On the eleventh of August, 1812, Mr Toupin of Exmouth joined a party of ladies and gentlemen in a sailing excursion. When they were about a mile to the southeast of Exmouth bar they heard a noise. One of the ladies aboard described it as like "the wild melodies of the Aeolian harp combined with a noise similar to that made by a stream of water falling gently on the leaves of a tree."
According to Mr Toupin's account, the party then saw a mermaid which swam around the boat and ate the boiled fish which one of the boatmen threw to it. It wasn't the kind of mermaid that I would quite like to meet, not the comb and glass blonde with the delighful bosoms kind of mermaid. Here is Mr Toupin's description as published ten years after the event in the London 'Mirror' of Saturday, November 9th 1822:
"The head, from the crown to the chin, forms rather a long oval, and the face seems to resemble that of the seal, though at the same time , it is far more agreeable, possessing an ageeable softness, which renders the whole set of features very interesting. The upper and back parts of the head appeared to be furnished with something like hair, and the forepart of the body with something like down, between a very light fawn and a very pale pink colour, which at a distance, had the appearance of flesh, and may have given rise to the idea that the body of the Mermaid is, externally, like that of the human being. The creature has two arms, each of which terminates into a hand with four fingers, connected to each other by means of a very thin elastic membrane. The animal used its arms with great agility, and its motions in general were very graceful. From the waist it gradually tapered so as to form a tail, which had the appearance of being covered with strong, broad , polished scales, which occasionally reflected the rays of the sun in a very beautiful manner, and, from the back and upper part of the neck, down to the loins, the body also appeared covered with short round broad feathers, of the colour of the down on the fore-part of the body. the whole length of the animal, from the crown of the head to the extremity of the tail, was supposed to be about five feet, or five feet and a half. In about ten minutes, from the time we approached, the animal gave two or three plunges, in quick succession, as if it were at play. After this it gave a sudden spring, and swam away from us very rapidly, and in a few seconds we lost sight of it."
Well, it was hardly the Lorelei, was it? But what was it? My guess would be a harp playing offshore otter plus Mr Toupin's fertile imagination. Tomorrow I shall publish a beautiful verse about some 'real' mermaids.