A Great Storm, Ominous Fish in Fife and the Societies’ Declaration of War.

Storm Flood in the Netherlands in 1570

‘On the 27, and 28, and following days of October 1684, happened a great storme of snow and frost, with thunder and lightening and much shipwrack of many wessells at sea; and Holland was afraid to have been drowned, ther banks was so shattered with the sea. The snow lay some days at London, but had not been observed for many years to come so soon in the year, and thunder there is very unusuall: we say Winter’s thunder is Summer’s hunger, which God prevent.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Observes, 138-9.)

The cause of the disaster was probably a winter storm surge in the North Sea. Similar storms caused the All Saints’ Flood of 1570 in the Netherlands and the North Sea Flood of 1953.

CulrossCulross © David McMumm and licensed for reuse.

The storm brought strange portents of a new presbyterian rising against king Charles II. According to John Erskine of Carnock:

‘In the beginning of the last month [November, 1684] there came in a great abundance of fishes, some longer than herrings, but not so broad, having a neb out from their head about two inches long. They were got in greatest abundance on the north shore, about Culross, and Torrie people carried them away by horse loads.’ (Erskine, Journal, 98.)

The burgh of Culross and nearby Torry lie on the northern shore of the River Forth. Culross lay in what was part of Perthshire and Torry in Fife.

Map of Culross and Torry

According to Carnock:

‘It was a strong north wind when they came in; they did leap out of the water to the land, people catching them with their hands at the edge of the water. When the sea was out multitudes of them were found dead upon the shoar, with their nebs sticking in the sand. People did eat them, and some salted of them ; some said their coming was ominous, telling that they had come in immediately before [the ] Pentland [Rising of 1666].’ (Erskine, Journal, 98.)

Fountainhall also recorded the storm causing the appearance of the strange fish:

‘This tempest drove in also upon our shoares and sand a new kind of fisch like a mackrell or herring, but with a long snout like a snipe’s beik. Doctor [Robert] Sibbald sayes it is the Acus marinus, the sea neidle, described by him in his Naturalis Historia [i.e., Scotia illustrata of 1684]; they have been seen before, but are not frequent, and therfor are look’t upon by the vulgar as ominous.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Observes, 139.)

Sibbald Whales

Sibbald was also the first to scientifically classify the Blue Whale in Phalainologia Nova, or ‘Observations on some Animals of the Whale Genus, lately thrown on the Shores of Scotland’, after a seventy-eight foot specimen was stranded in the Firth of Forth in September, 1692.

There is no doubt that Fountainhall’s scepticism about the portent of the ominous fish was well placed. However, in late 1684 there were rumours that the exiled earl of Argyll was plotting to initiate a new Presbyterian rising in Scotland.

One other event took place when the storm raged and the fish flew on to the beach. On 28 October, 1684, James Renwick composed the Society people’s Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers. It had been approved at the Societies’ sixteenth convention at Glengaber on 15 October and declared war on their persecutors and threatened to assassinate informants.

For other strange wonders of the 1680s, see here.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on March 12, 2013.

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