The September issue of Fortean Times reveals my discovery of what may be the very first British Government inquiry into ‘UFO’ sightings – in 1865.
‘The False Lights’ were mysterious revolving lights seen above a rocky headland at Whitburn, county Durham, by mariners negotiating a hazardous stretch of the northeast coast.
During a ten year period from 1860 more than 150 ships were wrecked on the rocks near Whitburn after following a light or lights in the sky which they wrongly believed were from a lighthouse at the mouth of the Tyne.
Accusations were made against local fishermen who, some believed, were deliberately luring ships onto the rocks to steal their cargoes.
The Government stepped in after Durham MP Sir Hedworth Williamson tabled questions in the House of Commons.
And in December 1865, a commission of inquiry led by Rear Admiral Sir Richard Collinson travelled to Sunderland to investigate. Although the mystery was mentioned by Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned (1919), as far as I am aware this is the first time anyone has obtained access to government files compiled at the time.
Read more: Dr David Clarke