Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Fearful Descriptions

The large and potentially threatening nature of sharks may have been behind Frederick McCoy's particular attraction to them. Or perhaps he was aware that his descriptions of those he encountered, whether from the safety of the beach or as dead specimens in the laboratory, would make riveting reading for both the Victorian general public and an international natural history audience.

Whatever the reason, McCoy seems to have been especially inspired when describing them. Like some popular naturalists of today, he was quite willing to mix 'true science' with juicy anecdotes, and in the relative isolation of colonial Victoria, he was not above citing quite outlandish claims made by others.

There can be no doubt that our fish, here figured, is the same as the terrible "White Shark" sometimes found on the English coasts, and more common in the West Indies; probably the most dreaded by sailors of all Sharks from its great size, strength, and ferocity.

The fearful armature of the mouth with rows of great triangular serrated teeth renders any wound fatal; and the size, even in our waters, is often so great that a man could be swallowed whole with ease, as Capt. King mentions in his Survey of Australia; Blumenbach, the famous anatomist, who was a perfectly trustworthy authority, mentions a whole horse being found in one.

White Pointer in Shark Case at the National Museum on University grounds.
White Pointer, Carcharodon carcharias, by Arthur Bartholomew.
White Pointer, Carcharodon carcharias, by Arthur Bartholomew.