Shark attack in 1785

By Andy Grant

Here is an extract of a letter sent to 'The Morning Herald' newspaper from Brighthelmstone dated September 26th 1785, and reproduced in John Parry's 'The Coast of Sussex' in 1833:

"A gentleman a few days ago was bathing a little below the (bathing) machines, and being very calm, he imprudently ventured further into the sea than what is customary. He had not been long diverting himself in the water, before he heard a noise, and discovered the fins of a fish above the surface of the water, which he soon perceived approached him very fast. Alarmed at this, he hastened out of the water, and had scarcely reached the shore, when a large tiger shark plunged after him with that violence, that it forced itself entirely out of the water on dry land. The shark, thus out of its element, had no power of retreating; and the gentleman who providentially escaped, recovering from his fright, collected a number of people, who with hatchets attacked this ferocious creature and killed it. On opening its stomach, the entire head of a man was found in it, not otherwise altered than being very soft and pappy, and the flesh and scalp entirely separating from the bone on touching it. The stomach was half an inch thick, and the shark was twelve feet in length from its head to its tail."

Parry records another incident from 1807:

"On Saturday, some fisherman brought on shore to the fish market, Brighton, a shark, which measured upwards of eight feet in length. This despot of the deep had pursued a shoal of mackerel into a fleet of nets, and after doing a great deal of damage to them, got so entangled, that he could not extricate himself."

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Comments about this page
This is a really interesting post, fortunately however I am confident that its very far from accurate! I'd be amazed to discover that a 12 foot 'tiger shark' has ever been anywhere near Brighton and Hove and even more astonished to discover that a shark had ever beached itself whilst in the pursuit of its prey. However it is interesting to me that, even way back in 1785, people had this irrational fear of sharks and percieved them (much as we still do today) as ferocious killers just waiting for a hapless bather to enter the water! Perhaps the shark that appeared on the beach was a basking shark (certainly the only shark off the British coast that can grow over 12 feet long) and the newspaper embellished the rest. No-one has ever been killed by a shark off the British coast and I'm sure they never will!
By Chris (25/05/2005)
I recall that during the summer of 1976 a tiger shark was washed up dead on Brighton beach (although of course it could have come in from anywhere). As far as man-eating species go there are a couple of local nasties in the Mako and the Porbeagle, although both seldom, if ever, come in to shallow water. And I agree with Chris that neither have ever been involved in attacks on man, certainly never in Brighton. Over the past couple of years there have been one or two fairly convincing sightings of great white sharks off the Devon and Cornwall coasts, and indeed it has often been considered odd that this species has never been confirmed in the Channel as it offers a habitat similar to others it frequents around the world. I suppose as the globe warms and oceans alter we can expect to see more of these magnificent creatures in our waters.
By Nick (27/07/2006)

I can remember a shark being off the coast of Brighton in the 1950s.It certainly wasn't twelve feet in length but it was still big enough to take a bite out of anyone. I can remember being warned not to go in the sea but being at an age when authority was a challenge I took no notice whatsoever. Good job it was caught before someone became its dinner. If I remember right it was put on show in the old fishmarket.

By John Wignall (28/05/2008)

The only 'sharks' I have ever seen in Brighton around the Piers were in fact Tope. I used to have to dissect this species at school for Zoology practical, and they are anatomically very similar, especially the huge olfactory organs, and the tough skin. Like the other contributors, I doubt the existence of Tiger Sharks in the area, but it makes a good story!!

By Stefan Bremner-Morris (26/12/2008)