'A Most True a Marvelous Strange Wonder' : The Killer Whales of Ipswich on the 11th October 1568

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On the 11th of October 1568, the men of Ipswich were in battle with monsters.

With a great thrashing of waves, fishermen's boats were violently assaulted as they attempted to restrain a vast writhing beast that has no business being in local waters. They gripped on for dear life as the huge creature 'swam awaye with the boat & all the men that were on it, towards the sea at a marvaylous swift pace'. The men were only saved by the multitude of other small vessels that had collected to see the spectacle.

The monster was not alone. In total Timothy Granger - an eyewitness along with other sailors and shipmen in Ipswich- counted sixteen more monstrous fish, both males and females, who seem to have swam into trouble on a low tide. Ipswich wharf was soon bustling with onlookers who 'came together to help and see the taking of them' and they were amazed by what they saw. 

The fish were strange creatures: they were 'white beneath the eyes...else black' with white bellies and with huge jaws. The tail of each 'marvelous fishe' was so strong and large that when ten men stood upon it it was said to have overthrown them all. Strangest of all, Granger commented, 'upon thyr heds were holes, as big that a man might put in both his fistes at once'. From these holes Granger exclaimed that they spurted out so much water that, in their attempt to drag the beast back to Ipswich Wharf, they almost drowned two boatsmen.

The attempt to capture all seventeen animals was arduous and, as per the norm at the time, cruel. After many failed attempts where the boats of the hunters were dragged out to sea, or where cable ropes snapped, the onlookers and sailors managed to wrap cable rope around each fish's tail and drag them to the wharf, where they were each tethered to a tree. With much effort, they managed to heave each animal up, despite the occasional broken 'wyndlace', and granger commented on their sheer 'marvaylous greatness, strength and wayght'. Seeing the fish as a valuable resource, the townspeople instantly went about attempting to slay the creatures for their meat. To their surprise, despite being stricken with axes and other weapons, some of the creatures lay on the wharf for two days and a night before they died. It was said that 'the ryver wherein they weare taken was coloured red', and that three butchers worked a whole day carving up just one fish.

As the butchers worked, Granger marvelled at the anatomy of the beast. The fish was said to be a man's height in thickness 'from the top of the backe to the bones, and his bones hard as stones'. Despite the challenge of the butchery, the meat of the beast was carved up and distributed to the people at the town, 'that did eate of it, and it was verye good meate'.

Credit: Robert L. Pitman, NOAA Fisheries, USA

Nowadays it's perhaps easy for us to identify these whales as killer whales, though at the time they were completely strange and bizarre creatures, unknown by the common person. Certainly Timothy Granger thought it strange enough to justify putting it to print and it, like other sensational texts at the time, was picked up, read and displayed with enthusiasm as proof of the wonders of God's ways. Even now, the sudden arrival of seventeen Orcas on Ipswich's shores wouldn't look out of place in any tabloid paper.


-Granger,Timothy, A Most True and Marveilous Straunge Wonder, the lyke hath seldom ben seene, of XVII Monstrous Fishes, taken in Suffolke, at Downham brydgem within a myle of Ipswiche The .XI.daye of October. In the yeare of our Lordge God. M.D.LX.VIII. (London, 1568). 

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