Jane Austen

Earthquakes and Storms – Regency Style

Earthquakes and storms! Last week was quite eventful here in the Washington, D.C., area. Luckily we got through it unscathed. Just a little fear from the earthquake and only a few buildings damaged (this image showing damage to the National Cathedral is from The Atlantic Wire ). Just a lot a twigs and leaves from the hurricane here at our house, although there were several trees down in the Washington, DC area.

I got to wondering what such events would be like during the Regency?

Would there even be an earthquake in the British Isles? Seems even more unlikely than in Northern Virginia. Turns out, I found one—almost. In The London, Edinburg, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, Vol. XXI, July-Dec 1842, was an article titled On The Earthquake Felt In Parts Of Cornwall, On February 17, 1842. Not exactly Regency era, but close enough!

The experiences recounted in the article were remarkably like how people experienced the earthquake in Virginia.

At Berkeley Vale, Falmouth:

About twenty minutes before nine a.m., I heard a peculiar rumbling sound, more like the moaning of the wind than thunder, which was immediately followed by a shaking of the doors and windows of the house, the whole effect lasting about half a minute. In the environs of the town of Falmouth, the noise particularly attracted attention, and although but few speak of any tremor, yet all describe it either as resembling the fall of a heavy body, or like a distant explosion. Many persons were fully persuaded a steam vessel had blown up in the harbour.

This about describes what I felt in my house, and many people around this area, still recalling 9/11, first thought of an explosion, a bomb.

The article goes on:

An intelligent person, captain of Poldory mine, describes it thus :—” I imagined some of the empty railroad waggons had been let go at the top of the incline, and were rapidly rushing past the door of my house: my neighbour, a widow woman, ran out shrieking that the side of her house was coming in.”

Many here thought the initial sound came from trucks rumbling by. I was, by the way, the modern version of that widow woman above.

I could not find information about hurricanes in Regency England, although there were many accounts of hurricanes in the West Indies and “the Colonies.” What I did find was a description of a gale from the Annual Register, Vol. 60, for the year 1818.

On March 5, 1818, was this report from Portsmouth:

The whole of last night it blew the most tremendous gale from the S. S. E. that can be remembered. The Hamsley, of and from Sunderland, sunk between the buoys of the Horse and the Elbow; the crew took to the rigging, and were all fortunately saved this morning at day light by a pilotboat that went off to their relief. During the gale, the whole of the wood-work of the new Pier at Ryde was washed away, and several houses to the eastward of the pier washed down. The ships in the roads and harbour rode out the gale. The Lively cutter had her bulwarks washed away; the brig Assiduous, Jenkins, parted from one of her anchors; the brig Shillelagh had her boats washed over her side; and the Tamar sloop of war slipped one of her cables.

Images from the Hurricane Irene hitting the east coast came to mind while I read this. Houses damaged. Piers washed away. How our ships took off for the high seas in anticipation of the storm. People needing rescue. Boats damaged.

In the more heavily flooded areas of New York and New Jersey, I watched reports of the rescue of two young men who were caught in the flood. There were reports of several people who tried to be out and about during and after the storm who experienced difficulties.

Here is more of that report from 1818 Portsmouth:

It is with regret that we must close this disastrous relation by stating, the drowning of the Hon. Mr. Thellusson (brother of Lord Rendlesham), Mr. Hassall (son of J. Hassall, Esq. of Hartshorn, county of Derby), and Mr. Leeson (son of the Hon. Mrs. Leeson), all midshipmen of his Majesty’s ship Tiber, who left that ship, soon after the gale commenced, in a wherry, which was pooped by a sea at the mouth of the harbour, and was never seen afterward: the waterman (Brown) and a boy also perished. These young gentlemen, who were most highly esteemed by their brother officers, were tempted to leave the ship at this hazardous moment by their anxious desire to see the performance of Mr. Kean that evening.

I guess young men can be foolish in any era.

Did you have any problems with the earthquake or the hurricane? If not these events, what about earthquakes and storms of years past?

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11 years ago

Glad to see you here, without damage. We have regular dust storms that make national news, but I pay little attention to them. That being said, I have learned to stay home and close doors and windows, and turn off the A/C. I’ve watched them for so many years, I can now see a wall of dust approaching and know how much time I have to “close down” the house. We’ve had microbursts, tornadoes, and stunning electrical storms. When I lived in Thailand, there was a typhoon, and we didn’t try to go anywhere, probably because of all my years of dealing with the hazards of dust storms.

Jane George
11 years ago

Oh dear, they lost their lives for love of the theater. I can relate to the article tho, there are days I feel ‘pooped by a sea at the mouth of a harbour.’

I experienced the Loma Prieta quake, living on Nob Hill in SF in 1989. Strange experience. The cats didn’t care for it.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

Glad to see you escaped last week’s shake and showers, O Divine One!

Never experienced an earthquake, but I’ve ridden out my share of hurricanes and tornadoes. I must admit the tornadoes are scarier. Here in Alabama they tend to pop up or drop out of the sky with little to no warning at times. At least with a hurricane you can see it coming!

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Judy, I’ve never experienced a dust storm!

Jane George, I’m with the cats!

Louisa, tornadoes are very frightening. One came near here and I remember the air turning green outside.

I just saw the news footage from the Northeast. My god! I had no idea the flooding was so bad. My heart goes out to all those affected. The loss of life has increased too. Tragic.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

Yes, O Divine One, those of us who have lived in the South for many years tend to watch the skies on those days when the air is quilt thick and still. A tinge of green in the sunrise is almost a guarantee you will be seeing tornado activity close by.

Green sky, rain, then darkness, silence and finally an eerie calm just before the sound of a thousand fighter jets throttling back. The key is to get to cover before it gets quiet. The quiet means it is right on top of you.

The flooding looks absolutely devastating in the Northeast. I was so in hopes everyone would dodge the bullet on this one.

11 years ago

Here in NE TN there was very little effect from either event. The rest of my family didn’t fare as well. My sister lives across the river from Jamestown, VA. Their house took no damage and they have a generator, so no problems. Irene actually did them a favor. She broke of branches and several shrubs that our son-in-law was supposed to trim. Roads in the area were blocked by trees yesterday, but I’m sure that will be cleared soon.
My brother lives on the coast of CT. Trees are down all over, and a neighbor 4 doors down had his house split in two by a tree, They also have no power and no generator. They are camping out in their house. Their daughter got her power back Monday PM, so they are going to try and get their freezer stuff to her tomorrow. He is going to organize a neighborhood cookout to fix what everyone has in their fridge and freezer that might spoil. He has mostly yard damage. One thing he noted is that he has been swarmed by hummingbirds since the storm. He has two feeders out and has been making sure to keep them full.

My first experience with both earthquakes and hurricanes came while I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines. I was awaken by a 3 one morning the first week or so in country. Some time my second year I think, I was in downtown Manila when a 7.5 hit. The streets were actually rolling in waves and the cars were bouncing all over the place. There were days of constant aftershocks. Don’t want to repeat that one.
The hurricane experience also happened when I was in Manila for a meeting. Neither the government nor the news media warned anyone it was coming. When asked why later, they said no one would be interested. It was a massive storm. I had just gotten to the office when it moved in and had to take the local bus back to the house where i was staying in the suburbs. By the time I got there, the wind and rain were blowing so hard I could hardly walk and the water was calf deep. I pounded and yelled at the gate to the house for several minutes before someone heard me and let me in. I don’t think I have ever been so wet. That storm did lots of damage to the city.

Elena Greene
11 years ago

Although we’re in upstate NY, we are far enough inland that all we experienced (luckily) was a very rainy day. My heart goes out to those who’ve lost loved ones or homes.

Had this been the Regency we wouldn’t have known a hurricane missed us until news reports a few days later, perhaps.

11 years ago

Elena, I hope you didn’t take any damage from Irene. My family is in Northern NY and I know how bad it was from just a bit south of there down to Albany and further south.

Janet Mullany
11 years ago

People here don’t realize how many hurricanes take place in England. They are referred to as “gales” or “a bit of a wind.”

I found Irene extraordinarily relaxing–two days without power but gas for cooking and baths, lots of candles and reading matter. The power came on just as I finished my library books.

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