Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Monday 18 January 2010


Pekingese, in 1931 photograph

The little-known folk story of the Cornish daisy dog must surely be one of the strangest and most unlikely of all historical legends - so unlikely, in fact, that it might actually be based upon fact!

An age-old legend whose origin is long lost in the mists of the past, this tragic, eerie saga is set in Elizabethan times, when England's redoubtable Tudor monarch, the Virgin Queen, was renowned throughout Europe - and beyond, it would seem. For her fame allegedly even traversed the Orient, capturing the attention of the emperor of China, who decided to present her with a lavish gift commensurate with her illustrious stature.

In China, the small, pug-nosed, plume-tailed, silky-furred dogs nowadays known as pekingeses were valued more highly than gold or even the rarest of precious gems. Only the emperor was permitted to own them, and even in his palatial household they were venerated almost as gods. Consequently, the emperor decided to bestow upon Queen Elizabeth I the greatest honour possible - by presenting her with a pair of pekingeses. The male would wear a resplendent jewelled collar, and its mate would be carefully housed within an exquisite ivory casket as a kennel, wrapped in gold-embroidered silk.

Obviously, such priceless, semi-divine creatures could not be sent to England unaccompanied, without being accorded the necessary entourage that their sacred status demanded. And so it was that when their ship left China on the first stage of its journey to England, the two dogs were accompanied by a royal princess as their personal guardian, together with a mandarin as the princess's own protector, an immense quantity of gold, plus a team of bodyguards and slaves, to ensure that the ship reached its far-off port of call safely.

Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans are not always successful, and the lengthy sea journey proved far more arduous than the emperor and his advisors had anticipated when planning it. Indeed, by the time that the party had finally begun to approach England, a merciless combination of disease, death, and violent confrontations with pirates and other savage maritimers had seen all of the gold stolen or lost, and had reduced the once-sizeable party down to just a handful of survivors - the princess, the mandarin, a single slave, and the dogs, though these were no longer two in number. Despite the severity of prevailing conditions, the female pekingese had successfully given birth to a thriving litter of puppies!

In order to complete their voyage, the party had boarded a local fishing vessel, to navigate safely the treacherous waters swirling off the Cornish coast. Ironically, this sensible decision was to be their doom. The Cornish sailors began to fear the silent, inscrutable princess and mandarin, believing them to be adept in the black arts, and fearing that they would bring disaster to the vessel and everyone aboard. However, they had also heard rumours about the party's reputed quantity of gold. Inevitably, the deadly alliance of fear and greed worked their evil way, inciting the sailors to mutiny.

Ruthlessly they murdered their captain, who had agreed to take the Chinese party on board, then they murdered the mandarin and slave, and threw the terrified princess overboard. At last, the gold was theirs! But where was it? Long gone, of course, but they did not know that. One of the sailors opened the ivory casket in which they assumed the gold would be, but when he stretched his hand inside he screamed, and withdrew it at once, wiping blood from several sharp bites inflicted by the pekingeses inside.

Whether from septicaemia or merely the potent power of superstitious fear, the bitten sailor died soon afterwards - compelling the others, regardless of their former gold lust, to hurl the casket overboard and quickly sail away.

The turbulent waves soon carried the casket and the dead body of the princess onto the beach of a deserted inlet, where they were found by a simple but kind-hearted man. When he saw that the princess was dead, and when he opened the broken casket, only to find inside the bodies of the female pekingese and her puppies, all of whom were also dead, he cried. Then he saw something move inside one of the princess's long sleeves, and as he looked closer he saw a tiny dog crouching there. It was the male pekingese, fatally weakened but still alive.

Watched closely by this sole survivor of the Chinese party, the man set to work and dug a grave for the dead princess and dogs, burying them all together on that lonely, desolate shore, so far away from their oriental homeland. He could not say any prayers, so instead he planted daisies in the shape of the Cross over the grave. Then he very gently placed the male pekingese on top of the daisies. The little dog feebly wagged its tail, licked the man's face, and died. Turning away, the man walked back home, his eyes full of tears.

This stretch of shore soon acquired the reputation of an evil, accursed place, and was rarely visited. However, those few who were brave enough to venture there claimed to have seen a mound of earth bearing a cross of daisies on top - and also to have spied a small pug-nosed, silky-tailed ghost dog with a plume-like tail lying among the flowers, guarding the grave. Referred to as the daisy dog, according to local lore it will not hesitate to bite anyone attempting to disturb the grave, and anyone bitten by this eerie dream-like animal inevitably dies shortly afterwards.

This could all be dismissed as a curious myth, were it not for the fact that descriptions of the daisy dog, some dating back over two centuries, compare very closely indeed with the Chinese pekingese. What makes this so significant, and enigmatic, is that the pekingese was totally unknown in Britain until the 1860s, when, following the downfall of the Manchu emperors and the sacking of the Summer Palace, some pekingeses were transported to England for the first time.

So how can we explain accurate descriptions of the Cornish daisy dog as a Chinese pekingese that pre-date 1860 - unless a pair of these dogs was indeed sent from China to England back in Tudor times? Perhaps somewhere along the wilder regions of Cornish coastline, there really is a seldom-visited bay containing a grave marked by a cross of daisies that holds the secret - and a phantom canine guardian that intends to ensure that it remains a secret?

Photo is copyright Jneh from Wikipedia.

NB - There is actually a recently-developed non-purebred strain of domestic dog known as the daisy dog, which is a crossbreed of bichon frise, poodle, and shih tzu.

1 comment:

  1. Many years ago I came across this legend and illustrated it.
    I have never tried to publish it but have included it on my website