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The Loch Ness Monster, Zombies and the Law

In a post last year, I looked at some of the United Kingdom’s weird laws.  I started to research a “part two” to that post, but ended up finding so much interesting (and yes, shockingly legal) information relating to the Loch Ness monster (commonly and affectionately referred to as “Nessie”) that I decided to dedicate an entire post to her instead.  (I will do another weird laws post soon, I promise.)

The first sighting of Nessie was allegedly in the sixth century.  This sighting was subsequently reported in the seventh century, when a writer stated that Saint Columba had driven a water monster away from the Loch through prayer.  As the Scottish government notes, this prayer apparently wasn’t as successful as first thought, as there have been continued sightings of Nessie throughout the years.

Oliver Herford, "A horrible monster glared at them" (Illustration in "Mr. Rabbit at Home: A Sequel to Little Mr. Thimblefinger and His Queer Country" by Joel Chandler Harris, 1895) (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-94648)

I read that the Loch Ness Monster is reportedly protected under Scotland’s Protection of Animals Act, 1912.  I was very much hoping to find something revealing and awesome in this Act, and planned to look up the legislative history to see exactly why such protection was included.  Alas, I found no provision specifically referring to Nessie by name.  What I did find was that, if captured, Nessie may fall within the protections of the Act that apply to captive animals, defined in section 13(c) as:

any animal (not being a domestic animal) of whatsoever kind or species, and whether a quadruped or not, including any bird, fish, or reptile, which is in captivity, or confinement, or which is maimed, pinioned, or subjected to any appliance or contrivance for the purpose of hindering or preventing its escape from captivity or confinement.

In order for this to apply to Nessie, she would have to be captured (rather than killed) and it would be necessary to determine exactly what Nessie is; although given the broad definition she should hopefully fall within it.  Certain other information, held in a government file dating from the 1930s, does seem to question whether Nessie would fall into this definition, as there was concern expressed during “monster hunts” that little could be done to protect her.  Specifically, a letter from the Chief Constable of Inverness-shire noted:

that there is some strange creature in Loch Ness seems now beyond doubt, but that the police have any power to protect it [other than to warn people of the desirability of having the creature left alone] is very doubtful.

I happened to come across a cartoon in the online catalog of the UK’s National Archives that referred to a debate in the House of Commons in 1933.  I searched the records of the House of Commons for this debate and, lo and behold, there were a number of relevant records for the year 1933, as well as fairly regular mentions of Nessie in the following years.  The first record in 1933 was a written question as to whether the government would conduct an investigation into Nessie’s existence.  The Secretary of State for Scotland replied:

There appears to be no reason to suspect the presence of any baneful monster in Loch Ness, and as regards scientific interests, I think that, in present circumstances, further researches are properly a matter for the private enterprise of scientists, aided by the zeal of the Press and of photographers. (284 Parl. Deb (5th ser.) HC 1933, 173).

Another reference in 1958 once again called upon the government to conduct an investigation into the existence of Nessie, after a discovery “at or near Loch Ness, of a giant-sized webbed claw, like that of a pre-historic monster” (588 Parl. Deb (5th ser.) HC 1958, 1093).  The Secretary of State for Scotland noted that the “object appears to resemble an alligator’s foot-possibly stuffed” and that he had “not been asked to assist any investigation of Loch Ness”  (588 Parl. Deb (5th ser.) HC 1958, 1093).  Upon further questioning, the Secretary of State stated he did not see that he had any “clear cut responsibility” in determining whether Loch Ness contributed towards any scientific problems, and specifically noted that ther was “no evidence that the fisheries in Loch Ness need protection, either from the alleged monster or from the investigators, or vice versa”  (588 Parl. Deb (5th ser.) HC 1958, 1094).

The most detailed description of Nessie comes from a debate in 1955, where she is spoken about in very tender and familiar terms:

… in Scotland, we must remember, there are good monsters and bad monsters.  In the north of Scotland we have a loch called Loch Ness.  It is inhabited by a monster, and anybody who said anything bad against the Loch Ness monster would find himself in great danger … our monster is a “verrey parfait gentil” creature indeed.  She keeps out of the way all winter and only surfaces during the tourist season.  She is a very thoughtful monster.  Of course, the Loch Ness monster is a lady.  We like her so much that we call her “Nessie” and no lady — not even the bearded lady — could ever be a really successful monster (537 Parl. Deb (H.C. 5th ser.) 1955, 1149-1150).

There was some discussion in the 1960s as to whether, if Nessie was to one day wash up on the shores of the loch, she would be considered to fall within the scope of the Royal Prerogative, which are ancient powers of the Crown passed on to the Executive.  If she did fall within the Royal Prerogative, this would mean that if she were washed up then she would belong to the Crown.  The debate surrounded the law regarding what constituted “Royal fish.”  There was no conclusive determination of whether Nessie met this definition.  The Royal Prerogative in terms of Royal fish was ultimately preserved in section 1 of the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act 1971, and Scotland has published guidance on dealing with stranded Royal Fish, although whether Nessie would fall under this definition remains inconclusive.

The later references to the Loch Ness monster were a little disappointing.  One discussed that if Nessie packed her bags and moved to Wales certain unclassified roads would be upgraded (542 Parl. Deb (H.C. 5th ser.) 1955, 1333); but most just involved name-slinging at other Members of Parliament.  We have such decorum in our Parliamentary debates.

I should not have been surprised when my research into the laws around the Loch Ness monster took a most bizarre turn – I did do a search for Nessie, after all.  I seriously could not write fiction better than the records of the House of Commons for part of the rationale behind a bill so, naturally, I have to share it:

Last September a school in the Gorbals division of Glasgow closed for the day … as the children poured out of school, the word went round like wildfire that there was a vampire in a nearby cemetery; that this vampire had iron teeth and had eaten two young children. With that prattle, there went talk of space ships and men from Mars, and all the time there was talk about a monster. The “monster” had gripped the minds of the children, and so they armed themselves with sticks and stones and anything they could obtain, because they were out on a great mission-to destroy evil, to destroy the monster … we can see how the children from that school had their minds gripped by this idea, and how easily the idea spread and their impulses were directed to a particular end. The police found exceeding difficulty in controlling these children … I believe that [this bill] is an attempt to free the minds of our children from evil influences. By this Bill we seek to keep their minds from being poisoned.  (537 Parl. Deb (H.C. 5th ser.) 1955, 1149-1150)

As I was searching, my results were deep linked and I ended up directly at the part of the debates that discussed zombies with iron teeth.  My first thought was what kind of bill legislates against zombies and aliens?  The true purpose of the bill was somewhat less glamorous – it aimed to prohibit the sale and importation of horror comic books.  The bill was enacted as The Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1955, and is still on the statute books today.  It prohibits the printing, publishing, sale or importation of books or magazines that contain stories, mainly told through pictures, that portray the commission of crimes; acts of violence or cruelty; or “incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature; in such a way that the work as a whole would tend to corrupt a child or young person into whose hands it might fall.”

I have never heard of any other incidents of out of control school children that run for their lives from zombies, so I believe that this Act can be considered a success.

3 Comments

  1. Sharon M.
    April 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    LOL! oops, sorry, brilliant post. ;-)

  2. George L Gretton
    April 20, 2012 at 5:51 am

    I enjoyed this.

    Three very dull comments.

    (i) The Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Act 1971 does not extend to Scotland, and so would not cover Nessie.

    (ii) Almost all of the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912 has been repealed. The current legislation is the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. But this, like the 1912 Act, does not apply to animals in the wild, so could not apply to Nessie.

    (iii) In Scots law “royal fish” belong to Her Majesty, but the definition is very narrow: whales that are too big to be drawn by a wagon and six oxen. (See Kenneth G C Reid, Law of Property in Scotland, 1993, para 543.) In practice the test is 25 feet.

    Since whales are not fish, it is odd that the only royal “fish” are whales. But at all events, if Nessie – if real – would be a royal fish only if a whale.

    Keep up the good work.

    George L Gretton
    Lord President Reid Professor of Law
    University of Edinburgh
    School of Law
    Old College
    South Bridge
    Edinburgh EH8 9YL
    G.Gretton@ed.ac.uk; Tel: 0131 650 2003

  3. kiyohisa Tanada
    May 4, 2012 at 7:22 am

    “Monster of Loch Ness”
    “North European fairy”
    “Japanese ghost”
    So that, as for these, a child does not become “the hesitation disappearance in a forest ,”
    I think it to be “parental affection” to prevent it.
    The present child will not do anything like this.
    However,
    “New depression” causes a problem in the company.
    I think so that the education of the independent child is necessary.

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