• Exhibitions

    Exhibitions

    We have regular exhibitions on interesting subjects...

Mermaids & Merpeople: A Maritime Mystery

Date: June 1st to November 1st, 2020.

What are mermaids? Where do they come from? Do they really exist?

HMS Unicorn’s summer exhibition explores the history of different legendary maritime creatures and the myths behind them. These tales and traditions come from across the globe and date back to the earliest civilisations.

This exhibition has been curated in partnership with Dr Charles Paxton, Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews.

Scroll down to read more about the stories from the exhibition.


  • The First Mermaid

    The first recorded description of a mermaid-like creature comes from Ancient Mesopotamia.

    There was a goddess known as Atargatis or Decreto, who had the body of a fish but the head of a woman.

    Greek historian Diodalus of Sicily wrote about the goddess in his great work Bibliotheca Historica.

    The First Mermaid

    The first recorded description of a mermaid-like creature comes from Ancient Mesopotamia.

    There was a goddess known as Atargatis or Decreto, who had the body of a fish but the head of a woman.

    Greek historian Diodalus of Sicily wrote about the goddess in his great work Bibliotheca Historica.

  • Mermaids and Columbus

    Did you know that famous Italian explorer Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids in the West Indies?

    On his visit to Haiti in 1493, Columbus reported to the Admiralty that he saw three mermaids standing high out of the water, with faces somewhat similar to human beings.

    This was his second mermaid sighting as he had previously seen them in Guinea, along the Pepper coast.

    Mermaids and Columbus

    Did you know that famous Italian explorer Christopher Columbus reported seeing mermaids in the West Indies?

    On his visit to Haiti in 1493, Columbus reported to the Admiralty that he saw three mermaids standing high out of the water, with faces somewhat similar to human beings.

    This was his second mermaid sighting as he had previously seen them in Guinea, along the Pepper coast.

  • Sea Giants

    One of the most terrifying types of merpeople reported throughout history have been “Sea Giants”.

    The English sailor Job Hortop, who was pressed into service with the Spanish Navy in the 1570s, spotted a sea giant while sailing around the Caribbean.

    He wrote, “we discovered a monster in the sea, who showed himself, three times to us from the middle upwards, in which parts he was proportioned like a man.”

    Sea Giants

    One of the most terrifying types of merpeople reported throughout history have been “Sea Giants”.

    The English sailor Job Hortop, who was pressed into service with the Spanish Navy in the 1570s, spotted a sea giant while sailing around the Caribbean.

    He wrote, “we discovered a monster in the sea, who showed himself, three times to us from the middle upwards, in which parts he was proportioned like a man.”

  • Animal or Myth?

    Mermaids as half-human, half-fish animals are a zoological impossibility. But does this mean that everyone who claims to have witnessed one was either lying or hoaxed?

    The most common theory for mermaids is that what people really spotted was a manatee or dugong. 

    Both these marine mammals come from the family of animals known as Sirenians, named after the mythical sirens of antiquity.

    Animal or Myth?

    Mermaids as half-human, half-fish animals are a zoological impossibility. But does this mean that everyone who claims to have witnessed one was either lying or hoaxed?

    The most common theory for mermaids is that what people really spotted was a manatee or dugong. 

    Both these marine mammals come from the family of animals known as Sirenians, named after the mythical sirens of antiquity.

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