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The Hancock Mermaid

Look out for our Mermaid in the Explore! Gallery of the Great North Museum: Hancock. She’s hiding in one of the specimen drawers.

This rather gruesome looking curiosity is the Hancock Museum’s very own Mermaid. It  was presented to the  Natural History Society of Northumbria by Mr M Walther in 1906 and has continued to fascinate visitors ever since.

Our Mermaid is thought to be a Ningyo, a fish-like creature from Japanese folklore described as having a crest of thick fur on the top of its head, a monkey like mouth with small sharp fish-like teeth and golden scales.  The creature had a hypnotic singing voice like a Siren and was feared by fishermen, if caught it was immediately thrown back into the sea to prevent bad luck and stormy weather.  It was also believed that eating the flesh of a Ningyo would give you eternal life.

There are on number of these oddities still to be found in other museums around the world. Often recorded as ‘Japanese Monkey Fish’ they were originally made in Japan by the local fishermen as votive offerings to the gods of the sea for a good harvest of fish. During the Victorian era, as tourism increased, they were actually made to sell to gullible visitors as the bizarre relics of mummified mermaids. In the 1840’s the showman P T Barnum exhibited his amazing specimen of the Feejee Mermaid to credulous Americans to great acclaim, until they realised that they had been duped.

The Hancock Mermaid has a monkey-like head with sharp teeth and a fine head of hair, the body is made out of plaster attached to the tail of a fish and the nails are glued on. She also appears to sport a bushy moustache and is probably a rare Merman similar to the one in the Horniman Museum in London.

Find out more about the Horniman Mysterious Merman here

Read Audrey Glasgow’s interesting blog on our Mermaid here

Visit our library on the 2nd floor of the Great North Museum:Hancock to learn more about  P T Barnum’s Feejee Mermaid, its a great read!

Jan Bondeson. (1999). The Feejee mermaid and other essays in natural and unnatural history. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.