Richard Mattaign and the mer-maid
“… once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
That the rude sea grew civil at her song,
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea-maid’s music.”
— from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
In 1848, a 25-year-old Liverpool sailor named Richard Mattaign boarded the Ocean Monarch at Liverpool. The ship was bound for the United States, but when she was passing within six miles of the Great Orme, off the coast of North Wales, tragedy struck. An immigrant passenger aboard the Ocean Monarch mistook a ventilator for a chimney and lit a fire which soon spread throughout the ship.
People panicked and dozens crawled along the bowsprit at the front of the ship to escape the flames, while others were burnt to death. Some were forced to jump into the raging sea. Richard Mattaign staggered onto deck suffering from smoke inhalation, then fell over the ship’s rail into the sea.
Hundreds perished in the tragedy. Survivor Richard Mattaign awoke and saw a full moon in the sky. He felt weak, and he looked around and found himself being pulled along in the waves. A woman with a very pale complexion and long black hair had her arms under his arms, and she was swimming through the waves. Richard Mattaign thought he was hallucinating and passed out. When he regained consciousness, he was on a beach at Hoylake. Standing over him was a naked woman. It was the woman with the pallid face who had rescued him from the sea. It was a sultry August night, and Mattaign didn’t feel cold. He felt weak, but he got to his feet. As he did, the strange woman backed away from him, then ran in the moonlight down the beach to the sea.
Mattaign said: ‘No, wait, who are you?’ And he watched as the woman walked into the sea. She kept walking until her head dipped under the waves. Richard Mattaign was convinced he had been rescued from the shipwreck by a mermaid, and he told people but they thought he was mad.
The only person who believed Mattaign was an old sailor named O’Connell, because he said he had seen what he called ‘the people of the sea’ when he lived near Black Rock, off the coast of Leasowe. The legend of the Black Rock mermaid goes back into the mists of time, and for hundreds of years, people have heard the sound of a submerged bell ringing beneath the waves. It’s said to be the bell of a church that sank in medieval times.
Mattaign journeyed to Leasowe and secured employment there, and his behaviour became increasingly odd. He said he had met the mermaid who had saved him as he was bathing in the sea. Strangely enough, several other people did see him on several occasions with a woman, who would always vanish. Mattaign said the mermaid was guarded by a seal and a long swordfish which had attacked him until the woman of the deep called it off. This swordfish had a blue diamond shape between its eyes.
Mattaign ended up in the sailors home, where he related his tales about the merfolk. He said that one day, he saw a cloudy disturbance in the water, and three men appeared out of the waves. They took the mermaid back to depths of the sea, and he never saw her again. Just before Mattaign died he asked to be buried at sea so he could be reunited with the mermaid he loved, but Mattaign was put in a pauper’s grave.
Strangely enough, a month after he died, a huge swordfish was caught near Perch Rock. It had a distinctive blue diamond-shaped blaze pattern between its eyes.