Thursday, August 2, 2007

Shark Mania

In honor of "Shark Week," which is currently terrifying even those of us who live several hundred miles from an ocean (thanks, Discovery Channel!) and those of you in the UK enjoying a bout of "shark mania," I offer the following three Victorian close encounters with Jaws's great-great-grandparents.

From The Times, 12 July 1848: "AN INTRUDER ON SEA BATHERS -- A few days ago, as one of the fishermen of Hunstanton, Norfolk, was employed catching crabs near the shore of that watering place, he observed something of a most formidable size approaching him in the water. The tide was receding, and the man, who was without companions, was within fifty yards of the shore, but much above the waist in the sea, when, nothing daunted, he struck a severe blow at his new acquaintance, which he soon discovered to be a shark. A regular combat ensued, the man aiming heavy blows at the head of the fish and the latter fighting with his tail, with which he struck the fisherman two or three times severely on the chest. The man, fortunately for himself, never lost his footing, his presence of mind, or his strength, and ultimately succeeded in capturing the monster. The tide continuing to ebb, the shark was left on the dry sands, where the old man was soon standing, with much satisfaction, over his captured enemy. The shark measured nine feet in length and was presumed to weigh about 30 stone. The spot on which it was first seen was close to the place frequented by bathers, a machine having on that day frequently conveyed parties there."

From The Times, 3 October 1862: "CAPTURE OF A SHARK -- A gentleman writing from the Isle of Wight narrates a successful capture he and a party made of a shark. He observed a large fish floundering in the sea, near the shore, and concluding it was a shark, from its turning over on its side to seize some prey, he summoned some fishermen and manned a boat, taking with him a hook on an iron chain baited with beef. 'This,' he says, 'on approaching the monster, we dragged behind us. He immediately seized it in his rapacious jaws, and then tried with his teeth to cut the chain; he almost turned his stomach inside out to disgorge the hook, but in vain. The struggle lasted half an hour, when, quite spent, he suffered his head to be drawn above water, and, confining his tail with a noose, we drew him to shore and despatched him with great difficulty by beating him on the head. He measured 18 ft. 4 in., and from his enormous mouth, containing six rows of hard, flat, sharp-pointed teeth (of which I counted 120), and the total absence of spiracles, its skin rough, hard, and prickly, I judged it to be the carcharias vulgaris, or white shark, which is, according to Cuvier, sometimes found on the British coast."

From The Times, 29 September 1864: "BITTEN BY A SHARK -- On Monday morning, while Mr Barland, druggist, Home-Street, and some other gentlemen were bathing outside the eastern breakwater at Granton, a shark suddenly rose and seized hold of Mr Barland by the left leg, biting him in three places. Fortunately Mr. Barland was near the bulwarks, and notwithstanding the severe nature of the injuries he had sustained he was able to get out of the water. The shark was afterwards seen by other bathers, who say that this strange visitor to the Firth appeared to be about three feet in length."


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