1. It just eats money
The first piece I could find dates from 1821, headed Singular Circumstance: a bored sailor, with more money than sense, decided to use dollars (coins presumably) as bait. He chucked one over the side then, finding bait and hook missing, tried another, and another. All with the same result. Four days and 300 miles later, someone else on the same boat caught a shark “which contained two of the hooks baited with two of the dollars. In about fifteen minutes after, a dolphin was caught, which contained the other hook and dollar.”
2. Plat du jour
1823 was a bit of a bumper year. First report was a news in brief, treating the shark’s contents as a nicely balanced dinner menu: "He was found to contain a sheep, a calf's head and feet, a horse foot (marine animal), a sea-owl, and several articles to serve as trimmings"
What on earth is a sea-owl - anyone know?
3. He’s not heavy ... any more
Next up, in the same year, was a macabre story from the West Indies, “Curious facts”: "On opening the shark the instrument struck upon an impenetrable hard substance in his stomach, which, upon digging out, they found to be a six pound cannon ball"
Fair enough, but why would he have eaten it? The report speculates that the cannon ball had been attached to a human body, to make it sink, and that the body had been digested.
4. Ship's papers
A deeply bizarre story, dating from the American War of Independence: sailors on a British ship caught a shark with a lump of pork. The thrifty captain ordered them to save the pork to use again, and when they opened up the shark they found a bundle of papers relating to an American brig, the Nancy, which was masquerading as a neutral vessel. Read the original – it’s straight out of Patrick O’Brien.
5. Best bib and tucker
This graphic report, from New Orleans in 1856, more or less says it all on this subject: "We have read many fish stories, and they are generally of that tenour that the very name inclines one to disbelieve them."
But of course, having said that, here is one story that absolutely can be vouched for:
Some days ago, the captain of a ship at anchor outside the Pass threw overboard a shark hook baited, not expecting in the least, as the captain himself says, to catch anything of the fish tribe. There was hooked, however, a shark of the spotted kind, and, as it afterwards proved, a regular 'man-eater' … His size and weight may be imagined from the fact that it took 11 men to hoist him in, with a double lift on the mainyard. The monster … had seven rows of teeth, three of the rows being almost hidden in the upper gums ... In his paunch was found the body of a man in a half decomposed state. So far as could be judged, the corpse was that of a well-dressed man, of medium size - shirt white, with pearl buttons, coarse silk undershirt, cotton socks, and shoes nearly new, of the Congress gaiter kind. The shark had also in his stomach several pieces of old canvass, such as are used by vessels on their rigging.
6. So good, they ate it twice
OK, now we’re in the realms of the seriously silly: the steamer Jutland, of Hull, was caught in a storm and a goose, belonging to the second engineer, Mr Tate, was washed overboard. The goose, of course, had a label tied round one of its legs carrying its owner’s name and address, so when it was subsequently found inside a shark by the captain of a fishing smack, it could be returned. Mr Tate was delighted, and had it cooked up for his dinner the next day.
7. Catching crabs
More mundanely, this monster specimen from the South Pacific, caught in Moreton Bay, Brisbane, contained a miscellaneous collection of eats, “among which may be mentioned a sheep skin and an unusually large crab”
8. Made for swallowing
This rather bald report just records, Shark caught at Fiume: "The stomach contained a pair of human feet with boots on them"
9. Turtle soup, nearly
Great story from 1922 about a giant turtle which, amazingly, survived being swallowed and was rescued and taken to the New York Aquarium where, “recovering from cuts and shock”, he was christened Jonah
10. Fingerprints still legible
Back to the macabre, in fact could this be the only murder evidence retrieved from inside a shark? A shark was caught in Sydney harbour and transported, alive, to an aquarium whereupon it was sick, quite reasonably. One thing that came up was a tattooed human arm: "From tattoo marks and finger prints, the arm was identified as belonging to James Smith who, police believe, was murdered and thrown in the sea"
That’s ten, but here’s a bonus, a proper old sailor’s yarn:
1922: A shark and The Times "The shark, 14 feet long, was hauled on board, and on cutting it open a copy of The Times was found in its stomach". The explanation was that a "mail steamer had passed a few hours before, someone had thrown overboard his Times, and a shark following the ship had swallowed it"
And you could still read it. No smudgy ink in those days