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The Black Rock Mermaid

An entire cycle of stories relates to a mermaid who was sighted off Leasowe, or Wallasey, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The first account was written down in an eighteenth century chapbook. Entitled ‘The Wonder of Wonders,’ the story describes the adventures of one John Robinson, mariner, who encountered a mermaid on the Black Rock ‘nigh Liverpool,’ and it is as follows:

 

On the 29th April last one Mr. James Dixon Captain and Commander of the Ship Dolin in her passage from Amsterdam in Holland, was beat back by a tempestuous Wind and all the Men perished except a young Man named John Robinson, who was taken very ill on board the Ship, and was left by Almighty Providence, and to the Mercy of the Seas and Winds, and was also in great Fear and dreadful fright on the Main Ocean, for the said John Robinson dreamt that he was on the top of an High Mountain, whose top he thought rech’d up to the Heavens, and that there was a fine castle, about the Circumference of a Mile, and furnished with all sorts of Diamonds, and precious Stones, and likewise on the top of the Mountain was a well, which Water was as sweet as Honey and as white as Milk, that whomsoever drank of that Water should never be dry again; with all sorts of Musick very delightful to hear, so one would think, as one suppos’d seven years in that place, not so long as a Day.

 

After having view’d the Castle round he observed to his great Admiration, a beautiful young Lady, who was guarded by Seven Serpents, very frightful to behold.

 

Suppose the young Lady was very beautiful, yet he wish’d rather to be a Thousand Miles off than in the Sight of those Serpents; and looking round about, he espy’s (to his great Comfort) a green Gate, and a street pav’d with blue Marble, which open’d at his coming to it, and so he got away from the Serpents; But coming to the top of the Hill, he did not know how to get down, it being very high and steep, but he found a Ladder to his Comfort; it being very slender, was afraid to venture, but at last was oblig’d to go down it, for one of the Serpents having taken Notice of him pursued him so very close that he was in great Danger, and thought he fell and broke his leg, and that the Serpent fell upon him, which awaked him in great Fright, and almost made him mad.

 

By this you may think what a great trouble he was in, awaked alone on the Main Ocean, when missing all the rest of the Ships Crew, and also the great Danger he was in.

 

But to his great Amazement, he espy’d a beautiful young Lady combing her head, and toss’d on the Billows, cloathed all in green (but by chance he got the first word with her) then she with a Smile came on board and asked how he did. The young Man being Something Smart and a Scholar, reply’d Madam I am the better to see you in good Health, in great hopes trusting you will be a comfort and assistance to me in this my low Condition; and so caught hold of her Comb and Green Girdle that was about her Waist. To which she replied, Sir, you ought not to rob a young Woman of her Riches, and then expect a favour at her Hands; but if you will give me my Comb and Girdle again, what lies in my power, I will do for you.

 

At which Time he had no Power to keep them from her, but immediately delivered them up again; she then smiling, thank’d him, and told him, If he would meet her again next Friday she wou’d set him on shore. He had no power to deny her, so readily gave his Consent; at which time she gave him a Compass and desired him to Steer South West; he thank’d her and told her he wanted some News. She said she would tell him the next opportunity when he fulfilled his promises; but that he would find his Father and Mother much grieved about him, and so jumping into the Sea she departed out of his sight.

 

At her departure the Tempest ceased and blew a fair Gale to South West, so he got safe on shore; but when he came to his Father’s House he found every Thing as she had told him. for she told him also concerning his being left on Ship board, and how all the Seamen perished, which he found all true what she had told him, according to the promise made him.

 

He was still very much troubled in his Mind, concerning his promise, but yet while he was thus Musing, she appeared to him with a  smiling Countenance and (by his Misfortune) she got the first word of him, so that he could not speak one Word, but was quite Dumb, yet he took Notice of the Words she spoke; and she began to Sing. After which she departed out of the young mans sight, taking from him the Compass.

 

She took a Ring from off her Finger, and put it on the young Man’s, and said, she expected to see him once again with more Freedom. But he never saw her more, upon which he came to himself again, went home, and was taken ill, and died in five Days after, to the wonderful Admiration of all People who saw the young Man.

 

It’s unclear what is meant by ‘the Black Rock.’ This was the old name for what is now called Perch Rock, now home to the famous fort which guards the entrance to the Mersey. Older accounts, however, including the 1610 map of Wirral by the cartographer Speed, refer to a ‘Black Rock’ on the shore of Leasowe, and as we will see, later accounts of mermaids in these waters link her with this area.

 

Tom Slemen records an account from 1848 of another young mariner, Richard Mattaign, who was supposedly rescued from the wreck of the Ocean Monarch, off Great Orme in North Wales, by a naked woman “with a very pale complexion and long black hair” who left him on the shore at Hoylake before walking back into the sea. Mattaign was sure that the woman had been a mermaid, but no one believed him other than an old sailor named O’Connell, who had often seen merfolk off the Leasowe coast.

 

Mattaign found work in Leasowe, and here he reencountered the mermaid while swimming off the shore. She was guarded by a seal and a swordfish with a blue diamond mark between its eyes. One day, three men came from the sea and took the mermaid with them, and Mattaign never saw her again.

 

Mattaign ended up in the sailors’ home and despite his requests for a burial at sea, after his death his body was consigned to a pauper’s grave. A month after his death, a swordfish was caught off Perch Rock. Between its eyes was a strange blue diamond-shaped mark...

 

Finally, at the shore by Leasowe Castle there was once a board that recorded another legend. The story said that on when the tide was full and the moon shone in the sky, at midnight a mermaid could be seen on the nearby boulders known as ‘The Mermaid’s Stones.’

The Mersey Mermaid