Britain’s Last Great Auk Was Killed as a Witch

In July 1840, the last great auk in Britain was killed by three men on the island of St. Kilda in Scotland. Species have been regularly hunted to extinction throughout human history, so it is no surprise that the same fate befell the great auk, a bird that is similar in appearance to a penguin. What is surprising about the death of the last great auk in the British Isles is the reason for its murder: its killers suspected it was a witch.

The species had been on the decline since the start of the Little Ice Age in the 1600s. Further decimation by Europeans, who used their down to stuff pillows and who stole their eggs to sell to collectors, prompted Great Britain to pass a law in 1775 that banned hunting great auks for their feathers or eggs. Penalties could be severe, and there are reports of people being flogged for violating the law, but the damage had already been done. In addition, it was still legal to kill the birds to use as fishing bait or other purposes. By the early 1800s, auks had largely disappeared from British shores.

0d47eeef2abf05521f71-1e80f65b3c6327b7cb4b0619fd21f75b.r59.cf2.rackcdn.com
0d47eeef2abf05521f71-1e80f65b3c6327b7cb4b0619fd21f75b.r59.cf2.rackcdn.com

It is no wonder, then, that the men who spied the last British great auk on the islet of Stac an Armin in St. Kilda’s, Scotland, were intrigued by it. They probably knew what kind of bird it was due to the legends that surrounded it on St. Kilda’s. They captured the auk and took it back to their cottage so they could think about what to do with it. They kept it there for three days.

At some point during the days of the bird’s captivity, a fierce storm blew up. The men were trapped alone in their bare shelter, unable to return to the main island of St. Kilda’s. The isolation and fear of the storm must have affected their minds in some way, as they began to suspect that the great auk in their possession was actually a witch with the power to create the storm that now assaulted them. The men decided to kill the bird to try to stop the storm, and they reportedly beat it to death with either stones or sticks. Soon, the storm passed, and they left the body of the bird behind.

Thus ended the life of the last great auk in Britain. Not long after this, the bird species was completely killed off when the last known pair were hunted down in Iceland, and their lone egg accidentally crushed. Now, the only place you can see a great auk is in a museum, where some taxidermied bodies are kept. Sadly, the practice of killing the birds to be used as preserved specimens in museums and private collections was one of the practices that led to their extinction.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • A World Ruled By Dinosaurs?

    It seems this could very well have been the case, had that infamous world ending meteor hit just 30 seconds later. Imagine that, instead of having to be on the lookout for bears on your nature trek you may have been on the look-out for a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex! A new theory regarding the extinction...

    Read More
  • The Unstoppable Iron Mike

    If you thought Iron Man was indestructible wait until you hear about Michael Malloy or Mike The Durable as his friends liked to call him. Malloy was a firefighter who lives in New York City during the 1920s but by 1933 he was homeless and had fallen deep into the clutches of alcoholism. You see...

    Read More
  • You Want To Live Forever? Start By Getting A Dog.

    Next time you find yourself screaming at your dog in anger because the young puppy chewed up your shoes, tore down your curtains or ruined your sofa, do keep this in mind: Buddy may actually be adding years on your life! In Sweden, researchers followed over 3 million people over the age of forty for...

    Read More
  • The Town That Respectfully Maintained The Grave Of A Toilet

    General George Smith Patton was a highly decorated senior officer of the United States Army, he is best known for commanding the U.S Third Army during the Allied liberation of Normandy in June 1944. His military exploits are well noted and documented, in fact, he is seen as one of the greatest war generals to...

    Read More
  • New Evidence Shows Menopause Treatment Not a Cancer Risk

    An exciting major new study has found that taking hormone replacement therapy to counter the symptoms of menopause does not increase a woman’s risk of early death. Researchers in the early 2000s discovered a link between women taking HRT for over five years and a higher risk of cancer. It even detailed how patients could...

    Read More
  • The Mysterious tale of Lucky Lord Lucan

    Some claim it to be one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th Century and when you dive into the story it really just begs the question - what in the world happened to Lucky Lord Lucan? On November 7, 1974, Lord Richard John Bingham the Seventh Earl of Lucan murdered his wife’s nanny by...

    Read More
  • A French Noblewoman Who Became a Ferocious Pirate Legend

    During the height of the Hundred Years War between England and France, one French noblewoman became feared throughout France for her ferocious never-ending appetite for revenge. Jeanne de Clisson with the help of the English outfitted three warships and caused havoc to any French ships crossing the English channel. Some may say privateer but at...

    Read More
  • The Native American Who Saved the Pilgrims

    Many of us are familiar with the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, but have you heard of Squanto, the Patuxet Native American from Cape Cod Bay that saved the Pilgrims from disease and disaster? Squanto was a young man when, in 1614, he was abducted by Spanish conquistadors. He was forcefully taken by ship back...

    Read More