The Famous Tay Whale

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"The Famous Tay Whale" is a poem by William Topaz McGonagall about a humpback whale hunted and killed in 1883 in the Firth of Tay near Dundee, Scotland, then the UK's main whaling port. The Tay whale came to public prominence when it was subject to a public dissection by Sir John Struthers and taken on a tour of the UK. Its skeleton now resides in the McManus Galleries in Dundee city centre.[1][2]

The dissection of the Tay whale by John Struthers, wearing a top hat, in the left of the photograph

McGonagall's poem was set to music by the composer Mátyás Seiber in 1958. The premiere performance of this work – scored for orchestra, foghorn, espresso coffee machine and narrator – took place at the second of Gerard Hoffnung's music festivals, with Edith Evans in the role of the narrator.[3] In 2013, the poem was scored for two SATB choirs by Finnish composer Jaakko Mantyarvi in a commission for the Yale Glee Club and Princeton Glee Club's centennial pre-football game concert.[4]


  1. ^ M. J. Williams (June 1996). "Professor Struthers and the Tay whale". Scottish Medical Journal 41 (3): 92–94. PMID 8807706. Archived from the original on 3 March 2006. Retrieved 19 June 2008. 
  2. ^ "McGonagall Online: The Famous Tay Whale". Retrieved 19 June 2008. 
  3. ^ "William McGonagall (1830?–1902) The Famous Tay Whale", Representative Poetry Online, version 3.0 (University of Toronto), retrieved 14 January 2012 
  4. ^ Princeton University Glee Club