Friday, April 5, 2013


A collection of over five-hundred illustrations of fish species from the mid-19th century, which were presumed lost but recently rediscovered in Australia, is baffling scientists and historians alike. The illustrations are attributed to R.T. Maye a British naturalist and painter who is presumed to have died in 1834 when the ship he was sailing on went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

R.T. Maye stumbled into his calling at the early age of eight when he began selling illustrations of fish to local fishmongers in Bristol, England who used them in their advertisements. He continued honing his skills into adulthood and he would go on to become one of the most renowned ichthyologists of his day. Maye's illustrations appeared in a number of publications between 1819 and 1825, but he was most well-known for his book "Fish of the North Atlantic," which was published in 1826 and which contained over two-hundred full-color illustrations and scientific descriptions.  In 1828, Maye's work became overshadowed by the success of fellow ichthyologist George Cuvier of France who published his "Histoire Naturelle Des Poissons" which sought to describe exhaustively all of the fish species of the world.

In a bid to remain relevant, Maye invested all of his life savings into a planned sea voyage which would span five years and would take him to the farthest reaches of the world's oceans in search of new fish species. In 1834, after four years at sea, Maye's ship was last spotted by a British naval vessel in the Indian Ocean. The ship is presumed to have sunk, and all hands were lost. His drawings from the voyage were also presumed lost until they were rediscovered this month sealed in a trunk in a  government warehouse in Sidney, Australia. How they came to be there is a mystery, but equally mysterious are several fish depicted in Maye's illustrations which remain unknown to science even to this day.

The illustrations depict 47 species of fish which were unknown to science in 1834, but which have been described in detail by subsequent generations of scientists. "Maye's discoveries would have caused quite a sensation in his day if he had lived to publish them," says Charles Pell of the Sidney Marine Institute who has studied the drawings at length. However, of greater interest to Pell are an additional four species of fish which Maye illustrated and described in detail but which remain, as yet, unknown to science. "In light of the fact that so much of Maye's work to describe unknown fish species has been proven true by subsequent discoveries I see no reason to believe that these four were intended as a hoax," says Pell.

Of special interest to the cryptozoological community is a creature described by Maye as a "hippofish," which, according to his notes was caught in a net at a depth of fifty feet off the coast of present day British Columbia. The illustration depicts a long serpentine creature approximately 30 feet in length, blackish-gray in color, three feet in diameter, with a rounded head, fleshy body and long neck. It had a pair of small elevating front flippers, and a large fan-like tail, which Maye noted "Provided the creature with powerful forward propulsion through the water." Some have been quick to declare that Maye's descriptions of the creature constitute proof of the existence of Cadborosaurus willsi, or Caddy as it is more popularly known. Sightings of the mysterious sea creature known as Caddy have been reported as early as the 1920's and have been concentrated principally along the coast of the pacific Northwest of the united States, British Columbia and Southern Alaska. Pell and his colleagues remain skeptical of the Caddy claim, but are at a loss to explain Maye's illustration as any other known species.

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