Book of the Damned Chapter XXI
Knowledge, Dec. 28, 1883:
"SEEING so many meteorological phenomena in your excellent paper,
Knowledge, I am tempted to ask for an explanation of the following,
which I saw when on board the British India Company's steamer Patna
while on a voyage up the Persian Gulf. In May, 1880, on a dark night,
about 11:30 p. m., there suddenly appeared on each side of the ship an
enormous luminous wheel whirling round, the spokes of which seemed to
brush the ship along. The spokes would be 200 or 300 yards long, and
resembled the birch rods of the dames' schools. Each wheel contained about
sixteen spokes and, although the wheels must have been some 500 or 600
yards in diameter, the spokes could be distinctly seen all the way round.
The phosphorescent gleam seemed to glide along flat on the surface of the
sea, no light being visible in the air above the water. The appearance of
the spokes could be almost exactly represented by standing in a boat and
flashing a bull's-eye lantern horizontally along the surface of the water,
round and round. I may mention that the phenomenon was also seen by
Captain Avern, commander of the Patna, and Mr. Manning, third
"Lee Fore Brace.
"P.S. -- The wheels advanced along with the ship for about twenty
minutes. -- L. F. B."
Knowledge, Jan. 11, 1884:
Letter from "A. Mc. D.":
That "Lee Fore Brace," "who sees `so many meteorological phenomena in
your excellent paper,' should have signed himself `The Modern Ezekiel,'
for his vision of wheels is quite as wonderful as the prophet's." The
writer then takes up the measurements that were given, and calculates the
velocity at the circumference of a wheel, of about 166 yards per second,
apparently considering that especially incredible. He then says: "From the
nom de plume he assumes, it might be inferred that your correspondent is
in the habit of `sailing close to the wind.'" He asks permission to
suggest an explanation of his own. It is that before 11:30 p. m. there had
been numerous accidents to the "main brace," and that it had required
splicing so often that almost any ray of light would have taken on a
In Knowledge, Jan. 25, 1884, Mr. "Brace" answers and signs
himself "J. W. Robertson":
"I don't suppose `A. Mc. D.' means any harm, but I do think it's rather
unjust to say a man is drunk because he sees something out of the common.
If there's one thing I pride myself upon, it's being able to say that
never in my life have I indulged in anything stronger than water." From
this curiosity of pride, he goes on to say that he had not intended to be
exact, but to give his impressions of dimensions and velocity. He ends
amiably: "However, `no offence taken, where I suppose none is meant.'"
To this letter Mr. Proctor adds a note, apologizing for the publication
of "A. Mc. D's." letter, which had come about by a misunderstood
instruction. Then Mr. Proctor wrote disagreeable letters, himself, about
other persons -- what else would you expect in a quasi-existence?
The obvious explanation of this phenomenon is that, under the surface
of the sea, in the Persian Gulf, was a vast luminous wheel: that it was
the light from its submerged spokes that Mr. Robertson saw, shining
upward. It seems clear that this light did shine upward from origin below
the surface of the sea. But at first it is not so clear how vast luminous
wheels, each the size of a village, ever got under the surface of the
Persian Gulf: also there may be some misunderstanding as to what they were
A deep-sea fish, and its adaptation to a dense medium --
That, at least in some regions aloft, there is a medium dense even to
A deep-sea fish, brought to the surface of the ocean: in a relatively
attenuated medium, it disintegrates --
Super-constructions adapted to a dense medium in inter-planetary space
-- sometimes, by stresses of various kinds, they are driven into this
earth's thin atmosphere --
Later we shall have data to support just this: that things entering
this earth's atmosphere disintegrate and shine with a light that is not
the light of incandescence: shine brilliantly, even if cold --
Vast wheel-like super-constructions -- they enter this earth's
atmosphere, and, threatened with disintegration, plunge for relief into an
ocean, or into a denser medium.
Of course the requirements now facing us are:
Not only data of vast wheel-like super-constructions that have relieved
their distresses in the ocean, but data of enormous wheels that have been
see in the air, or entering the ocean, or rising from the ocean and
continuing their voyages.
Very largely we shall concern ourselves with enormous fiery objects
that have either plunged into the ocean or risen from the ocean. Our
acceptance is that, though disruption may intensify into incandescence,
apart from disruption and its probable fieriness, things that enter this
earth's atmosphere have a cold light which would not, like light from
molten matter, be instantly quenched by water. Also it seems acceptable
that a revolving wheel would, from a distance, look like a globe; that a
revolving wheel, seen relatively close by, looks like a wheel in few
aspects. The mergers of ball-lightning and meteorites are not resistances
to us: our data are of enormous bodies.
So we shall interpret -- and what does it matter?
Our attitude throughout this book:
That here are extraordinary data -- that they never would be exhumed,
and never would be massed together, unless --
Here are the data:
Our first datum is of something that was once seen to enter an ocean.
It's from a puritanic publication, Science, which has yielded us
little material, or which, like most puritans, does not go upon a spree
very often. Whatever the thing could have been, my impression is of
tremendousness, or of bulk many times that of all meteorites in all
museums combined: also of relative slowness, or of long warning of
approach. The story, in Science, 5-242, is from an account sent
to the Hydrographic Office, at Washington, from the branch office, at San
That, at midnight, Feb. 24, 1885, Lat. 37 N., and Long. 170 E., or
somewhere between Yokohama and Victoria, the captain of the bark
Innerwich was aroused by his mate, who had seen something unusual in
the sky. This must have taken appreciable time. The captain went on deck
and saw the sky turning fiery red. "All at once, a large mass of fire
appeared over the vessel, completely blinding the spectators." The fiery
mass fell into the sea. Its size may be judged by the volume of water cast
up by it, said to have rushed toward the vessel with a noise that was
"deafening." The bark was struck flat aback, and "a roaring white sea
passed ahead." "The master, an old, experienced mariner, declared that the
awfulness of the sight was beyond description."
In Nature, 37-187, and L'Astronomie, 1887-76, we are
told that an object, described as "a large ball of fire," was seen to rise
from the sea, near Cape Race. We are told that it rose to a height of
fifty feet, and then advanced close to the ship, then moving away,
remaining visible about five minutes. The supposition in Nature
is that it was "ball lightning," but Flammarion, "Thunder and Lightning,"
p. 68, says that it was enormous. Details in the American
Meteorological Journal, 6-443 -- Nov. 12, 1887 -- British steamer
Siberian -- that the object had moved "against the wind" before
retreating -- that Captain Moore said that at about the same place he had
seen such appearances before.
Rept. Brit. Assoc., 1861-30:
That, upon June 18, 1845, according to the Malta Times, from
the brig Victoria, about 900 miles east of Adalia, Asia Minor (36
40' 56", N. Lat: 13 44' 36" E. Long.) three luminous bodies were seen to
issue from the sea, at about half a mile from the vessel. They were
visible about ten minutes.
The story was never investigated, but other accounts that seem
acceptably to be other observations upon this same sensational spectacle
came in, as if of their own accord, and were published by Prof.
Baden-Powell. One is a letter from a correspondent at Mt. Lebanon. He
describes only two luminous bodies. Apparently they were five times the
size of the moon: each had appendages, or they were connected by parts
that are described as sail-like or streamer-like, looking like "large
flags blown out by a gentle breeze." The important point here is not only
suggestion of structure, but duration. The duration of meteors is a few
seconds: duration of fifteen seconds is remarkable, but I think there are
records up to half a minute. This object, if it were all one object, was
visible at Mt. Lebanon about one hour. An interesting circumstance is that
the appendages did not look like trains of meteors, which shine by their
own light, but "seemed to shine by light from the main bodies."
About 900 miles west of the position of the Victoria is the
town of Adalia, Asia Minor. At about the time of the observation reported
by the captain of the Victoria, the Rev. F. Hawlett, F. R. A. S.,
was in Adalia. He, too, saw this spectacle, and sent an account to Prof.
Baden-Powell. In his view it was a body that appeared and then broke up.
He places duration at twenty minutes to half an hour.
In the Report of the British Association, 1860-82, the
phenomenon was reported from Syria and Malta, as two very large bodies
Rept. Brit. Assoc., 1860-77:
That, at Cherbourg, France, Jan. 12, 1836, was seen a luminous body,
seemingly two-thirds the size of the moon. It seemed to rotate on an axis.
Central to it there seemed to be a dark cavity.
For other accounts, all indefinite, but distortable into data of
wheel-like objects in the sky, see Nature, 22-617; London
Times, Oct. 15, 1859; Nature, 21-225; Monthly Weather
That, upon the morning of Dec. 20, 1893, an appearance in the sky was
seen by many persons in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. A
luminous body passed overhead, from west to east, until at about fifteen
degrees in the eastern horizon, it appeared to stand still for fifteen or
twenty minutes. According to some descriptions it was the size of a table.
To some observers it looked like an enormous wheel. The light was a
brilliant white. Acceptably it was not an optical illusion -- the noise of
its passage through the air was heard. Having been stationary, or having
seemed to stand still fifteen or twenty minutes, it disappeared, or
exploded. No sound of explosion was heard.
Vast wheel-like constructions. They're especially adapted to roll
through a gelatinous medium from planet to planet. Sometimes, because of
miscalculations, or because of stresses of various kinds, they enter this
earth's atmosphere. They're likely to explode. They have to submerge in
the sea. They stay in the sea awhile, revolving with relative
leisureliness, until relieved, and then emerge, sometimes close to
vessels. Seamen tell of what they see: their reports are interred in
scientific morgues. I should say that the general route of these
constructions is along latitudes not far from the latitudes of the Persian
Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 28-29:
That, upon April 4, 1901, about 8:30, in the Persian Gulf, Captain
Hoseason, of the steamship Kilwa, according to a paper read
before the Society by Captain Hoseason, was sailing in a sea in which
there was no phosphorescence -- "there being no phosphorescence in the
I suppose I'll have to repeat that:
"...there being no phosphorescence in the water."
Vast shafts of light -- though the captain uses the word "ripples" --
suddenly appeared. Shaft followed shaft, upon the surface of the sea. But
it was only a faint light, and, in about fifteen minutes, died out: having
appeared suddenly; having died out gradually. The shafts revolved at a
velocity of about 60 miles an hour.
Phosphorescent jelly fish correlate with the Old Dominant: in one of
the most heroic compositions of disregards in our experience, it was
agreed, in the discussion of Capt. Hoseason's paper, that the phenomenon
was probably pulsations of long strings of jelly fish.
Reprint of a letter from R. E. Harris, Commander of the A.H.N. Co.'s
steamship Shahjehan, to the Calcutta Englishman, Jan.
That upon the 5th of June, 1880, off the coast of Malabar, at 10 p. m.,
water calm, sky cloudless, he had seen something that was so foreign to
anything that he had ever seen before, that he stopped his ship. He saw
what he describes as waves of brilliant light, with spaces between. Upon
the water were floating patches of a substance that was not identified.
Thinking in terms of the conventional explanation of all phosphorescence
at sea, the captain at first suspected this substance. However, he gives
his opinion that it did no illuminating but was, with the rest of the sea,
illuminated by tremendous shafts of light. Whether it was a thick and oily
discharge from the engine of a submerged construction or not, I think that
I shall have to accept this substance as a concomitant, because of another
note. "As wave succeeded wave, one of the most grand and brilliant, yet
solemn, spectacles that one could think of, was here witnessed."
Jour. Roy. Met. Soc., 32-280:
Extract from a letter from Mr. Douglas Carnegie, Blackheath, England.
Date some time in 1906 --
"This last voyage we witnessed a weird and most extraordinary electric
display." In the Gulf of Oman, he saw a bank of apparently quiescent
phosphorescence: but, when within twenty yards of it, "shafts of brilliant
light came sweeping across the ship's bow at a prodigious speed, which
might be put down as anything between 60 and 200 miles an hour." "These
light bars were about 20 feet apart and most regular." As to
phosphorescence -- "I collected a bucketful of water, and examined it
under the microscope, but could not detect anything abnormal." That the
shafts of light came up from something beneath the surface -- "They first
struck us on our broadside, and I noticed that an intervening ship had no
effect on the light beams: they started away from the lee side of the
ship, just as if they had travelled right through it."
The Gulf of Oman is at the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 33-294:
Extract from a letter by Mr. S.C. Patterson, second officer of the P.
and O. steamship Delta: a spectacle which the Journal
continues to call phosphorescent:
Malacca Strait, 2 a. m., March 14, 1907:
"...shafts which seemed to move round a center -- like the spokes of a
wheel -- and appeared to be about 300 yards long." The phenomenon lasted
about half an hour, during which time the ship had travelled six of seven
miles. It stopped suddenly."
A correspondent writes that, in October, 1891, in the China Sea, he had
seen shafts or lances of light that had had the appearance of rays of a
searchlight, and that had moved like such rays.
Report to the Admiralty by Capt. Evans, the Hydrographer of the British
That Commander J. E. Pringle, of the H. M. S. Vulture, had
reported that, at Lat. 26 26' N., and Long. 53 11' E. -- in the Persian
Gulf -- May 15, 1879, he had noticed luminous waves or pulsations in the
water, moving at great speed. This time we have a definite datum upon
origin somewhere below the surface. It is said that these waves of light
passed under the Vulture. "On looking toward the east, the
appearance was that of a revolving wheel with a center on that bearing,
and whose spokes were illuminated, and, looking toward the west, a similar
wheel appeared to be revolving, but in the opposite direction. Of finally
as to submergence -- "These waves of light extended from the surface well
under the water." It is Commander Pringle's opinion that the shafts
constituted one wheel, and that doubling was an illusion. He judges the
shafts to have been about 25 feet broad, and the spaces about 100 feet.
Velocity about 84 miles an hour. Duration about 35 minutes. Time 9:40 p.
m. Before and after this display the ship had passed through patches of
floating substance described as "oily-looking fish spawn."
Upon page 428 of this number of Nature, E. L. Moss says that,
in April, 1875, when upon the H. M. S. Bulldog, a few miles north
of Vera Cruz, he had seen a series of swift lines of light. He had dipped
up some of the water, finding in it animalcule, which would, however, not
account for phenomena of geometric formation and high velocity. If he
means Vera Cruz, Mexico, this is the only instance we have out of oriental
Scientific American, 106-51:
That, in the Nautical Meteorological Annual, published by the
Danish Meteorological Institute, appears a report upon a "singular
phenomenon" that was seen by Capt. Gabe, of the Danish East Asiatic Co.'s
steamship Bintang. At 3 a.m., June 10, 1909, while sailing
through the Straits of Malacca, Captain Gabe saw a vast revolving wheel of
light, flat upon the water -- "long arms issuing from the center around
which the whole system appeared to rotate." So vast was the appearance
that only half of it could be seen at a time, the center lying near the
horizon. This display lasted about fifteen minutes. Heretofore we have not
been clear upon the important point that forward motions of these wheels
do not synchronize with a vessel's motions, and freaks of disregard, or
rather, commonplaces of disregard, might attempt to assimilate with lights
of a vessel. This time we are told that the vast wheel moved forward,
decreasing in brilliancy, and also in speed of rotation, disappearing when
the center was right ahead of the vessel -- or my own interpretation would
be that the source of light was submerging deeper and deeper and slowing
down because meeting more and more resistance.
The Danish Meteorological Institute reports another instance:
That, when Capt. Breyer, of the Dutch steamer Valentijn, was
in the South China Sea, midnight, Aug. 12, 1910, he saw a rotation in
flashes. "It looked like a horizontal wheel, turning rapidly." This time
it is said that the appearance was above water. "The phenomenon was
observed by the captain, the first and second mates, and the first
engineer, and upon all of them it made a somewhat uncomfortable
In general, if our expression be not immediately acceptable, we
recommend to rival interpreters that they consider the localization --
with one exception -- of this phenomena, to the Indian Ocean and adjacent
waters, or Persian Gulf on one side and China Sea on the other side.
Though we're Intermediatists, the call of attempted Positivism, in the
aspect of Completeness, is irresistible. We have expressed that from few
aspects would wheels of fire in the air look like wheels of fire, but, if
we can get it, we must have observation upon vast luminous wheels, not
interpretable as optical illusions, but enormous, substantial things that
have smashed down material resistances, and have been seen to plunge into
That at the meeting of the British Association, 1848, Sir W.S. Harris
said that he had recorded an account sent to him of a vessel toward which
had whirled "two wheels of fire, which the men described as rolling
millstones of fire." "When they came near, an awful crash took place, the
topmasts were shivered to pieces." It is said that there was a strong