and fifty feet,
as the Shannon and Helvetia were of smaller dimensions
though they measured three hundred feet over all.
Now the largest whales, those which frequent those parts
of the sea round the Aleutian, Kulammak, and Umgullich
have never exceeded the length of sixty yards, if they
In every place of great resort the monster was the fashion.
They sang of it in the cafes, ridiculed it in the papers,
represented it on the stage. All kinds of stories were
regarding it. There appeared in the papers caricatures
of every gigantic and imaginary creature, from the white
the terrible "Moby Dick" of sub-arctic regions,
to the immense
kraken, whose tentacles could entangle a ship of five hundred
and hurry it into the abyss of the ocean. The legends of
times were even revived.
Then burst forth the unending argument between the believers
and the unbelievers in the societies of the wise and the
journals. "The question of the monster" inflamed
Editors of scientific journals, quarrelling with believers
in the supernatural, spilled seas of ink during this memorable
campaign, some even drawing blood;
for from the sea-serpent they came to direct personalities.
During the first months of the year 1867 the question seemed
buried, never to revive, when new facts were brought
before the public. It was then no longer a scientific problem
to be solved, but a real danger seriously to be avoided.
The question took quite another shape. The monster became
a small island, a rock, a reef, but a reef of indefinite
On the 5th of March, 1867, the Moravian, of the Montreal
Company, finding herself during the night in 27@ 30' lat.
72@ 15' long., struck on her starboard quarter a rock,
marked in no chart for that part of the sea. Under the
efforts of the wind and its four hundred horse power, it
at the rate of thirteen knots. Had it not been for the
strength of the hull of the Moravian, she would have been
by the shock and gone down with the 237 passengers she
bringing home from Canada.
The accident happened about five o'clock in the morning,
as the day was breaking. The officers of the quarter-deck
to the after-part of the vessel. They examined the sea
most careful attention. They saw nothing but a strong eddy
about three cables' length distant, as if the surface had
violently agitated. The bearings of the place were taken
and the Moravian continued its route without apparent damage.
Had it struck on a submerged rock, or on an enormous wreck?
They could not tell; but, on examination of the ship's
when undergoing repairs, it was found that part of her
This fact, so grave in itself, might perhaps have been
like many others if, three weeks after, it had not been
under similar circumstances. But, thanks to the nationality
of the victim of the shock, thanks to the reputation of
to which the vessel belonged, the circumstance became extensively
The 13th of April, 1867, the sea being beautiful, the breeze
favourable, the Scotia, of the Cunard Company's line,
found herself in 15@ 12' long. and 45@ 37' lat. She was
at the speed of thirteen knots and a half.
At seventeen minutes past four in the afternoon, whilst
passengers were assembled at lunch in the great saloon,
a slight shock was felt on the hull of the Scotia, on her
a little aft of the port-paddle.
The Scotia had not struck, but she had been struck, and
by something rather sharp and penetrating than blunt.
The shock had been so slight that no one had been alarmed,
had it not been for the shouts of the carpenter's watch,
who rushed on to the bridge, exclaiming, "We are sinking!
we are sinking!" At first the passengers were much
but Captain Anderson hastened to reassure them. The danger
could not be imminent. The Scotia, divided into seven
compartments by strong partitions, could brave with impunity
any leak. Captain Anderson went down immediately into the
He found that the sea was pouring into the fifth compartment;
and the rapidity of the influx proved that the force of
was considerable. Fortunately this compartment did not
boilers, or the fires would have been immediately extinguished.
Captain Anderson ordered the engines to be stopped at once,
and one of the men went down to ascertain the extent of
Some minutes afterwards they discovered the existence
of a large hole, two yards in diameter, in the ship's bottom.
Such a leak could not be stopped; and the Scotia, her paddles
half submerged, was obliged to continue her course. She
three hundred miles from Cape Clear, and, after three days'
which caused great uneasiness in Liverpool, she entered
of the company.
The engineers visited the Scotia, which was put in dry
They could scarcely believe it possible; at two yards and
below water-mark was a regular rent, in the form of an
triangle. The broken place in the iron plates was so perfectly
defined that it could not have been more neatly done by
It was clear, then, that the instrument producing the perforation
was not of a common stamp and, after having been driven
prodigious strength, and piercing an iron plate 1 3/8 inches
had withdrawn itself by a backward motion.
Such was the last fact, which resulted in exciting once
the torrent of public opinion. From this moment all unlucky
casualties which could not be otherwise accounted for
were put down to the monster.
Upon this imaginary creature rested the responsibility
of all these shipwrecks, which unfortunately were considerable;
for of three thousand ships whose loss was annually recorded
at Lloyd's, the number of sailing and steam-ships supposed
to be totally lost, from the absence of all news, amounted
to not less than two hundred!
Now, it was the "monster" who, justly or unjustly,
of their disappearance, and, thanks to it, communication
the different continents became more and more dangerous.
The public demanded sharply that the seas should at any
be relieved from this formidable cetacean. 
 Member of the whale family.
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