Mermaid Monday: The Mermaid of the Isle of Yell (Scotland)

blackwhitesketchLast week we covered a Mermaid legend from Guyana. This week, we look Northwards toward Scotland for an interesting tale sure to please cryptozoology lovers! Did a group of fishermen find a monster from the deep, or a real mermaid? CryptoVille investigates so you can decide!

In the year 1833 at the height of summer (July), a fishing boat with six fishermen purportedly hauled in a large net containing a living mermaid. The boat was located in the North Atlantic off the Isle of Yell. (See map, below left.) This area is remote and sparsely populated, renowned more for its adorable Otter population than anything else.

YellMapSomeone (always unspecified) was believed to have said, “She offered no resistance nor attempted to bite, but she moaned piteously.” Interesting that they heard her moan. While it’s not speech, it’s a sound that animals are capable of making. Do we know of any fish or ocean mammals that literally moan? We’d have to ask Jeremy Wade.

The fishermen were said to have kept the mermaid on their boat for 3 hours before taking pity on her and releasing her back into the dark depths of the ocean. The fishermen noted that she had “bristles” on the back of her neck down to her shoulders that she could raise and lower at will.

MermaidFishedbyIrinaIgnashovaReporting the Incident

The story continues wherein the boat’s skipper related the incident to someone named “Mr. Edmondson.” He then shared the tale with a professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh.  Unfortunately, this professor remains nameless.  If we knew his name we could verify whether he ever existed and whether he ever worked at the University. (Artwork right by Irina Ignashova.)

Nonetheless, according to the story, this professor draws some conclusions:

  • He said since none of the men were afraid of this creature and had no doubt as to what it was, he concluded it was more probable that they saw what they said they saw
  • Since six men all saw the same thing, he believed this wasn’t an illusion or hallucination on the part of sea-going men who sometimes mistake ocean mammals for mermaids.

Land of Legends

Scotland, and indeed all of Britain, seems to be awash in mermaid stories and sightings. What could these people be seeing?

Here are 3 more quick stories about mermaids living near Scotland.

Campbell Town Sighting: On October 29, 1811 a farmer named John M’isaac filed a sworn statement, 500 words long, describing his encounter with a mermaid in the town of Campbell.  He showed his statement to the parish minister as well as the Sheriff-substitute.

Outstanding men of the community, Rev. Dr George Robertson, Rev. Norman MacLeod, and James Maxwell, Esq. and Chamberlain of Mull, concluded that the man saw what he said he saw because of the impressiveness of his sworn statement.

RustRedTailOuter Hebrides Tragedy: Sometime in 1830, a woman was down at the seashore harvesting seaweed when she spied a mermaid frolicking just offshore. The story continues saying two days later, the body of the mermaid was found washed ashore, dead. It’s said the description was recorded somewhere like this, “The upper part of the creature was about the size of a well-fed child of three or four years of age, with an abnormally developed breast. The hair was long, dark, and glossy while the skin was white, soft, and tender. The lower part of the body was like a salmon, but without scales.” (Artwork above right by Selina Fenech.)

Where was this description filed? Who filed it? We’ll probably never know.

Hitting the Press: In the June 4, 1857 edition of the Shipping Gazette, a report appeared stating that a Scottish seaman spotted a creature “in the shape of a woman with dark complexion, and comely face.” The sighting took place off the coast of Britain.

MermaidTearsAwash in Possibilities

What all these stories have in common is vagueness. It’s impossible to track anyone down even in an historical record. Supposed statements and articles can’t be traced because of an inability to keep and preserve records like we do today. (Mermaid Tears left were and may still be available on

I consulted a British newspaper archive containing all the newspaper names ever printed in the British Isles. The “Shipping Gazette” is nowhere to be found in the listing.

Beyond all that, how can we ever discern what these people are seeing, if they are, in fact, seeing anything.

Finding a legitimate mermaid is proving to be more impossible than finding Bigfoot. Who’d have thought it?!

Have you ever seen a mermaid?


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