The Mystifying Mermaid of Gilman's Point- Wales 1603
At 3pm on Friday 17th February 1603, Thomas Raynold, ‘a very honest and substantial’ yeoman farmer from the village of Pentine in Carmarthenshire was walking along the cliff top when he saw a strange animal frolicking in the sea. As he stopped to observe the curious figure, he could not believe his eyes as the unmistakable body of a woman rose out of the water to her waist.
As she submerged and began to swim along the coastline he could see that she had the tail of a large fish. This was no fleeting glimpse of mistaken identity. Thomas Raynold a sober and educated man was transfixed by the awesome sight, the like of which he had never seen in his life, and watched the ‘mermaid’ swimming and sitting up in the tide for a full two hours.
So remarkable was the beast that he feared that he would not be believed unless someone else also saw it. Reluctant to leave the fabulous creature, he made the decision to run back to Pentine village to round up other witnesses. Thomas Raynold was well-respected locally and his good reputation meant that he had no difficulty in persuading people to return back with him to the beach. He raced back to Gilman’s Point with a crowd of eager villagers behind him and was greatly relieved to see that the magnificent creature was still there in the surf sitting upright. Word soon began to spread and before long, dozens of people watched in awe as the mermaid splashed around in the sea. Some were terrified by the strange creature in case it was an ill omen but all were completely captivated by it.
Witnesses confirmed that she did indeed have the shape of ‘a very lively woman from the waist upwards’ which plainly visible above the level of the water. She was brown in colour and had ‘very large and fair hair’ over which was ‘a thing like a bow’. About her neck they could see something which they described as ‘in the manner of a white band’. She was close enough to the coast for them to be able to see that her breasts were ‘round and very white’. They could also see that she had ‘two fair hands’ and everything was ‘normally as a woman’. The crowd watched in wonder for 30 minutes. As it began to swim away they observed that it was ‘gray in colour with ears like a hound but somewhat greater and shorter’. They described her back as like a ‘cock-boat a full yard or more in breadth’ and her majestic tail was ‘two fathoms in length’ (12 feet or almost 4 metres).
The mermaid swam out into Carmarthen bay sea in a south-east direction and then was seen swimming north-east towards Tolwen. The crowd ran along the headland to keep her in view and watched her for a total of three hours until nightfall descended and they could see her no longer. By morning the mysterious creature had disappeared and she was never seen again.
The villagers were so affected by their experience, that their wondrous sighting began to spread far and wide. It soon came to the attention of the servants of William Sandars, local magistrate and a representative of King James I in the county of Carmarthen. William Sandars knew that Thomas Raynold was a man of integrity and that the story must be more than idle chatter. Intrigued by the story,he sought out Thomas Raynold and personally interviewed the witnesses. Sandars recorded their collective eye-witness accounts of the incredible sighting and commissioned an artist to make an impression of the mermaid.
The resulting document still exists today in the National Library of Wales and provides one of the few contemporaneous and corroborated accounts of a mermaid sighting ever made. It is highly that the story would have been reported back to the King, who was known to have a strong interest in such mysterious matters.
The witnesses examined by William Sanders appended their names to their testimony and were recorded as follows:
John Raynold the Elder
John Raynold the Younger
David Moris Smith
Harry Mores of Morras
....with many others, both of Penden and other places”.
Over 400 years later it is perhaps difficult to be certain of exactly what the villagers of Pentine watched for over 4 hours that day. Tall tales of mermaids have been passed down for centuries but these are usually uncorroborated yarns from sailors, misidentified large marine mammals or deliberate taxidermists hoaxes like P.T. Barnum's Victorian exhibit of the Feejee Mermaid.
The account of the mermaid of Gilman’s point is however unique in that it was made from the stability of the shore and involved sustained and continuous observation over several hours by a large number of eye-witnesses. These coastal residents would surely have been used to seeing seals, sharks and the occasional dolphin off the Welsh coast now and then and it is really likely they would have mistaken such a creature for a mermaid? One cannot easily explain away their description of the hair, hands and breasts and despite the passage of time; perhaps we should credit these people with an acknowledgement that they did indeed see something truly rare and wonderful on that February afternoon in 1603.