Around here, “Watson and the Shark” is the John Singleton Copley painting of Brook Watson’s rescue from a shark in Havana. The Museum of Fine Arts has one of several copies Copley made for Watson.
At English Historical Fiction Authors, Mimi Matthews recently wrote about another shark and another Watson:
On January 1, 1787, some fishermen spied a shark in the [Thames] river and, with much difficulty, captured the creature and drew it into their boat. The shark was alive, but, as [author George Henry] Birch states, “apparently sickly.” The cause of his illness was soon discovered. Upon taking him ashore and cutting him open, the fishermen found within his body a silver watch, chain, and “cornelian” seal. A 1787 edition of the Northampton Mercury reports that they also found:In a storm off Falmouth, the Annual Register for 1787 finished the story, “Master Thompson fell overboard, and was no more seen.” But his father bought the shark as a memorial; one newspaper even said that “he calls [the fish] his son’s executor.”
“…some Pieces of Gold Lace, which were conjectured to have belonged to some young Gentleman, who was swallowed by that voracious Fish.”
On further examination, it was found that the watch was engraved with the maker’s name and number: Henry Watson, London, No. 1369. Mr. Watson lived in Shoreditch and, when applied to for information regarding that particular watch, the Northampton Mercury reports that Mr. Watson revealed that he had:
“…sold the Watch two Years ago to a Mr. Ephraim Thompson, of Whitechapel, as a Present for his Son on going out on his first Voyage (as what is called a Guinea-Pig) on board the ship Polly, Capt. Vane, bound to Coast and Bay.”
The term “guinea pig” appears as British maritime slang as early as 1767, and a generation later was specified to mean a midshipman in the East India service.