The Mermaid of St. John’s Bay, Newfoundland

In 1610, Richard Whitbourne saw a mermaid swimming in St. John’s Bay, Newfoundland. The mermaid’s face, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, ears, neck, and forehead resembled that of a woman, coupled with long blue streaks of something resembling hair. Her back was white and square, while her bottom was shaped like a broad hooked arrow (which might resemble a fishtail). The sight of the mermaid terrified Whitbourne and several sailors in St. John’s Harbor. The mermaid tried to climb into three different boats but European sailors beat the creature about the head until it gave up and swam away.

The account, in part read:

Now also I will not omit to relate something of strange Creature, which I saw there in the yere 1610. in a morning early, as I was standing by the Riuer side, in the Harbor of Saint Iohns, which very swiftly came swimming towards me, looking cheerfully on my face, as it had bin a woman: by the face, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, ears, necke, and forehead, it seemed to be so beautiful, & in those parts so wel proportioned, hauving round about the head many blue streaks, resembling hair, but certainly it was no haire.

After some time, the mermaid came:

swifly toward me, where at I stepped backe; for it was come within the length of a long Pike, supposing it would haue spring aland to me, because I had often seene huge whales to…But when it saw that I went from it, it did theropon diue a little vnder water, & swam towards the place where a little before I landed.

Shortly thereafter, the mermaid swam up to a boat in the harbor and

put both its hand vpon the side of the Boat, and did striue much to come int to him, and diuvers others then in the same Boat; where at they were afraid, and one of them strucke it a full blow on the head, whereby it fell off from them: and afterwards it came to other Boates in the said Harbour, where they lay by the shore: the men in them, for feare fled to land, and beheld it.

None of this would have seemed out of the ordinary since Europeans still believed in creatures like unicorns that appeared in their holy text, on maps, and were seen by people in the Americas and Asia.

Johann Ludwig Gottfried recorded the incident as an engraved print in 1631. Notice Richard Whitbourne standing on the shoreline, three ships in the harbor, and Europeans on land preparing cod fish for shipment to Europe.

Whitbourne Mermaid
Johann Ludwig Gottfried and Matthaeus Merian, “Newe Welt Vnd Americanische Historien/ Jnhaltende Warhafftige vnd volkommene Beschreibungen Aller West-Jndianischen Landschafften…”  (Frankfurt, 1633)


Whitbourne wrote about the incident in his 1620 book A Discovrse and Discovery of Nevv-Fovnd-Land

Richard Whitbourne A Discourse and Discovery of Newfoundland
Richard Whitbourne, A Discovrse and Discovery of New-Fovnd-Land (London, 1623).

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