Centinell Sea-veales and stones

October 9, 2008

In his Britain, William Camden wrote about seals in Huntcliffe, in the Tees Valley.

Neere unto Hunt-cliffe, and not farre from the shore there appeare aloft at a vale water certaine Rockes, about which the fishes that wee call Seales, short (as some thinke) for Sea-veales, meete together in droves to sleepe and sunne themselves: and upon that rocke which is next unto the shore, there lieth one, as it were to keepe the Centinell: and as any man approcheth neere, he either by throwing downe a big stone, or by tumbling himselfe into the water with a great noise, giveth a signall to the rest to looke unto themselves and get into the water. Most affraid they bee of men: against whom when they chase them, they being destitute of water fling backeward with their hinder feete a cloud, as it were, of sand and gravell stones, yea and often times drive them away: For women they care not so much: and therefore whosoever would take them, use to bee clad in womens apparell. In the same coast are found stones, some of yellowish, others of a reddish colour, and some againe with a rough cast crust over them of a certaine salt matter, which by their smell and taste make shew of Coperose, Nitre, and Brimstone: and also great store of Marquesites in colour resembling brasse.

Marquesite, or marcasite, is often called white iron pyrite or iron sulfide. It is crumbly and sparkly, like a metallic charcoal. The seals excerpt is amusing, but this book is worth noting as it contains a lot of detail of stones and gems found on the British coast in the seventeenth century. It often takes a mythological tone, such as in this passage about the fishermen of Skengrave who worry that the sea will eat them:

Upon the shore, Sken grave a little Village is much benefited by taking great store of fish: where also, by report, was caught a Sea-man about 70. yeeres since, that for certaine daies together fed of raw fishes: but espying his opportunity escaped away unto his proper element againe. Whensoever the windes are laied, and that upon still weather the sea is most calme, and the water lieth as one would say levell and plaine without any noise: there is heard heere many times on a sudden a great way off, as it were, an horrible and a fearefull groning: at which time the fishermen dare not launch out farre into the deepe, as beleeving according to their shallow reach, that the Ocean is a fell and cruell beast, and being then very hungry desireth greedily in that sort to devoure mens bodies.

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