CHAPTER 1: A Runaway Reef
THE YEAR 1866 was marked by a bizarre development, an unexplained
and downright inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten.
Without getting into those rumors that upset civilians
in the seaports and deranged the public mind even far inland,
it must be said that professional seamen were especially alarmed.
Traders, shipowners, captains of vessels, skippers, and master mariners
from Europe and America, naval officers from every country, and at
their heels the various national governments on these two continents,
were all extremely disturbed by the business.
In essence, over a period of time several ships had encountered
"an enormous thing" at sea, a long spindle-shaped object,
sometimes giving off a phosphorescent glow, infinitely bigger
and faster than any whale.
The relevant data on this apparition, as recorded in various logbooks,
agreed pretty closely as to the structure of the object or creature
in question, its unprecedented speed of movement, its startling
locomotive power, and the unique vitality with which it seemed
to be gifted. If it was a cetacean, it exceeded in bulk any whale
previously classified by science. No naturalist, neither Cuvier nor
Lacépède, neither Professor Dumeril nor Professor de Quatrefages,
would have accepted the existence of such a monster sight unseen--
specifically, unseen by their own scientific eyes.
Striking an average of observations taken at different times--
rejecting those timid estimates that gave the object a length
of 200 feet, and ignoring those exaggerated views that saw it
as a mile wide and three long--you could still assert that this
phenomenal creature greatly exceeded the dimensions of anything
then known to ichthyologists, if it existed at all.
Now then, it did exist, this was an undeniable fact; and since
the human mind dotes on objects of wonder, you can understand
the worldwide excitement caused by this unearthly apparition.
As for relegating it to the realm of fiction, that charge had
to be dropped.
In essence, on July 20, 1866, the steamer Governor Higginson,
from the Calcutta & Burnach Steam Navigation Co., encountered this
moving mass five miles off the eastern shores of Australia.