Episode 6

The Shark Papers

In the Jamaica Institute in Kingston, there’s a collection of papers from 1799. The papers belonged to Thomas Briggs, an American and captain of a ship called the Nancy. A ship he was to lose, thanks to these papers.

Welcome to the Poison Room, a podcast about how writing things down isn’t always great.

Today’s story is about a sparrow, a ferret, and a shark, and sounds, as the Otago Daily Times put it in 1920, ‘like a curious product of over-stimulated imagination’.

Let’s start with some historical context. In total, England spent half of the 18th century at war with France for one reason or another. France had ended up on the opposite side of the British in the American war of Independence, and at the end of the century, was at war with the British because the French had decided they kind of liked this revolution thing, whilst other countries with monarchies really didn’t. France decides not to wait around for other countries to declare war on them, and starts a few wars first, spreading this revolution idea with it as it invades places.

Britain, being a monarchy and all that, isn’t super hot on this idea, or on the idea of France invading Britain or other monarchies, and so ends up at war with France. Apologies to any historians of the period who are currently wincing at this incredible simplification of a very complex series of events.

The French Revolutionary wars are broken down into several parts. The two parts we’re interested in are the War of the First Coalition and War of the Second Coalition. Super original names, I know.

In the first coalition the Dutch had been on Great Britain, Austria and Russia’s side. But in 1795 the forces of William V of Orange, with his British and Austrian allies, were defeated by invading French armies.

The Batvian Republic was established, and was now on France’s side for the War of the Second Coalition, which was 1798-1802, and in which some insignificant nobody called Napoleon Bonaparte played some small role. Our story takes place in 1799.

Both sides declared that neutral nations were not allowed to trade with the opposition. As such, vessels of neutral merchants, and particularly those of the Americans’, were under close supervision because no one wanted them profiting by selling good to both sides. Which is, of course, exactly what many American companies tried to do.

In Baltimore, Maryland, there was a commercial shipping company called Deverhagen, Groverman and Company. The two partners were German by birth, but both were naturalized citizens of America. They owned a fleet of forty ships. One of those ships was called the Nancy. Their primary trade route was between Baltimore, Curaçao, and Santo Domingo. Curaçao was at the time, a colony of the Dutch. To this day it’s a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Santo Domigno was a French Colony at the time, though just a few years prior it had occupied by the Spanish - hence the Spanish name. Today we know it as the Dominican Republic.

This means that Deverhagen and Groverman’s company was trying to trade with two enemies of the British. The trade route went down the east coast of America, and into the West Indies, passing Santo Domingo, and ending at Curaçao, which is today just off the northwest corner of Venezuela.

The Nancy set sail from Baltimore on the 3rd of July, 1799, under the captaincy of Thomas Briggs. It was headed for Curaçao, over 3,000 kilometers to the south. But it ended up just under 100 kilometers off Curaçao, on the nearby island of Aruba, which was also controlled by the Dutch at the time, and again, it’s still a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands today. Edgar K. Thompson, writing in 1970, claims that it was, quote: ‘a port of refuge for vessels of any nationality and an island arsenal where arms and ammunition could be obtained in case of need’ end quote (Thompson, 1970: 98). Unfortunately I couldn’t find a detailed history of Aruba, but it was certainly used by pirates in the 18th century.

So the Nancy pulls in at Aruba. Despite Curaçao being its official destination, the ship never actually makes it there. Instead, Briggs goes over in a drogher (‘draw’ or, ‘droh-ger’ if you’re American) which is a type of sailing barge I had never heard of before. He returns three days later with a man called Christopher Schultze, another naturalised American working for the same firm as Briggs, as the supercargo (Thompson, 1970: 98). A supercargo is the person responsible for overseeing… the cargo.

According to Thompson the Nancy doesn’t discharge her cargo, and instead, in mid-August, sails for Port au Prince in Santo Domingo, over 700 kilometers back up north to pick up a shipment of coffee. Today Port au Prince is the capital of Haiti in the Gulf of Gonâve, on the west side of the island, and if you’re sailing up from Aruba, you have to go around the Tiburon Peninsula at the very south-west tip of the island to get into it.

A 1908 source states that they took onboard arms and ammunitions at Aruba, and this is what they were going to trade for the coffee (Harper’s Weekly 1908: 29). But on the way there, the ship gets damaged by a hurricane, and loses her mainmast and most of her sails (Thompson 1970: 98). So they macguyver the ship into some form of functionality and are heading towards Île à Vaches, off the south coast of Santo Domigno, but on the wrong side of the Tiburon Peninsula. But on the 28th of August she encounters a British ship – a cutter named Sparrow.

Let’s jump back a bit. The Sparrow was captained by Commander Hugh Whylie, and was a tender of the H.M.S. Abergavenny, which was under the command of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. The Abergavenny was the stationary flagship at Port Royal in Jamaica, then a British Colony, and still part of the British Commonwealth today. Apparently, being stuck aboard a stationary ship is pretty boring, and all around the crew of the Abergavenny could see other ships reaping the honours and financial reward of capturing smuggling ships engaged in illegal trade with the enemy. Finally, they decide they want in on the action, and start sending out some smaller ships on their behalf. These ships are called tenders.

So the smaller ships go out looking for smugglers they can bring in for the sweet, sweet loot, to split among the crew of the Abergavenny. If you want to look at it from a, uh, more… noble perspective, Thompson paints it as Hyde Parker using the only ships he has available to him to increase pressure on trading vessels involved in trading with the enemy (Thompson 1970: 98). I’m sure the potential rewards had nothing to do with it.

One day in early August – before the Nancy has even set off from Aruba, the Admiral orders two ships, the Sparrow and a schooner called Ferret, captained by Lieutenant Michael Fitton, to go and patrol the Mona Passage – a body of water between Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico to its east. Now, if you’re suddenly worrying that the promised shark might turn out to be simply the name of another vessel, fear not. I promised you a shark, and there will be a shark. But we’re not quite there yet.

The Sparrow and the Ferret hang around in the Mona Passage for about a week, but don’t catch anything, so they agree to split up, and meet again off Jacmel, which is on the southwest side of the island, in what is present day Haiti, at the end of the month (Aspinal 1914: 177; Thompson 1970: 99). It must be noted here that this is a detail that changes between some accounts, which state that the ships got separated unintentionally (Aspinal 1914: 177).

So that’s what the Sparrow is doing when it encounters the Nancy - looking for ships that are engaged with smuggling. Which is totally what the Nancy is doing. Now, the Nancy’s illegal cargo is hidden away, and the papers that Whylie can find don’t suggest there’s any smuggling going on, but for some reason Whylie decides this is a smuggling ship anyway, and sends her in to Port Royal as a prize. Most sources are vague on when exactly this happened, but the 1908 write up in Harper’s Weekly pegs the date as 28th August (1908: 29).

Skip forward to August 30th and the Ferret is anchored off Jacmel, as agreed, and a lookout spots the Sparrow six miles off. Fitton signals to Whylie an invitation to come aboard the Ferret to breakfast. Whilst Whylie is making his way over, Fitton, sitting on the taffrail of the ship, spies a bullock in the water. I know you’re all intimately familiar with the anatomy of a ship, but just in case it’s currently slipped your mind, the taffrail is the fency-rail type thing around the stern of the ship. The bullock had come from a cattle boat sailing from Venezuela. Probably it died and was thrown over. Finally, here, we get to the star of the show: the shark.

The dead bullock had attracted the attention of several sharks which were quite happily tearing into it. Fitton noticed that one of the sharks was rather larger than the others, and, as humans have a tendency to do when encountering a particularly impressive creature, decided to kill it. There was a fashion at the time to have walking sticks made out of the vertebrae of sharks, and Fitton decided this was his opportunity to get in on the trend. If you’re currently imagining a walking stick with lots of sticky-out bits as you find in the vertebrae of mammals, and think that is a pretty metal idea, then I regret to inform you that you need to revise your mental image slightly. Shark vertebrae are basically circles with some indents in them, because sharks don’t technically have bones. They have cartilage. But the cartilage in certain areas, such as the spine, is calcified over time. The parts that aren’t calcified don’t last, hence, after decomposition, the vertebrae are just circles. Personally, I’d prefer a walking stick with mammal vertebrae, because it is indeed pretty metal.

Whilst looking for an image of this to share, I found quite a few auction sites selling them. Based on a quick perusal, should you want to acquire one for yourself, they’re selling on ebay right now for around £150-£350. For a final shark fact, the calcified vertebrae can aid in determining the age of the shark, since the calcification happens in bands, you can count it much like the rings in a tree. However, some recent research has suggested that this method alone will tend to underestimate the age of the shark (Harry 2018).

Back to Fitton and this particular shark. Let’s get this part of the story in Fitton’s own words:

I baited the hook with a 4lb piece of beef: he rubbed himself against it, but seemed shy of taking it: when the lesser ones approached, I drew away the bait. I changed it for a piece of pork, which at length he bolted. I played with him about 60 fathoms of line: when exhausted, I had him hoisted in, and directed some of the men to open the stomach, and take out the piece of pork, which could not be the worse — in doing which there was found a bundle of papers tied round with string! (1835: 277)

Let’s just take a moment here to appreciate that after using the pork to catch the shark, Fitton wants to get the bait back out of the shark. It being eaten by a shark is no excuse to waste good meat. Anyway. He continues:

I have to observe that the nature of the service I was then employed in did not require a mute and reverential deference from the seamen (I was never much disposed to exact it). When the sailor handed me the papers, with a queer look he said, ‘A packet by G—, Sir! I hope it’s from England: please, your honour,’ (touching his hat) ‘will you look if there’s a letter for me — I should like to hear from my old sweetheart.’ (1835: 277)

Now. This first-hand account was published in 1835, in the United Service Journal and Naval and Military Magazine – thirty-six years after the incident in question, but it existed before then. The journal states that they got this account from Sir William Burnett, who got it from Fitton. The original account is a letter addressed to Ilted Nicholl, Esq., the proctor at Jamaica. Now, I’m pretty sure it’s not a letter he wrote at the precise time of the incident, due to the simple fact that when he writes it Hugh Whylie is dead. ‘Ah!’ you might think, ‘so we can pinpoint the date after which it must have been written if we know when Whylie died!’ And you’d be absolutely right. But good luck trying to find out when that was. What about Ilted Nicholl? Is he any help with dating this letter? Not really. I know that Ilted Nicholl was proctor in Jamaica as early as 1815 (Carricabura et al. 1815), but I can’t find anything closer than that. Which doesn’t mean that he became proctor in 1815 – I couldn’t find anything that would discount him being the proctor before then, either. I’m sure the information is out there, somewhere, I just couldn’t find it without spending a lot more time on this than I have available.

So what about this bundle of papers? Well, there were several letters, in French and German, one of which was dated recently at Curaçao, and began with the words (given in translation by Thompson), ‘My good friend Mr. Christopher Shultz, supercargo of the American brig Nancy, will hand you this’. At first Fitton thinks that the shark must have come from Curaçao, but then wonders if the papers had been thrown overboard somewhere when the Nancy was being chased by a British ship. Another letter, stated that ‘Mr Christopher Schultz will take passage in the schooner Triumph for Curaçao, and, after his arrival, will put his cargo in storage, dismiss his crew, send back the captain with all the papers; he will get Dutch papers for the vessel and cause himself to be a naturalized a Dutch citizen’ (Thompson 1970: 102). Pretty damning stuff.

These details are from Thompson’s 1970 account, but for the next part let’s go back to Fitton’s own account. He’s got his shark, he’s got some bonus papers, and he’s about to have breakfast with Whylie. He gives a direct account of the conversation between himself and Whylie when he finally gets aboard the Ferret.

“Lieutenant Whylie— ‘What devil of a long pull you have given me this morning, and not a breath of air out of the heavens. Come, is breakfast ready — no Banyan day I hope?’ “Fitton — ‘Well, Whylie, my boy, what luck have you had since we parted company?’ “Whylie—‘Why I have taken a French schooner, a Dutch schooner, and I have detained on suspicion an American brig.’

Whylie then sees the shark on the deck, presumably in a fairly butchered state at this point. He is not impressed.

“Whylie— ‘Why do you dirty your decks with those cursed animals, you’ll be a boy all your lifetime?’ “Fitton— ‘Tell me, Whylie, was the American brig you detained named Nancy?’ “Whylie—‘Yes, her name was Nancy; you have not met her, I suppose?’ “Fitton— ’No, I have not.’ “Whylie—‘Then why did you ask me if the brig’s name was Nancy?’ “Fitton— ‘Was there not a supercargo on board called Christopher Schultz of Baltimore?’ “Whylie—‘Yes, his name was Skoolts or Schultz or some d——— Dutch name or other: why you must have spoke her?’ “Fitton— ‘No I have not, I never saw her.’ “Whylie— ‘Then how the devil came you to know I had detained the brig Nancy, Christopher Schultz supercargo?’ “Fitton— ‘The shark you see lying there has brought me full information of your brig, and those papers you see spread out to dry are the papers of your brig Nancy.’ “Whylie— ‘There’s a lie somewhere. Fitton, not far off, for I sealed all her papers up, and gave them in charge of the prize-master, when I sent the brig away.’ “Fitton— ‘The papers delivered to you by the master when you overhauled you have of course sent away with the vessel, but her true papers that prove the owners to be enemies and not Americans, are those you see drying on deck, brought to me by that shark you abuse me for catching.’

Whylie, evidently, doesn’t believe Fitton, and after staring at Fitton, the shark, and the papers, just walks off and goes down the cabin ladder, calling:

‘Breakfast, ho!— none of your tricks upon travellers; none of your gumption, Fitton!’

Meanwhile, back at port, on the 9th of September a suit was filed against:

a certain brig or vessel called the Nancy, her guns, tackle, furniture, ammunition and apparel and the goods, wares, merchandise, specie and effects on board her, taken and seized as the property of some person or persons being enemies of our Sovereign Lord, the King, and good and lawful prize on the high seas and within the jurisdiction of this court. (Thompson 1970: 101)

On the 14th of September, the captain of the Nancy, Thomas Briggs, and the supercargo Christopher Schultz file a claim for dismissal for this libel, with costs. They both provide sworn affidavits on the matter.

But that very same day, Michael Fitton arrives back at port. He sends off the papers, the shark jaw, and a note, reading ‘Lieut. Fitton recommends these jaws for a collar for neutrals to swear through.’

Ten days later, on the 24th of September, Fitton gives his own sworn affidavit as to what happened. At the same time, some other papers had been found aboard the Nancy, hidden in a barrel of salted pork. One can’t help but wonder if this is where the other papers had also been stored to start with, which might explain why our pork-loving shark swallowed them. Then again, sharks have a history of eating weird things.

All this evidence leads to Whylie winning the case, and being awarded the Nancy as his prize. On hearing this news, Briggs and Schultz, before they could be arrested, grabbed some horses and headed over the Blue Mountains to Port Antonio, on the north coast of the Jamaica, and from there made their way back to America, leaving the Nancy to the British (Thompson 1970: 103).

Let’s just recap the sequence of events here, because there are so many elements that have to line up for this to happen:

The Nancy has to get damaged in a hurricane, and decide to head to Île à Vaches, rather than Port au Prince. Whylie and Fitton have to get bored of patrolling the Mona passage because they’re not finding any ships, and set off hunting them down. When he sees the Sparrow Briggs has to decide to throw some of the papers overboard, which then have to be swallowed by a very obliging shark, which then swims over 200 kilometres to Jacmel. Another ship has to be sailing in that area at that time, and lose a bullock at just the right time and place for it to be visible to Fitton, who must happen to look overboard, and to note that one of the sharks is particularly impressive, and decide to catch it.

All of that is remarkable enough as it is, but there are a couple more details which make the whole thing just a bit more astounding. In the 1833 account in the Eastern Argus, the author claims that Lieutenant Fitton told them that the same batch of papers led to the condemnation of another ship, which they ‘believe’ was named Christophe. Two ships for the price of one shark. Unfortunately, that’s all the detail that’s given.

And as if that wasn’t enough, this wasn’t even the first time Fitton had been involved in fishing something out of the ocean that turned out to be important documents.

Let’s roll back a bit and get a second serving of historical context about a different group of wars. Fitton entered the Royal Navy as a servant to Captain George Keppel, commanding H. M. S. Vestal in 1780. This is before the French Revolutionary Wars began, but there was another, small, entirely inconsequential war was going on: the War of American Independence.

The War of Independence started in 1775. In 1778 France signs a treaty of Friendship with the United States. Which means, of course, that the British are now at war with the French, too.

Now, as we already know, the British were fans of declaring that other countries couldn’t trade with their enemies, and seizing ships that they thought were doing so. Weirdly, this was not a popular tactic.

Let’s roll back a bit more. After the Second Anglo-Dutch war, ending in 1667 with victory for the Dutch, England signed the Treaty of Westminster with the Dutch agreeing to let them engage in some good old free-trade capitalism and not keep seizing their ships.

This agreement was reconfirmed at the end of the Third Anglo-Dutch war in 1674, which the English also lost. Now, jump forward back to 1778 and the French siding with America in their fight for Independence. Great Britain and the Netherlands are allies, and the British are supposed to be leaving Dutch trading ships alone.

But the Dutch refuse to join the war on the British side, despite several past treaties saying they would do that kind of thing, and they also decide they quite like trading with France, and are happy to sell them the kind of things they need for a war. Great Britain was not cool with this and decided to join in the Netherland’s forgetfulness of treaty arrangements, and promptly starting ignoring that whole ‘leave Dutch ships alone’ thing, and goes back to seizing ships they suspected of trading with their enemies.

Which, it turns out, was still not a popular tactic.

None of the powers in Europe liked what the British were doing, and so in March 1780 Catherine the Great of Russia decided to create the First League of Armed Neutrality, to defend the rights of neutral states to trade without the British perpetually trying to confiscate goods. She invited other countries to join the League so that they could create a stronger opposition to Britain than Russia could alone.

The British knew that it was only a matter of time before the Netherlands joined that league, and wanted to declare war on them before they could. So they need an immediate pretext for declaring war there and then.

Following? I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible, so apologies again to the historians. To summarise: Great Britain was at war with France and America (and Spain too, because: why not?). The Netherlands were supposed to be allies of the British, but refused to do anything to help and wanted to trade with the French and Americans. The British did not like this, and are pretty sold on the idea that three wars is just not enough wars and that they should go to war with the Dutch, too. And they wanted to do so before the Netherlands could join the First League of Armed Neutrality. ‘Cause you can’t join a league for armed neutrality if you’re not neutral.

So there’s just a tad bit of tension simmering between Britain and the Netherlands at this point, when Michael Fitton, aged fourteen, first boards the Vestal in June of 1780, around two months after Catherine the Great decides to start her league.

Two months in to his maiden voyage on the ship, the Vestal gets into a chase with a brigantine called the Mercury, sailing from America to the Netherlands. On board is a man called Henry Laurens, and he’s transporting some papers, including a draft treaty between America and the Netherlands.

Being fourteen years old and in an actual ship chase, Fitton is pretty excited, and stands up on the foretop-gallant yard, which is pretty damn high up the mast, and notices a dark object fall off the Mercury. He alerts the deck below that there’s a man overboard. They lower a boat to go and retrieve the man, and discover that it is not a man, but a bag of documents. Henry Laurens had tried to do what Thomas Briggs later tried to do, and get rid of some incriminating documents by throwing them overboard. Unfortunately for Laurens, the bag wasn’t weighted heavily enough, and didn’t sink.

The Vestal catches the Mercury and Laurens is arrested. He’s sent back to England and is stuck in the Tower of London for the next fourteen months. He made good use of his time there to write… a small treatise on Smallpox. Bad joke. He did not.

Four months after the capture of the Mercury, in December of 1780, Laurens and his papers became the pretext for England to declare war on the Dutch, and to start the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. This time, the Dutch lost. This defeat added to internal tensions within the Netherlands, which culminated in the Batvian Revolution, which is the thing that lead to the Netherlands being French allies during the War of the Second Coalition, creating the circumstances under which the company that owned the Nancy was trading and totally not smuggling. Funny old world.

Now, as I said, the first batch of papers Fitton found were used as a pretext for Britain to go to war with the Netherlands – they were looking for a reason to start a war pronto, before the Netherlands could join the First League of Armed Neutrality. So the question is: without these papers, would the British have had a good enough pretext to start the war in time to stop the Netherlands joining the league? If anyone wants to write an alternate history novel on what would have happened had they not stopped the Netherlands joining the League, I’ll totally read it. Providing you still manage to get a shark story in there somewhere.

I can’t tell you what happened to Thomas Briggs, Christopher Schultz, or even Hugh Whylie.

Fitton himself lead an interesting life, and the incident of the Shark Papers gets so nearly completely forgotten that it doesn’t even make it into many of the biographies of his life – even the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography doesn’t mention it in their entry on him. This incident is overshadowed by his other naval exploits during this period. In a seven year period between 1799 and 1806 he captured or destroyed forty enemy ships.

The author Frank Showell Styles wrote a series of thirteen books about Fitton between 1975 and 2000. They have titles like ‘A Sword for Mr. Fitton, Mr. Fitton’s Commission, Mr. Fitton and the Black Legion, and, for some occasional variety, The Martinique Mission. The final book is Mr. Fitton’s Hurricane. If it were going to be in any of the books, the story of the shark and the Nancy would be in the first book, but as far as I can tell, it isn’t. Frankly, the fact that this story is so unknown is almost as remarkable as the tale itself.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Fitton’s exploits appeared in all early-nineteenth-century naval histories. And apparently even included ‘an account of Fitton and his crew plunging overboard, their swords between their teeth, to overwhelm and capture a dangerous privateer’ (Banyam 2008). Clearly Fitton had a propensity to exaggerate certain details, and the story of the shark papers is exactly the kind of story we might assume he’d made up or exaggerated, were it not for the fact that we still have the documents themselves.

Fitton died at his home in Surrey on 31st December 1852, relatively poor. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, at least. Thompson claims that he was forced to enter Greenwich Hospital as a navel pensioner, and remained there until his death (1970: 104). The point that they agree on is that, for all his exploits, he died a poor man.

As I said at the beginning of this episode, the papers that were retrieved from the shark are held at the Jamaica Institute in Kingston. But what of the shark’s head? Fitton sent the jaws along with the papers to the court in Kingston. For a while, the jaws were displayed at the court, with the inscription ‘Lieut. Fitton recommends these jaws for a collar for neutrals to swear through’ (Aspinal, 1914: 178). But it didn’t stay there.

In the Eastern Argus article of 1833 it was ‘in possession of a gentleman in London’, but the report in the United Service Journal and Naval And Military Magazine in 1935 claims it was still at that time at the court in Jamaica. Whatever the exact date of its voyage to England, it ended up on display at the United Service Museum in London. Today, it’s back in Jamaica, in the collection of the Natural History Museum. When I contacted the Jamaica Institute to verify the location of the jaw, I was told that it would be on display in the museum later this year, after renovations to the museum were complete, but I don’t know exactly when that will be.

The incident of the Shark Papers is, of course, not the only story of sharks eating weird things. If you search for ‘weird things sharks have eaten’ you’ll find enough listacles that you could make a listacle of them. Most of them cite no sources at all, so take everything they say with a mine of salt. But one did pique my interest and I poked around to see if I could verify it: apparently a shark ate a suit of armour. The story was first published in 1554 by Guillaume Rondelet, a French naturalist and physician, in his Libri de Piscibus Marinis– the Books of Fish of the Sea. Which is in Latin, of course. He reported a story of a full suite of armour being found inside a shark off the southern coast of France, but he’s very scarce on detail. If you poke around for this particular story online, you’ll find it’s usually accompanied by an image of a suit of full plate armour. And no citations. Because: who cares about sources, right? In 1990 the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County ran an exhibition on sharks which included a display of things eaten by sharks, and reportedly included a ‘suit of steel armour complete with helmet’ (Browne 1994). Rondelet makes no mention of a helmet, and the word he uses indicates chain mail, not plate (Rondelet 1554: 391).

Another common story on these lists is one of a shark swallowing a cannonball in 1823, but despite having a precise date, I can find literally no sources for that.

In what’s probably the most famous case of ‘Things-Sharks-Have-Eaten’ (and I use ‘famous’ very loosely, here), a captive shark in the Coogee Aquarium in Australia hocked up a tattooed human arm in 1935. The immediate assumption that someone had fallen victim to the shark was proved incorrect when an examination of the arm showed that the arm had been cut off, rather than bitten off. The police discovered that the arm belonged to one James Smith, who had gone missing some weeks prior. There’s a link in the bibliography to the Dictionary of Sydney entry on the case, should you want to read about it.

I’d like to thank Greg Ross of the Futility Closet Podcast for kindly sharing with the article in the Eastern Argus – a source that I could not find anywhere online. The Futility Closet Podcast is where I first heard the story of the Shark Papers and if you don’t listen to it, you really, really should.

Thanks for listening. If you like the show, please subscribe on whatever podcatcher you use. Rate and review the show, especially on iTunes. If you’re the type of person who can be convinced to leave a review for the prospect of getting a shout-out, start the review with the words ‘the shark’s stomach contained…’ and I will bless you with this most esteemed honour.

If you have questions, comments, feedback, want to suggest a topic, etc. You can find the podcast on twitter @poisonroompod, or send an email to: poisonroompodcast@gmail.com

Alternatively… do I even need to say it? Write a letter, smother it with pork, sail into the middle of the ocean and throw it overboard. And hope that a shark eats it and has the good courtesy to wash up in front of me the next time I go to a beach. And I promise you, if I find a dead shark any time I go to the beach, I will be picking it up. Gotta get me a shark-spine walking stick.

Transcripts of this and all episodes are available at poisonroom.com, where you can also see the references and bibliography. Again, if the sources are publicly available, they’re linked to.

You have been listening to The Poison Room, a podcast that does not engage in any sort of smuggling.


—-- (1935) ‘Miscellaneous’, Eastern Argus.

—-- (1835) Editor’s Portfolio United Service Journal and Naval And Military Magazine, Part. 1

—-- (1920) “The Shark That Ate the Papers of the Nancy Brig,” —-- (2010) [‘Shark Arm Murder’](< https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/shark_arm_murder_1935>) Dictionary of Sydney.

Otago (New Zealand) Daily Times, June 12, 1920.

Aspinal, A. (1914) The Pocket Guide to the West Indies, Ballantyne & Company Ltd.

Baynham, H. (2008) “Fitton, Michael,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Browne, M. W. (1994) ‘The Good Side of Sharks on Display’ New York Times, P. 17.

Carricabura, J. P, Bulnes, D. J., De Urrutia, R., & Yates, R. (1815) ['Before the Most Noble and Right Honourable the Lords Commissioners of Appeals in Prize Cause...'](https://lawcat.berkeley.edu/record/418737), Making of Modern Law : Trials, 1600-1926, Keating, Brown and Keating.

Guyol, E. W. (1908), ‘The Navy, the Shark, and the ‘Nancy’ Brig’, Harper’s Weekly 52: (Nov. 14) 29.

Harry, A. V. (2018) ‘Evidence for System Age Underestimation in Shark and Ray Ageing Studies’ Fish and Fisheries Vol. 19: 185-200.

Israel, J. (1995) The Dutch Republic; Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477-1806, Oxford University Press.

O’Byrne, William R. (1849) A Naval Biographical Dictionary: Comprising the Life and Services of Every Living Officer in Her Majesty’s Navy, From the Rank of Admiral of the Fleet to that of Lieutenant, Inclusive.

Rondelet, G. (1554) Libri de Pisccibus Marinis, Matthiam Bonhomme.

Thompson, E. K. (1970) “Tale of the Nancy Brig,” *Mariner’s Mirror, Vol. 56: 97-104.

Tuchman, B. W. (1988) The First Salute, Ballantine Books.