Account of several remarkable earthquakes, which happened in various quarters of the world

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Account of several remarkable earthquakes, which happened in various quarters of the world (1801)
3238614Account of several remarkable earthquakes, which happened in various quarters of the world1801





Various Quarters of the World;


Direful Consequences that have accrued, from those Dreadful


Collected from good Authorities.




Remarkable Earthquakes.

Kircher's Account of the Earthquake in Calabria, in 1638.

ON the 24th of March, we lanched (in a small boat) from the harbour of Messina in Sicily, and arrived the same day at the promontory of Pelorus. Our destination was for the city of Euphemia in Calabria; but on account of the weather, we were obliged to continue three days at Pelorus. At length wearied with the delay, we resolved to prosecute our voyage; and although the sea seemed more than usually agitated, yet we ventured forward. The gulph of Charybdis, which we approached, seemed whirled round in such a manner as to form a vast hollow, verging to a point in the centre. Proceeding onward, and turning my eyes to Mount Ætna, I saw it cast forth large volumes of smoke, of mountainous size, which entirely covered the island, and blotted out even the shores from my view. This, together with the dreadful noise, and the sulphurous stench, which was strongly perceived, filled me with apprehensions that some more dreadful calamity was impending. The sea itself seemed to wear a very unusual appearance; those who have seen a lake in a violeut shower of rain all covered over with bubbles, will have some idea of its agitations. My surprise was still increased by the calmness and serenity of the weather: not a breeze, not a cloud, which might be supposed to put all nature thus into motion I therefore warned my companion, that an earthquake was approaching; and, after some time, making for the shore with all possible diligence, we landed at Propaea. But we had scarce arrived at the Jesuits college in that city, when our ears were stunned with an horrid sound, resembling that of an infinite number of chariots driven fiercely forward, the wheels rattling and the thongs cracking. Soon after this, a most dreadful earthquake ensued; so that the whole crack upon which we stood seemed to vibrate, as if we were in the scale of a balance that continued raving. This motion, however, soon grew more violent; and being no longer able to keep my legs, I was thrown prostrate upon the ground. After some time, finding that I remained unhurt amidst the general concussion, I resolved to venture for safety; and running as fast as I could, reached the shore. I did not search long here, till I found the boat in which I had landed, and my companions also. Leaving this seat of desolation, we prosecuted our voyage along the coast; and the next day came to Rochetta, where we landed, although the earth still continued in violent agitations. But we were scarce arrived at our inn, when we were once more obliged to return to our boat; and in about half an hour we saw the greatest part of the town, and the inn at which we had set up, dashed to the ground and burying all its inhabitants beneath its ruins. Proceeding onward in our little vessel, we at length landed at Lopizium, a castle mid-way between Propaea and Euphemia the city to which we were bound. Here, wherever I turned my eyes, nothing but scenes of ruin and horror appeared; towns and castles levelled to the ground; Stromboli, though at 60 miles distance, belching forth flames in an unusual manner, and with a noise which I could distinctly hear. But my attention was quickly turned from more remote to contiguous danger. The rumbling sound of an approaching earthquake, which by this time we were grown acquainted with, alarmed us for the consequences. It every moment seemed to grow louder, and to approach more near. The place on which we stood now began to shake most dreadfully; so that, being unable to stand, my companions and I caught hold of whatever shrub grew next us, and supported ourselves in that manner. After some time, the violent paroxysm ceasing, we again stood up, in order to prosecute our voyage to Euphemia, which lay within sight. In the mean time, while we were preparing for this purpose, I turned my eyes towards the city, but could see only a frightful dark cloud, that seemed to rest upon the place: this the more surprised us as the weather was so very serene. We waited, therefore till the cloud was passed away: then turning to look for the city, it was totolly sunk, and nothing but a dismal and putrid lake was to be seen where it stood.

Account of the Earthquake that happened in Jamaica in 1692.

In 1692, an Earthquake happened in Jamaica-In two minutes, it destroyed the town of Port Royal, at that time the capital of the island; and sunk the houses in a gulph 40 fathoms deep. It was attended with an hollow rumbling noise like that of thunder, the streets rose like the waves of the sea, first lifting up the houses, and then immediately throwing them down into deep pits. All the wells discharged their waters with the most violent agitation. The sea burst over its bounds, and deluged all that stood in its way. The fissures of the earth were in some places so great, that one of the streets appeared twice as broad as formerly. In many places it opened and closed again, and continued this agitation for some time. Of these openings great numbers might be seen at once. In some of them, the people were swallowed up at once; in others the earth caught them by the middle, and crushed them to death; while others, more fortunate were swallowed up in one chasm, and thrown out alive by another. Other chasms were large enough to swallow up the whole streets; and others still more formidable, spouted up immense quantities of water, drowning such as the earthquake had spared. The whole was attended with stenches and offensive smells, the noise of falling mountains at a distance &c.; and the sky, in a minute's time, was turned dull and reddish, like a glowing oven. Yet, as great a sufferer as Port-Royal was, more houses were left standing therein than on the whole island besides. Scarce a planting-house, or sugar-house, was left standing in all Jamaica. A great part of them were swallowed up, houses, people, trees and all, in one gap: in lieu of which afterwards appeared great pools of water; which, then dried up left nothing but sand, without any mark that ever tree or plant had grown thereon. The shock was so violent, that it threw people down on their knees or their faces as they were running about for shelter. Several houses were shuffled some yards out of their places, and yet continued standing. One Hopkins had his plantation removed half a mile from the place where it stood, without any considerable alteration. All the wells in the island, as well as those of Port-Royal, from one fathom to six or seven deep, threw their water out of the top with great violence. Above 12 miles from the sea, the earth gaped and spouted out, with a prodigious force, vast quantities of water into the air: yet the greatest violences were among the mountains and rocks; and it is a general opinion, that the nearer the mountains, the greater the shock; and the cause thereof lay among them. Most of the rivers were stopped up for 24 hours by the falling of the mountains; till swelling up, they made themselves new tracks and channels; tearing up, in their passage, trees, &c After the great shock, those people who escaped got on board ships in the harbour, where many continued above two months; the shocks all that time being so violent, and coming so thick, sometimes two or three in an hour, accompanied with frightful noises like a rushing wind, or a hollow rumbling thunder, with brimstone blasts, that they durst not come ashore. The consequence of the earthquake was a general sickness, from the noisome vapours belched forth, which swept away above 3000 persons.

Of the Earthquake in Sicily, in 1693

IN 1693 an earthquake happened in Sicily which may justly be accounted one of the most terrible of which we have any account. It shook the whole island: and not only that, but Naples and Malta shared in the shock. It was impossible for any body in this country to keep on their legs on the dancing earth; nay, those that lay on the ground were tossed from side to side as on a rolling billow; high walls leaped from their foundations several paces &c. The mischief it did is amazing; almost all the buildings in the countries were thrown down. Fifty-four cities and towns, beside an incredible number of villages, were either destroyed or greatly damaged. We shall only instance the fate of Catania, one of the most famous, ancient, and flourishing cities in the kingdom; the residence of several monarchs, and an university. this once famous city had the greatest share in the tragedy. Father Anthon Serrovita, being on his way thither and at the distance of a few miles, observed a black cloud like night hovering over the city; and there arose from the mouth of Montgibello great spines of flame, which spread all around, the sea all of a sudden began to roar and rise in billows; and there was a blow, as if all the artillery in the world had been at once discharged. The birds flew about astonished; the cattle in the fields ran crying, &c. His and his companions horses stopped short, trembling; so that they were forced to alight. They were no sooner off, but they were lifted from the ground above two palms, when casting his eyes towards Catania, he with amazement saw nothing but a thick, cloud of dust in the air. This was the scene of their calamity, for of the magnificent Catania, there was not the least footstep to be seen. So Bonajutus assures us, that of 18900 inhabitants, 18000 perished therein.

This, and the two preceding accounts are taken from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 3a Edit. vol 6—EAR.

An account of the Great Earthquake, that happened at Lisbon, November the first 1755.

'THERE never was a finer morning seen than the first of November (1755); the sun shone out in its full lustre; the whole face of the sky was perfectly serene and clear, and not the least signal or warning of that approaching event, which has made this one flourishing, opulent, and populous city a scene of the utmost horror and desolation, except only such as served to alarm, but scarcely left a moment's time to fly from the general destruction.

'It was on the morning of this fatal day, between the hours of nine and ten, that I was sat down in my apartment, just finishing a letter, when the papers and table I was writing on began to tremble with a gentle motion, which rather surprized me, as I could not perceive a breath of wind stirring; whilst I was reflecting with myself what this could be owing to, but without having the least apprehension of the real cause, the whole house began to shake from the very foundation, which at first I imputed to the rattling of several coaches in the main street, which usually passed that way, at this time, from Belem to the palace; but on hearkening more attentively, I was soon undeceived, as I found it was owing to a strange frightful kind of noise under ground, resembling the hollow distant rumbling of thunder; all this passed in less than a minute, and I must confess I now began to be alarmed, as it naturally occurred to me, that this noise might possibly be the forerunner of an earthquake, as one I remembered, which had happened about six or seven years ago, in the Island of Madeira, commenced in the same manner, though it did little or no damage.

'Upon this I threw down my pen, and started upon my feet, remaining a moment in suspence, whether I should stay in the apartment, or run into the street, as the danger in both places seemed equal; and still flattering myself that this tremor might produce no other effects than such inconsiderable ones as had been felt at Madeira; but in a moment I was roused from my dream, being instantly stunned with a most horrid crash, as if every edifice in the city had tumbled down at once. The house I was in shook with such violence, that the upper stories immediately fell, and though my apartment (which was the first floor) did not then share the same fate, yet every thing was thrown out of its place in such a manner, that it was with no small difficulty I kept my feet, and expected nothing less than to be soon crushed to death, as the walls continued rocking to and fro in the frightfullest manner, opening in several places, large stones falling down on every side from the cracks, and the ends of most of the rafters starting out from the roof. To add to this terrifying scene, the sky in a moment became so gloomy, that I could now distinguish no particular object, it was an Egyptian darkness indeed, such as might be felt; owing, no doubt, to the prodigious clouds of dust and lime, raised from so violent a concussion, and as some reported, to sulphureous exhalations, but this I cannot affirm; however, it is certain I found myself almost choaked for near ten minutes.

'As soon as the gloom began to disperse, and the violence of the shock seemed pretty much abated, the first object I perceived in the room was a woman sitting on the floor, with an infant in her arms, all covered with dust, pale and trembling: I asked her how they got hither: but her consternation was so great that she could give me no account of her escape; I suppose, that when the tremor first began, she ran out of her own house, and finding herself in such imminent danger from the falling of stones, retired into the door of mine, which was almost continuous to her's, for shelter, and when the shock increased, which filled the door with dust and rubbish ran up stairs into my apartment which was then open; be it as it might, this was no time for curiosity. I remember the poor creature asked me, in the utmost agony, if I did not think that the world was at an end; at the same time she complained of being choaked, and begged for God's sake I would procure her a little drink; upon this I went to a closet where I kept a large jar with water (which you know is sometimes a pretty scarce commodity in Lisbon) but finding it broken in pieces, I told her she must not now think of quenching her thirst, but saving her life, as the house was just falling on our heads, and if a second shock came, would certainly bury us both. I bade her take hold of my arm, and that I would endeavour to bring her into some place of security

'I shall always look upon it as a particular providence that I happened on this occasion to be undressed, for had I dressed myself, as I proposed, when I got out of bed, in order to breakfast with a friend, I should, in all probability, have run into the street at the beginning of the shock, as the rest of the people in the house did, and consequently have had my brains dashed out, as every one of them had; however, the imminent danger I was in did not hinder me from considering that my present dress, only a gown and slippers, would render my getting over the ruins almost impracticable. I had, therefore, still presence of mind enough left to put on a pair of shoes and a coat, the first that came in my way which was every thing I saved, and in this dress I hurried down stairs the woman with me, holding by my arm, and made directly to that end of the street that opens to the Tagus, but finding the passage this way entirely blocked up with the fallen houses to the height of their second stories, I turned back to the other end which led into the main street (the common thoroughfare to the palace) and having helped the woman over a vast heap of ruins, with no small hazard to my own life, just as we were going into the street, as there was one part I could not well climb over without the assistance of my hands, as well as feet, I desired her to let go her hold, which she did, remaining two or three feet behind me, at which time there fell a vast stone, from a tottering wall, and crushed both her and the child in pieces: so dismal a spectacle at any other time would have affected me in the highest degree, but the dread I was in of sharing the same fate myself, and the many instances of the same kind which presented themselves, all around, were too shocking to make me dwell a moment on this single object.

'I had now a long narrow street to pass, with the houses on each side four or five stories high, all very old, the greater part already thrown down, or continually falling, and threatening the passengers with inevitable death at every step, numbers of whom lay killed before me, or what I thought far more deplorable—so bruised and wounded that they could not stir to help themselves: For my own part, as destruction appeared to me unavoidable, I only wished I might be made an end of at once, and not have my limbs broken in which case I could expect nothing else but to be left upon the spot, lingering in misery, like those poor unhappy wretches, without receiving the least succour from any person.

'As self-preservation, however, is the first law of nature, these sad thoughts did not so far prevail, as to make me totally despair. I proceeded on as fast as I conveniently could, though with the utmost caution, and having at length got clear of this horrid passage I found myself safe and unhurt in the large open space before St Paul's church, which had been thrown down a few minutes before, and buried a great part of the congregation, that was generally pretty numerous this being reckoned one of the most populous parishes in Lisbon. Here I stood some time, considering what I should do, and not thinking myself safe in this situation, I came to the resolution of climbing over the ruins of the west end of the church, in order to get to the river side, that I might be removed, as far as possible, from the tottering houses, in case of a second shock.

'This, with some difficulty I accomplished, and here I found a prodigious concourse of people, of both sexes, and of all ranks and conditions, among whom I observed some of the principal canons of the patriarchal church, in their purple robes and rochets, as these all go in the habit of bishops; several priests who had run from the altars in their sacerdotal vestments in the midst of their celebrating mass; ladies half dressed, and some without shoes; all these, whom their mutual dangers had here assembled as to a place of safety, were on their knees at prayers, with the terrors of death in their countenances, every one striking his breast, and crying out incessantly, Miserecordia meu Dios

'In the midst of our devotions, the second great shock came on, little less violent than the first, and completed the ruin of those buildings which had been already much shattered. The consternation now became so universal that the shrieks and cries of Miserecordia could be distinctly heard from the top of St. Catherine's hill at a considerable distance off, whither a vast number of people had likewise retreated; at the same time we could hear the talk of the parish church there, whereby many persons were killed on the spot, and others mortally wounded. You may judge of the force of this shock, when I inform you, it was so violent, that I could scarce keep on my knees, but it was attended with some circumstances still more dreadful than the former—On a sudden I heard a general outcry 'The sea is coming in, we shall be all lost'—Upon this, turning my eyes towards the river, which in that place is near four miles broad, I could perceive it heaving and swelling in a most unaccountable manner, as no wind was stirring; in an instant there appeared, at some small distance, a large body of water, rising like a mountain; it came on foaming and roaring and rushed towards the shore with such impetuosity, that we all immediately ran for our lives as fast as possible; many were actually swept away, and the rest above their waist in water at a good distance from the banks. For my own part, I had the narrowest escape and should certainly have been lost, had I not grasped a large beam that lay on the ground, till the water returned to its channel, which it did almost at the same instant, with equal rapidity. As there now appeared at least as much danger from the sea as the land, and I scarce knew whither to retire for shelter, I took a sudden resolution of returning back with my cloaths all dropping, to the area of St. Paul's: here I stood some time, and observed the ships tumbling and tossing about, as in a violent storm; some had broken their cables, and were carried to the other side of the Tagus; others were whirled round with incredible swiftness; several large boats were turned keel upwards; and all this without any wind, which seemed the more astonishing. It was at the time of which I am now speaking, that the fine new quay, built of rough marble, at an immense expence, was entirely swallowed up, with all the people on it, who had fled thither for safety, and had reason to think themselves out of danger in such a place; at the same time a great number of boats and small vessels, anchored near it (all likewise full of people, who had retired thither for the same purpose) were all swallowed up, as in a whirlpool, and never more appeared.

'This last dreadful incident I did not see with my own eyes as it passed three or four stone throws from the spot where I then was, but I had the account as here given from several masters of ships, who were anchored within two or three hundred yards of the quay, and saw the whole catastrophe. One of them in particular informed me, that when the second shock came on, he could perceive the whole sky waving backwards and forwards like the sea when the wind first begins to rise; that the agitation of the earth was so great even under the river, that it threw up his large anchor front the mooring, which swam, as he termed it, on the surface of the water; that immediately upon this extraordinary concussion, the river rose at once near twenty feet, and in a moment subsided; at which instant he saw the quay, with the whole concourse of people upon it, sink down, and at the same time every one of the boats and vessels that were near it were drawn into the cavity, which he supposes instantly closed upon them, inasmuch as not the least sign of a wreck was ever seen afterwards. This account you may give full credit to, for as to the loss of the vessels, it is confirmed by every body; and with regard to the quay, I went myself a few days after to convince myself of the truth, and could not find even the ruins of a place where I had taken so many agreeable walks, as this was the common rendezvous of the factory in the cool of the evening. I found it all deep water, and in some parts scarcely to be fathomed.

'This is the only place I could learn which was swallowed up in or about Lisbon, though I saw many large cracks and fissures in different parts, and one odd phenomenon I must not omit, which was communicated to me by a friend who had a house and wine-cellars on the other side of the river, viz. that the dwelling-house being first terribly shaken, which made all the family run out, there presently fell down a vast high rock near it, that upon this the river rose and subsided in the manner already mentioned, and immediately a great number of small fissures appeared in several contiguous pieces of ground, whence there spouted out like a jet d'eau a large quantity of fine white sand, to a prodigious height.

'I had not been long in the area of St. Paul's, when I felt the third shock, which though somewhat less violent than the two former, the sea rushed in again, and retired with the same rapidity, and I remained up to my knees in water, though I had gotten upon a small eminence at some distance from the river, with the ruins of several intervening houses to break its force. At this time I took notice the waters retired so impetuously, that some vessels were left quite dry, which rode in seven fathom water: the river thus continued alternately rushing on and retiring several times together in such sort, that it was justly dreaded Lisbon would now meet the same fate, which a few years ago had befallen the city of Lima.

'Perhaps you may think the present doleful subject here concluded; but, alas! the horrors of the first of November, are sufficient to fill a volume. As soon as it grew dark, another scene presented itself little less shocking than those already described—the whole city appeared in a blaze, which was so bright that I could easily see to read by it. It may be said, without exaggeration, it was on fire at least in a hundred different places at once, and thus continued burning for six days together, without intermission, or the least attempt being made to stop its progress.

'I could never learn, that this terrible fire was owing to any subterraneous eruption, as some reported, but to three causes, which all concurring at the same time will naturally account for the prodigious havock it made; the first of November being All Saints Day, a high festival among the Portuguese, every altar in every church and chapel (some of which have more than twenty) was illuminated with a number of wax tapers and lamps, as customary; these setting fire to the curtains and timber work that fell with the shock, the conflagration, soon spread to the neighbouring houses and being there joined with the fires in the kitchen chimnies, increased to such a degree, that it might easily have destroyed the whole city, though no other cause had concurred, especially as it met with no interruption.

‘But what would appear incredible to you, were the fact less public and notorious is, that a gang of hardened villains, who had been confined, and got out of prison when the wall fell, at the first shock, were busily employed in setting fire to those buildings, which stood some chance of escaping the general destruction

'The fire, by some means or other, may be said to have destroyed the whole city, at least every thing that was grand or valuable in it, and the damage on this occasion is not to be estimated.

‘The whole number of persons that perished, including those who were burnt, or afterwards crushed to death whilst digging in the ruin, is supposed, at the lowest calculation, to amount to more than sixty thousand; and though the damage in other respects cannot be computed, yet you may form some idea of it, when I assure you that this extensive and opulent city, is now nothing but a vast heap of ruins, that the rich and poor are at present upon a level, some thousands of families which but the day before had been easy in their circumstances, being now scattered about in the fields, wanting every conveniency of life, and finding none able to relieve them.

‘A few days after the first consternation was over, I ventured down into the city by the safest ways I could pick out, to see if there was a possibility of getting any thing out of my lodgings but the ruins were now so augmented by the late fire, that I was so far from being able to distinguish the individual spot where the house stood, that I could not even distinguish the street amidst the mountains of stone and rubbish which rose on every side. Some days after, I ventured down again with several porters, who, having long plied in these parts of the town, were well acquainted with the situation of particular houses; by their assistance, I at last discovered the spot; but was soon convinced, that to dig for any thing there, besides the danger of such an attempt, would never answer the expence.

'On both the times when I attempted to make this fruitless search, especially the first, there came such an intollerable stench from the dead bodies, that I was ready to faint away, and though it did not seem so great this last time, yet it had nearly been more fatal to me, as I contracted a fever by it, but of which, God be praised, I soon got the better. However, this made me so cautions for the future, that I avoided passing near certain places, where the stench was so excessive that people began to dread an infection: a gentleman told me that going into the town a few days after the earthquake, he saw several bodies lying in the streets, some horribly mangled, as he supposed, by the dogs, others half burnt, some quite roasted; and that in certain places, particularly near the doors of churches, they lay in vast heaps piled one upon another.'

Extracted from a Volume of Letters, published a few years ago by the Reverend Mr. Davy.


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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