Page images
PDF
EPUB

The following is considered by the great geologist, whom I have just quoted, the most probable solution of the problem :-" Suppose a portion of the bed of the sea to be suddenly upheaved, the first effect will be to raise over the elevated part a body of water, the momentum of which will carry it much above the level it will afterwards assume, causing a draught or receding of the water from the neighbouring coasts, followed immediately by the return of the displaced water, which will also be impelled by its momentum, much further and higher on the coast than its former level." The movement is considered by Mr. Michell to have travelled at the rate of twenty miles a minute.

I extract the following description of the phænomenon as it was observed in Barbados on the 1st of November 1755.

"At twenty minutes after two o'clock P.M. on the former day, above an hour after it was high water there, the sea suddenly flowed and rose more than two feet higher than it does in the highest spring-tides, and in three minutes it ebbed so as to be as much lower than the usual lowest ebb; and then it flowed again as high as it did before; and thus it continued to ebb and flow, decreasing gradually in height and at a longer interval between the oscillations until nine o'clock, when the return of the usual tide put an end to this extraordinary motion of the sea.

"The day was remarkably serene with little wind from the east; the sea was calm and smooth before the swell came in. The water flowed in and out of the harbour with such a force that it tore up the black mud in the bottom of the channel, so that it sent forth a great stench, and caused the fish to float on its surface and drove many of them on to the dry land at a considerable distance, where they were taken up by the negroes1."

A similar phænomenon occurred on the 31st of March 1761, at four o'clock in the afternoon, when the sea began to flow in Carlisle Bay; it appeared to ebb at eight o'clock, but at ten it increased considerably, and continued so until six o'clock next morning.

Heavy ground-swells are more frequently observed. From the 9th of November to the 12th, 1818, a most extraordinary ground-swell was witnessed, during which the sea rose considerably higher than high-water mark.

I have described these ground-swells or ground-seas, as they are called in the Virgin Islands, very fully in 1835 in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London. The sea approaches in undulating masses, which suddenly rise to large ridges, crested with foam, and form billows which break upon the beach with the greatest impetuosity. The operating cause of this sudden rise of the sea along shore is no doubt the effect of gales in the Atlantic, or on the northern coasts of America.

1 Observations on the Changes of the Air in the Island of Barbados, by W. Hillary, M.D., p. 82.

The friction of the wind upon the surface of the water causes little elevations or ridges, which by continuance of the force gradually increase, chiefly when the wind sweeps over a great extent of water. Finding no resistance and having sufficient depth to sink directly down, they proceed in the direction of the wind until they meet repercussion from dashing against the shore, when they rise to an elevation much above their natural state1. A heavy ground-sea breaks up the bottom to a very great extent; and I know of an instance in which the moving power of the waves has turned up the anchors and driven the vessel ashore.

(

Landslips in the Parishes of St. Andrew and St. Joseph.-Hughes, in his History of Barbados,' relates several instances in which large masses of soil, planted with canes, and even land with plantain and banana-trees growing upon it, accompanied with huge rocks, have glided down into the valley from the sides of the hill, or been carried to spots below. This happens mostly during the rainy season in the parishes of St. Andrew and St. Joseph, where the soil is a reddish loam and of an unctuous nature; and being of no great depth, it easily separates from the substratum and slides down in large masses. It is related that a Cabbage-palm about thirty feet tall, moved, roots, soil and all, several feet from the place where it grew, and glided in an upright posture to a spot below. This occurred on an estate in St. Joseph's. A similar circumstance took place at Dr. Bascom's residence in St. Joseph during the hurricane of 1819, where several Cabbage-palms moved down a part of the hill, some in an upright posture, others inclined.

The greatest landslip which is recorded took place on the 11th of October 1785, in that part of the parish of St. Joseph called Crab-hole. The inhabitants of that district were alarmed at the appearance of several deep fissures, which seemed to increase. Several persons were induced to remove their effects, and the manager on the estate called Walcott's had just fled from the mansion with his family, when the soil was descending in large compacted masses from the neighbouring hill and partly overwhelmed the house. In the course of that night most of the buildings on the plantation shared a similar fate, and others sunk into deep chasms which were filled up with the mould sliding down from the adjacent hill. The aspect of the whole region from Walcott's to Crab-hole, extending upwards of a mile in length and about three hundred yards in breadth, was that of violent commotion.

"The earth, violently torn asunder, was intersected with numerous chasms, whose widely-extended jaws seemed ready to engulf whatever might be precipitated into them; while in other places it was swelled and inflated with enormous tumours, whose convulsive motions menaced the few remaining buildings with destruction. Nor was it long before they were involved in the general wreck, and sinking into the yawning

1 See Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. v. p. 23.

gulf, left no traces of their former existence behind them. The face of nature was so completely changed in that district, that few of the inhabitants could ascertain the spot on which many objects familiar to their remembrance had been recently placed. A field planted in Eddoes, occupied the site on which the mansion-house stood, and brought with it a long slip of the broad road, as perfect and entire as if it had not been removed. The cocoa nut-trees which grew about the house, and even the windmill, were gradually carried some hundred yards from their original situation, where the latter was completely swallowed up, no part of it remaining visible but the extremity of the upper arm1."

It is related that during the occurrence of this phænomenon, the inmates of a house, where on the following day a christening was to take place, had scarcely time to make their escape when the house was engulfed. The next morning no vestige of it was to be seen. Some time afterwards it was discovered through a fissure in the soil, which was enlarged, an opening made in the roof, and to the great astonishment of the persons who descended into it, the internal arrangements were found in the same order as before the accident took place; even the christening cake was found unimpaired in appearance and taste.

Landslips are not uncommon in Great Britain and other parts of Europe. One of great extent occurred at the back of the Isle of Wight, and another at Alum Bay. The fall of the mountain of Piz in 1772, overwhelmed three villages with their entire population; and when part of Mount Grenier fell in 1248, five parishes were covered, the ruins occupying an extent of nine square miles. The landslip at Crab-hole appears however to have been accompanied with phænomena which point to volcanic actions, as exhibited in mud-volcanos.

Earthquakes.-Barbados is happily removed from the immediate action of earthquakes, and no injury of great extent is known to have been sustained by the island. Slight shocks are occasionally felt, and of such a nature were those which occurred in 1670, 1674, 1675, 1700, 1702 and 1720. Oldmixon relates that there was an earthquake in April 1690, without doing any injury. "Two very great comets," he continues, "appeared in those parts of the world; and in an hour and a quarter's time, the sea ebbed and flowed, at an unusual degree, three times. This earthquake almost desolated Antigua."

In more recent years several shocks have taken place, of which chiefly those in 1816 were remarkable for their greater strength. On the 22nd of December 1816, shortly after twelve o'clock at night, a shock threatened by its violence and continuance serious danger. Several dwellings, chiefly in Broad Street, were injured, and the effects of the shock were felt over the island, and on board the shipping in the bay. It extended to Martinique and St. Lucia, and was likewise felt in Demerara.

1 History of Barbados, by John Poyer, p. 570.

From the year 1839 to 1843, the West India Archipelago was visited by three terrific and devastating earthquakes; namely, on the 11th of January 1839, in Martinique and St. Lucia; on the 7th of March 1842, in St. Domingo; and on the 8th of February 1843, in the island of Guadaloupe. The latter was felt more or less sensibly throughout the Caribbean chain, and on the adjacent continent; but the most dreadful visitation fell upon the town of Pointe à Pître in Guadaloupe, where in an instant 5000 human beings were ushered into eternity. During this awful moment the earth heaved convulsively, and opened chasms in several places from whence dense columns of water rose to a considerable height. The damage which was occasioned in 1839, 1842 and 1843, by these earthquakes was estimated at £4,800,000 sterling. The shocks on the 8th of February 1843 were severely felt in Barbados, without however committing any injury.

Who can picture to himself the scene where that earth on which we dwell opens at our feet and engulfs in its insatiable bowels the devoted victims! Flames and suffocating vapours rise from the depth, and increase the terror and confusion of such moments. The surface is in an undulating motion like a sea of boiling liquid.. Stone buildings crumble to the ground or are swallowed up, and those who are spared from being drawn into the abyss, know not whence to fly-where to find safety from inevitable ruin. The scenes connected with such phænomena it would be difficult to describe. The inherent feelings of human selfishness no doubt produce in the breast of the inhabitant of Barbados thoughts like these:-"Thanks to a kind Providence, that our little island has not witnessed such scenes in our times!" Still there is a phænomenon on record, which at the time of its occurrence produced the greatest anguish, and was no doubt considered by the multitude the forerunner of the last day. The following journal of an eye-witness gives a faithful description of the morning of the 1st of May 1812.

A Journal of the 1st of May, taken in the parish of St. Peter, bordering on the parish of St. Andrew; the time included from half-past twelve

A.M. to six P.M.

"At half-past twelve A.M., a heavy dark cloud obscured the heavens completely, hanging so low as apparently to touch the ground; except in the south and north-east, where there was a fine light-blue tint, which closed in at half-past one A.M., when darkness visibly overspread this part of the island; at this period a sandy grit began to fall in small quantities. At two A.M., explosions heard to the southward and westward, resembling two frigates exchanging broadsides, to the amount of eighteen or twenty: went to the top of the house, but could perceive no flashes, though the sound seemed sufficiently near, light being perceptible at a much greater distance than sound can be heard; the sandy grit converted into ashes, silently falling. From two to six A.M., low, murmuring, hollow, distant thunder, but no lightning seen; except the

vivid flashes which preceded two nearer peals. Between these periods, smart squalls with rain and ashes mixed, from the eastward, which seldom lasted above forty seconds, the ashes bearing a greater proportion than the rain in this composition. At half-past five A.M., a small glimmering in the south and south-east resembling the appearance of daylight, but did not last ten minutes before the atmosphere was completely obscured again, and the darkness more intense, if that was possible. At half-past six A.M., heavy fall of ashes, with light breezes and a hollow low undulating noise to the northward; expecting an earthquake, quitted the house, and retired to a wattled negro hut. From six to eight A.M., light breezes, with squalls of ashes and rain, of the same description and duration as mentioned before. During these last two hours, meteors resembling globes of fire, about the size of a 13-inch shell, appeared in the north-east and north-north-east, to the amount of ten or twelve, crossing each other in every direction, occasionally appearing and disappearing for the space of an hour and a half; so incessant a falling of ashes, as to render it impossible to face the eastward. At nine A.M. the sky to the northward assumed a purple, torrid appearance, greatly resembling a vast town at a distance on fire, accompanied by a tremulous motion resembling the Aurora Borealis; the horrid glare of this sky made the surrounding darkness more awfully dreadful; the sky to the southward, in the direction towards Bridgetown, had occasionally the same colour, only the tinge much fainter, attended with no motion; the sky never approached in any direction, by my calculation, nearer than seven miles; as I have no data to go on, this is mere matter of conjecture. From nine A.M. twelve at noon, light breezes and constant and heavy fall of ashes. At ten A.M., a large flight of birds passed over the hut, flying so very low, that the fluttering of their wings was distinctly heard : the notes of these birds resembled the yelping of puppies. When daylight took place, they proved to be marine birds called Men-of-War, and Coblers; so loaded with ashes they could scarcely raise themselves from the ground. At a quarter-past twelve o'clock daylight appeared immediately over our heads; half-past twelve, the form of the sun, obscured in clouds in the same place. At one P.M., daylight; returned to my own house. From one A.M. to half-past twelve P.M., the wind east to east-north-east; light gentle breezes, never varying above two points, but fluctuating between both; the wind dying away nearly to calm, but never perfectly a calm. This may be said to be the state of the weather during the whole twelve hours of total darkness, except when interrupted by the momentary squall of sand and ashes. The darkness was so impenetrable, that, with the exception of the light that was visible in the south and south-east at five A.M., at no period could anything be discerned even within reach. From three admeasurements taken in the lowest places, the fall of ashes was an inch and a half. When I left the house the thermometer was 70°, when I returned at 70°; as I left the instrument behind, I know not what variation might have taken place in my absence; the other observations were made with my own eyes, and the watch in my hand. It will be observed, the first two hours the sand was small in quantity and coarse in its nature; but the last ten hours were ashes, reduced to an impalpable powder, and sublimated to the highest degree. That it is a calcined matter

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »