The Rottnest Monster

While on holiday at Rottnest, Lewis Timperley stumbled across a strange object washed up south of the channel, two miles from the settlement. The barrel-shaped creature was twelve feet long. It was four feet wide behind the ears and eight feet wide between the two flippers. The flippers themselves were about two feet long and 20 inches wide. In front and behind them were smaller, narrower flippers. The crescent-moon-shaped mouth had no teeth, and the body was covered in white hair that resembled wet wool. When cut, the cream-coloured flesh looked like tripe. Not long dead, it quickly drew the attention of people on the island.

News of the discovery soon spread among the inhabitants of the island, and there has been a steady pilgrimage to the spot where the monster is lying.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 19 September 1934; Page 5; Mysterious Sea Monster
The Rottnest Monster

Lewis, who worked as a customs officer at the Customs Department, returned to Fremantle on 19 September 1934. Interviewed by a journalist from The West Australian, he described how he found it. Like some of the headlines in the newspapers, he labelled the object as a monster.

We were walking along the south side of the island and near Henrietta Rocks we saw something washed up on the beach and came to the conclusion that it was a dead sea monster.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 20 September 1934; Page 20; A Sea Monster?
Map of Rottnest Island showing Henrietta Rocks in the middle. Courtesy of the State Records Office of Western Australia (AU WA S2168- cons5698 1493)

Questions arose as to what the monster was. Was it a rare type of dolphin? Was it a seal washed ashore? Was it a new creature yet to be discovered? A report was sent to Ludwig Glauert, curator of the Perth Museum. He immediately discounted the dolphin theory. While he could not say what it was from the descriptions or photographs, he intended to travel to Rottnest Island to investigate.

As word spread of the monster, additional details came to light. Initially thought to have washed up during storms on 10 September, The West Australian revealed that it was first seen on 7 September by a lady and her daughter. They said, “The beast, which we at first mistook for a rock, lay in the centre of a very secluded cover with its head directly towards the ocean. It was dirty-white in colour, covered with short white hairs and clinging to it were several barnacles.” When asked as to whether they could have mistakenly identified a clump of seaweed, they denied that was the case and declared, “It was certainly an animal of some kind.

Speculation turned to the question of how it came to be on Rottnest Island. Without obvious signs of having eyes, some wondered if it was a creature from the deep. If that was the case, was it chased from the depths by another creature, only to die in shallow waters and wash ashore at Rottnest? Was there some kind of underwater disturbance (like an earthquake) that resulted in it being “cast up from the ocean bed?” After consulting the Government Astronomer’s seismograph charts, they revealed there were only slight tremors throughout September.

Should the creature prove to be of deep-sea origin, and if there are no signs of wounds received in some marine battle far below the sea’s surface, it is possible that the disturbance theory is the one most likely of acceptance.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 21 September 1934; Page 22; Rottnest “Monster”

Before Ludwig had a chance to investigate, the Chief Inspector of Fisheries, Frederick Aldrich, went to Rottnest and threw cold water on the monster of the deep theory. He wrote a report and submitted it to the Premier’s Department. In his opinion, the creature was nothing more than part of a whale carcase.

Much like the case of the West Coast Sea Monster, Lewis Timperley did not accept Frederick’s findings. He respected his opinion but was adamant that he saw a whole creature, not part of one. Lewis remained firm: “I think there is still a possibility of the ‘monster’ which I saw being a deep-sea creature from antarctic regions.

News that the monster was whale blubber did not diminish people’s fascination. Visitors to Rottnest Island increased. On 23 September, a large number of them boarded a bus and were driven to Henrietta Rocks to view it. They were of the opinion that while it did look like some strange creature, it was more than likely just blubber.

Visitors inspecting the Rottnest Monster

Ludwig Glauert eventually visited on 27 September and gave the “final authoritative word.” The Rottnest monster was definitely the remains of a whale. Along with Frederick Aldrich and a university professor, they carried out a post mortem of the smelly, rotting flesh. Carving out chunks of it, they could find no bones. Furthermore, the tail of the creature was simply a strip from the side of the whale.

You can be assured there is nothing fantastic in the discovery. It is just part of a whale.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 28 September 1934; Page 5; Last word on “Monster”

For an eager public keen to see a monster, the ‘final authoritative word’ did not mean much. People continued to travel to Rottnest to see it. Writing for The West Australian, ‘Philes’ asked, “What is being done about the Rottnest monster?” They wondered whether Western Australia should monetise the discovery in a manner similar to Loch Ness in Scotland. It may have been tongue in cheek, but it inspired showman, Tasman Bradley, to secure it (reported as stolen in another newspaper) and exhibit it at the Perth Royal Show.

The Rottnest “monster” has left Rottnest. Fresh human footprints in the sand of the beach where the remains were lying indicate that the “monster” was taken away from the island yesterday.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 1 October 1934; Page 16; Rottnest “Monster” Stolen

Having dragged the ‘monster’ from the shore at Rottnest, it was towed to the mainland by motor launches. At the showground, organisers dug a big pit and reconstructed the beach scene. They placed various shells around the carcase, and an attendant showed photos and told the story of its discovery.

Walk up; walk up, and see for yourself this strange mystery of the deep. Scientists have been baffled by this weird creature which was washed up on the beach. They are at a complete loss to identify the monster.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 4 October 1934; Page 14; Side-shows Described

Despite advertising that it would be on display on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at the start of October, anyone hoping to see it after day one would be disappointed. Decomposing and smelly, rumours flew around that the Health Department intervened and decided that the display of the carcase was unhygienic. After one day at the Royal Show and weeks since it was first seen at Rottnest, the whale blubber also-known-as the Rottnest monster was finally disposed of.

As suddenly as it burst upon public notice, the Rottnest “monster” vanished yesterday, leaving a faint trail of smell behind on the sand on which it had reposed in a side-show.

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954); 5 October 1934; Page 19; Rottnest “Monster” Vanishes

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