Mr Beale And The Lovecraftian Monster From The Sea

A certain Mr Beale, in the nineteenth century, was collecting shells on the shores of the Bonin Islands when he encountered “a most extraordinary animal” creeping on its eight legs towards the water. “It seemed alarmed and made great efforts to escape, but the naturalist had no idea of consenting to the termination of so unexpected an interview with the odd-looking stranger,” so he trod on one of its legs and then grabbed hold of another one and then “gave it a sudden jerk to disengage it” (the poor thing was clinging to the rock). “This seemed to excite it into fury” which by now was hardly to be wondered at and, “it suddenly let go its hold of the rock and sprang on its assailant’s arm, which was bare, and fixing itself by its suckers endeavoured to attack him with its powerful beak. The sensation of horror caused by this unexpected assault may be readily imagined. Mr Beale states that the cold and slimy grasp of the ferocious animal induced a sensation extremely sickening, and he found it requisite to call to the captain, who was occupied in gathering shells at a little distance.”

I don’t know what Mr Beale had expected, but they proceeded to jump on the wretched creature and hack it with the boat knife: “It did not surrender, till the limbs by which it so tenaciously adhered were successively cut off.” The Victorians were notoriously wasteful of wildlife and we may be sure that Mr Beale and the captain did not cook and eat this octopus. We are told that cephalopods are unusually intelligent, which strikes us, prejudiced as we are against things with tiny heads and eight legs, as strange but caused me to feel some sympathy with Mr Beale’s antagonist. It must have experienced its own sensation of horror on being confronted with a heavily bewhiskered Victorian naturalist.

from Fish, Flesh And Good Red Herring : A Gallimaufry by Alice Thomas Ellis (2004)

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