On this day in 1700, Thomas Hyde wrote to Thomas Bowrey from Christchurch, Oxford. Hyde, at this time librarian at the Bodleian Library, was an orientalist who was helping Bowrey with his Malay-English Dictionary and other language projects.
I today’s letter he sent a number of words and phrases as well as further advice before returning to a subject he mentions over and over again in his letters. Hyde had an interest is all oriental curiosities and Bowrey’s part in the relationship was to obtain items and information via his mariner contacts. The one curiosity that Hyde obsessed about more than any other was the hand of a merman.
The merman was said to have been killed by Captain Juniper off the coast of Denmark and the merman’s hand cut off for display in England. The merman’s body was said to be 70 feet long. Hyde wanted to know if the story was true.
Manatees are usually said to be the origin of tales of mermaid sightings but there is a traditional Danish story of Agenet and the Merman and it is possible that this is the origins of the stories Hyde had heard. An underwater sculpture now commemorates the story.