December 22, 1843: Earthquake!

From the Star.

On the afternoon of Friday last, a few minutes before four o’clock, the shock of an earthquake1 was felt throughout the whole of this island. Unaccustomed as we are in this happy climate to all the fearful phenomena of nature, general surprise and alarm were created by this occurrence, the more especially as the shock was one of very considerable violence. For some days previous the weather had been perfectly calm, and the temperature so mild, that many persons continued sea bathing; the only remarkable meteorological circumstances being that a luminous body, resembling a clouded moon, was seen over the island at 7 o’clock on Wednesday evening, which continued visible for ten or fifteen minutes, and that the evenings, excepting during the short appearance of the meteor, were impenetrably dark. The whole of Friday, till about three o’clock, had been fine and bright but the sky had a somewhat unusual appearance, the clouds being singularly tinted with pale green, red, and purple. At the time when the shock was felt—seven minutes before four—the sky was partially overcast, and had a rainy appearance, the wind blowing in slight squalls from the southward and south-westward.

At the time above-mentioned, a loud rumbling, or if we may use the expression, undulating noise was heard in every part of the island, accompanied by one or two shocks, which, to our apprehension, had much less affinity to the concussion produced by an explosion, than to the benumbing effect created by electricity. This phenomenon, it is generally agreed, lasted about four seconds, and it was evidently subterranean.

The shock, as we have already stated, was felt in all parts of the island, and everywhere appears to have produced the same effects. Persons out of doors felt the earth heave under them, in some cases so violently as to oblige them to lay hold of the nearest object for support. The banks and hedges of fields were seen to be in motion, and in the houses the goods and furniture were rocked and shaken. Buildings of all kinds were seen to distinctly heave and shake, as well as the pier walls, the iron railings at the south-west corner of the quay, and the massive quay at St Sampson’s harbour. The vane of the Town Church was violently agitated, and the bell struck twice. The inhabitants of the island, unaccustomed as they are to occurrences of this nature, were not at first prepared to attribute the shock to its real cause. Many imagined that heavy pieces of furniture were being moved over their heads, whilst many more believed that their houses were falling, and there was a general rush into the streets. So severely was the shock felt in the office of this paper, that the numerous persons employed, simultaneously and without concert, sought safety out of doors, in the full conviction that the building was falling about their ears. We have not heard of any damage beyond the shaking down of a few tiles, bricks, etc. The accounts which we have collected from various parts of the island differ as to the apparent direction of the shock, and the time of its occurrence. We are inclined to believe that the shock must have taken various directions, guided either by the fissures of the earth, or by other causes acting on the electric field.

With respect to the time at which the phenomenon took place, we are inclined, by a comparison of the statements we have heard, to conclude that it took place simultaneously throughout the whole island, and we are the more inclined to this opinion having heard from Jersey that the shock was felt at that place precisely at the time it occurred at this town—namely seven minutes before four o’clock. We do not find that the sea showed any particular indication of being affected by the cause, whatever it may have been, which produced the shock on land, excepting that during the greater part of the day it was in a vexed and agitated state, although the weather, as we have previously stated, was then, and had been for some days, quite calm. The brig Laura, Captain Chegwin, of this island, and a Dartmouth or Brixham schooner, were beating about in the roads at the time of the above-mentioned occurrence, and the persons on board both vessels distinctly felt the shock, those who were below at the moment believing that they had struck on a rock. Captain CHEGWIN states that he was off Guadaloupe when the earthquake took place on that island, and that the sensation he then felt in his vessel was exactly similar to what he experienced on this occasion. Some persons who were in a fishing-boat, at anchor, about half-a-mile to the southward of the island, also felt the shock. We learn from Sark, that the shock was felt at about the same time and in the same manner as in Guernsey.

Lukis' account of the same earthquake: 'Felt throughout the Channel Islands. On Friday, 22nd December, 1843, at 7 min. before 4 o'clock p.m. Wind SSW, calm, Baro. 30-15, after a month of fine weather a severe shock was felt throughout Guernsey accompanied by several loud detonations as if from explosions of gunpowder. Houses were violently shaken by an action vertical, and Furniture in the different rooms was seen to be in motion. Several bells were heard to ring and clocks to strike. The Town Church was heard to vibrate twice. The noise which accompanied the shock appeared to proceed northward. The weathercock of the Town Church was seen to move violently (not by wind), chimneys fell in the country, and bricks were thrown down from the top of cottages, stones rolled off the hedges.

My front windows were raised about 3/4 of inch by shock. The inhabitants of most houses rushed out into the street. It is said another slight shock was felt by several persons at 20 minutes to 5. 8-20 seconds appeared to be the duration of convulsion.

The effect of this earthquake to many persons walking on the roads was that of a sudden fit of giddiness and a difficulty to prevent falling down. Others felt a sickness at the stomach. A great many conceived that the chimneys of their houses were falling on the roof. Some ludicrous scenes took place at the time. Mr S(arre), tailor, was taking the measure of a coat, when, imagining that the journeymen were suddenly around to a Box about, he ran up on the instant and to his incomprehensible consternation he found them all jumping off their boards on the point of saving themselves by flight. The printers at Barbet's, supposing the office with the weight of types was crumbling about them, sought their safety by flight and simultaneously jumped into a narrow passage, tumbled over each other until they reached the street. At the Star office a similar scene occurred. In most establishments scenes of confusion and dismay took place.' [J P Warren, 'from jottings in an old notebook kept by Mr F C Lukis and preserved at the Lukis museum,' Transactions Soc. Guern. 1931 below.]

The MARQUIS OF NORTHAMPTON, President, In the Chair, An Account of a slight Shock of an Earthquake felt in the Channel Islands. By J. Elliott Hoskins, M.D,, F.R.S.: in a Letter to P. M. Roget, M.D., Sec. R.S., &c. Communicated by Dr. Roget.

The phenomena described in this letter occurred simultaneously in Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Serk, Herm, and Jethou. On Friday, the 22nd of December, at seven minutes before 4 p.m., a noise resembling a distant thunder-clap was heard; this was immediately followed by sounds as of a railroad carriage rumbling over an irregular metallic surface; it was accompanied by distinct undulatory motion. This again was succeeded by a shock; the whole lasting from 10 to 15 seconds. The barometer was uninfluenced, standing at 30:354: a light wind prevailed, varying from S.S.E. to S.S.W. During the whole of the month the air had been peculiarly still, and the barometer uniformly high; the maximum, up to the above date, having been 30:518, the minimum 30:042. The thermometer had ranged throughout the month, from 47° to 52° during the day, and from 45° to 49° during the night. [Abstract from Papers communicated to the Royal Society of London, Vol. V.]

1 For other occurrences of earthquakes in the island, see J. P. Warren, 'Some considerations upon Earthquakes', Report and Transactions of the Société Guernesiaise, X (1926), pp. 102 ff.; A. E. Mourant, 'A catalogue of earthquakes felt in the Channel Islands', Report & Trans., X (1929), pp. 471 ff.; and the Report of the Societe's Geological Section, 1930, pp. 24-5; 1931, pp. 151-2. In 1773, Nathaniel Le Cocq felt an earthquake and kept a record in his notebook in the Library. There were apparently some 'quatrains' composed about the earthquake of 1773 [Edith Carey, Folk Lore: Stories from the country people, Vol II.]