How enormous sea creature with human-like head washed up on UK beach in 1786

Two local boys were running around Porthleven beach, looking for shipwrecks, when they discovered an 'enormous' creature
-Credit: (Image: Lewis Clarke/Geograph)

An "enormous" creature, sporting a hard shell on its back and a human-like head, is said to have washed ashore in Cornwall. Described as being 48ft long with green eyes, the mysterious entity reportedly became stranded on Porthleven beach amidst a violent storm.

The bizarre discovery was made by two boys who were scouring the beach for shipwrecks on September 14, 1786. The chilling tale was later recounted in the Hereford Journal in October of that year, after being reported by a Cornishman who detailed how the villagers dispatched the strange beast.

Dubbed 'Sea Monster', the article from the time states: "A just and particular description of a very curious and most surprising sea monster driven on shore in Portleaven Bay (sic), on the coast of Cornwall, on the 14th of Sept. 1786, by the strong westerly winds and tempestuous weather, which continued to a violent degree for several days successively, and did much damage at that place and neighbourhood."

"This monster was first discovered by two boys who (agreeable to the custom of that place) went in search of wreck soon after day break; and as they stood on the cliff which commanded a prospect of a small sandy cove, they, at a distance of about a mile, discovered something of enormous hulk near the shore, and which after a short time they apprehended to be the side or part of an unfortunate ship which had the preceding night been broken to pieces by the extremities of the shore."

"They immediately went towards the place with sanguine expectation of great success, and as they approached the spot (the breaking waves at times leaving it dry) they were both struck with the utmost consternation to perceive such motions as it was something which had life.", reports Cornwall Live.

Terrified, the boys ran towards a group of men they knew and told them what they had witnessed. The men did not believe them at first, but eventually decided to follow them and see the monster for themselves.

"A great number of people soon collected themselves into a body, and determined to go armed, some with large sticks and pokers, others with hatchets, spits, etc, which was, after some deliberation, carried into execution," the article reports. "On their coming near the spot they perceived it to be something living, as was represented, and it raised its head, which had not before been perceived, and appeared to direct its course towards them. All were alarmed some stood their ground, others possessed of greater fear turned back, they could see no legs to it, but it appeared to crawl on its belly, raising its body at times a little from the sand."

The identity of the creature remained a mystery. "Various were the opinions about this creature; some said it was a mermaid, others a whale but the greater number disbelieving the existence of the former, and adhering to the improbability of the latter, they were all equally at a loss," the report states.

"When it was agreed to examine what it was, they all went towards it, and after an hour's beating, stabbing it, etc, it expired with a groan. Its length was found to be from the top of its head to the end of its tail, 48 feet to inches, and its circumference in the largest part of the body 24 feet and a half. Its head was large, and prickly in the hinder part, and not formed much unlike that of a man; its eyes were greenish; its mouth large; its nose flat, and from its neck to the navel, resembling nearest to the human kind; its back was hard and more difficult to penetrate than the shell of a turtle; it had two short fore feet, formed like the paw of a monkey, and its hinder parts shaped measured full seven feet in width at the extent, and but five feet long."

The fate of the creature's remains is shrouded in mystery, with no records indicating whether it was examined by experts. "It is supposed a large quantity of oil will be produced from it, which, with the shell of its back, and its fins, are judged, if properly managed, to be of great value, and will be of considerable benefit to this neighbourhood," remarked the Cornish correspondent who reported the find.

"No one that has seen it knows its name, nor has any monster like it ever been described in record, or come within the knowledge of this kingdom."

For years, there have been numerous reports of a serpent-like entity, approximately 20 feet in length, with dark skin, dorsal humps, and an elongated neck, navigating the waters off Cornwall's coast. These peculiar encounters have sparked debate over the possibility that plesiosaurs, colossal sea reptiles contemporaneous with dinosaurs believed to have perished 65 million years ago, might still exist.

The history of these sightings dates back around 140 years, with tales of a long-necked creature ensnared by fishermen in Gerrans Bay. The frequency of such accounts has woven them into local folklore, culminating in the christening of the enigmatic beast as Morgawr, meaning 'sea giant' in Cornish.

While science has yet to provide a definitive explanation for these observations, some speculate that multiple unidentified marine animals could be lurking in the depths off Cornwall. The notion that these sightings could be attributed to a living prehistoric species first surfaced in July 1949.

Harold T. Wilkins and companion witnessed "two remarkable saurians, 15-20ft long, just like a pair of Mesozoic plesiosaur" in a tidal creek in Cornwall.

John Holmes, who used to work for the Natural History Museum, believed he filmed the prehistoric creature in Gerrans Bay, off the Roseland Peninsula back in 2002. The footage was shot three years prior.

The St Austell resident said: "My pet theory is that it was a living fossil. I think that there is a group of plesiosaurs going around in the oceans of the world. All around Britain there have been sightings of sea serpents."

These days, lots of people globally share Holmes's belief that plesiosaurs still roam the Earth. The most famous example is the legendary Loch Ness monster.

However, when New Zealand scientists analysed water samples from the loch in 2019 to identify its species, no evidence was found of large beasts or a plesiosaur. You can learn more about the plesiosaur theory here.