Strange news from the Deep

These fragments come from a mid 17th century account of a whale stranded in Essex. The author’s attempt to provide an explanation for the whale’s behaviour reveals much about the varying beliefs surrounding unnatural or unexplained events in early modern England.

On the 23rd of this present month April, the neighbouring inhabitants to a fair river in Essex, known by the name of Wivner River (whose mouth opens to the sea) perceived a great disturbance in the water. Country men threw down their shovels and spy’d the back of a fish of an extraordinary size who seem’d to quarrel with the river for more elbow-room.  She sometimes threw her prodigious head above the waves, at other times, with her spreading tail, shovelled the sands so high, that part of them fell on the spectator’s heads. While she floundered, they beheld the greatest part of her body, and with the ponderous squelch of her large bulk
falling into the water, she made the depressed waves out-swell their banks and threaten an over-flow of the Neighbouring meadows. In this discontented motion she continued to go up the river till she came within six miles of Colchester, where the sands being washt away by the proceeding tide, she was fain to struggle for life in a low water. With her extraordinary endeavour to quit herself, she brake off part of her tail and with a deluge of blood, coloured the whole stream.

At length, for want of both breath and blood, she dyed in the water, being of so large a bulk that the river could not cover her. He body strutted out of the waters like a hill, and when she was drawn out of the river and came to be measured, she was found to be no less than fifty foot in length, and twenty eight in thickness.

Pliny would persuade us that these unnatural wanderings are generally caused by sickness or indisposition of the body. Some hold that there are some tides so impetuous that by virtue of their strength alone they are able to hurl a young whale into the mouth of a fresh water river. A third appropriate a storm to the same effect. And a fourth would have whales to be brought to land for the same reasons that comets are placed in the sky, either as a certain signe of an ensuing judgment to fall upon a nation, or else a favourable warning given us by the Almighty.

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  • September 3, 2010 - 12:38 am | Permalink


    Could you please give as a reference for this text?

  • September 2, 2010 - 2:53 pm | Permalink

    It may do. It would certainly fit.

  • Christopher Thompson
    September 2, 2010 - 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if this refers to the river Colne at Wivenhoe.

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