1848 - An Account of the Earthquakes in New Zealand - [Text] p 4-9

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  1848 - An Account of the Earthquakes in New Zealand - [Text] p 4-9
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THE Settlement of Wellington, in New Zealand, has recently been visited by a series of earthquakes, of a most violent, and, in that colony, of an unprecedented character. From the time of the first discovery of the New Zealand islands, earthquakes have occasionally been noticed; and the existence of the hot springs at Taupo, situated in the middle of the northern island, has left no doubt on the minds of geologists that volcanic agency was constantly in operation: nay, it is said that, from the high temperature of the springs at Taupo, the aboriginals living there boil their fish in the water without the assistance of fuel. Captain Furneaux's crew "very sensibly felt the shock of an earthquake" on the 11th of May, 1773; and, between Lake Taupo and Cook's Straits, earthquakes have been frequently felt since Wellington was established in 1839. These, however, have been of so slight a nature that the shocks have almost been forgotten so soon as they have passed over.

The succession of shocks which have recently occurred, reminds us of the famous earthquakes by which Spoleto, a town in the Pontifical States, was almost destroyed about 14 years ago. At Spoleto the shocks continued, with very slight intermissions, for a period of six months. The inhabitants left the town and lived in the suburbs in tents; and the houses and public buildings, nearly all of which were substantially constructed of stone, were more or less rent, shaken and shattered, by the vibrations and undulations of the ground. One curious circumstance, which was related to us, we can't omit mentioning. For its truth we don't vouch, though we were solemnly assured by several respectable persons at Spoleto, and by our cicerone in particular, that what we are about to state was perfectly true.

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thirty-six hours between the grand shocks was predicted by a gentleman who had lately arrived in the colony, and who had lived for many years in the West Indies.

"The first shock was felt at about twenty minutes to two o'clock, a. m., on the 16th of October: the characteristic of this was its duration. A French gentleman at Akaroa stated its continuance at three minutes; the general estimate of its duration formed in the town of Wellington was two minutes: the movement in this case was oscillatory, not rapid, unaccompanied by noise, and was attended by a most remarkable phenomenon, viz., the instantaneous suppression of the gale which was blowing at the time, and which sprang up again with redoubled fury on the termination of the earthquake, "as if it had been bayed back " The shock was experienced over a space of upwards of two hundred miles square, and by subsequent comparison of times, after making allowances for differences of clocks, it appeared to have been felt over the whole of this space at nearly the same moment. It was also distinctly felt at sea off Cape Farewell. Several chimnies were thrown down, and the walls of some of the houses were cracked.

"The second grand shock occurred about three p m., on Tuesday, the 17th of October. The day was beautifully fine, the wind variable but light. A slight report and shock first occurred, followed instantly by a loud roar and tremblement de terre. The noise came from the northward. The earth in some parts was moved in waves averaging about twelve inches in height. Some persons were thrown down (partly perhaps from fear), but all found more or less difficulty in walking. The movement may be defined as a horizontal rapid concussion. Several brick buildings and walls were thrown down, and there were three lives lost. The duration of this shock was ninety seconds.

"The third grand shock occurred about 5, a. m., on Thursday, the 19th of October: it was accompanied by a loud roaring noise, and was the most violent of the three. It happened in the midst of a terrific storm from the south-east, and the same phenomenon observable at the first was also observable in this, viz., the perfect temporary lull of the wind during

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the continuance, and its increased violence after the cessation of the shock. It completed the destruction of most of the brick buildings: there were however no casualties, as the shock occurred before the inhabitants were up; and, at the time of this shook, brick buildings had been generally abandoned. The movement was of the same character as the second, but more intense, and its duration about ninety seconds also.

"Subsequently to the three grand shocks, numerous slight tremors occurred; forty were counted in the course of one afternoon: but their character differed altogether from that of the first. In the two last of the three grand shocks the roaring was certainly considerable, but it was inconsiderable as compared with the concussion; whilst, in the minor shocks, the vibration was trifling as compared with the report. Loud reports, precisely resembling the discharge of distant artillery, or the escape of gas, were heard from the northward, succeeded by slight concussions. Sometimes these concussions were vertical, sometimes horizontal: a motion travelling beneath the feet was palpably perceptible. On all occasions persons walking or riding felt the shocks much less (in some cases not at all) than those sitting, and these again much less than those lying down. Horses, cows and poultry, evinced great alarm.

"It is well known that New Zealand generally, and many other islands of the Pacific, have been long subject to earthquakes. Putting vague Maori reports aside, those hitherto experienced in New Zealand have been of a slight character. It is most probable that no very violent convulsion of nature has occurred within a very long period in the neighbourhood of Port Nicholson, because it is on most sides surrounded with woods, which consist principally of trees of great age, which do not exhibit the effects of volcanic operations.

"It is also remarkable that there are no volcanic shaped mountains within a very considerable distance of Port Nicholson.

"One extraordinarily high tide occurred during the period of the earthquakes; it was not, however, cotemporaneous with any particular shock, and may be accounted for otherwise rationally. The south-east wind, which blows directly into the harbour had prevailed for a long time, and an

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unusually large quantity of rain having fallen, the harbour overflowed. The rise of tide was about eighteen inches above its ordinary level. It was observed that the shocks occurred at all times of tide, at all indications of the barometer, in rainy and in fine weather.

"The Maori rumour of fire escaping at the Wairau, near Port Underwood, in the middle island, appears to be unworthy of credit. The general opinion prevalent in Port Nicholson seemed to be, that the present earthquakes had been occasioned by the submarine explosion of gas finding vent in the neighbourhood of Cook's Straits. Future facts may destroy or corroborate this hypothesis; certainly the alteration in the character of the shocks, described above, seems to favour such a supposition.

"Several rents were observed in the ground, chiefly where the soil was gravelly or of a loose character, along the edges of cliffs and terraces; but none were of any considerable depth or breadth.

"Some remarkable circumstances were observed with respect to buildings, which may be useful as hints for the future. The thickest walls fell the most readily, unless there were bonding timbers in the walls, in which case the elasticity of the timber mostly preserved the buildings: caeteris paribus--a 9-inch wall withstood better than a 14-inch one.

"The mortar seemed to be a matter of little consequence: it was bad in most of the buildings, but even where Roman cement had been used, the walls fell just the same; only that, instead of the bricks falling separately, they came down in masses of eight or ten together.

"Hipped roofs stood decidedly better than gable ends; the roof seemed to act as a tie to the walls. The chimnies of many houses were twisted.

"It would be difficult to furnish an estimate of the positive damage sustained, but it must have been considerable, although confined to comparatively few individuals."

In addition to the foregoing interesting account of the earthquakes, Mr. Fitzherbert has presented us with drawings, from the pencil of Mr. Robert Park, of Wellington, an eminent Engineer and Surveyor, of some of the ruined buildings; and as we believe they are the first

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which have arrived in Sidney, we placed them immediately in the hands of our lithographer, for the purpose of conveying to our readers some idea of the effects of the earthquakes. The first sketch represents the wreck of Mr. Fitzherbert's Store in Farish-street, Te-Aro Flat; and the second, the Ordnance Store opposite, formerly the property of Mr. Waitt, but which we understand he recently disposed of to the Government, and the sale was only completed a very few days before the first shock was experienced. The fourth sketch represents the large brick Store of Messrs. Hickson and Co., abutting on the beach, and within pistol-shot of Farish-street. The third sketch represents the Colonial Hospital on Thorndon Flat, a distance of nearly a mile and a half from Farish-street; and it was from this building that the sick were removed for safety into the residence of the Lieutenant Governor.

These, however, are only a few of the buildings which have been either shattered or destroyed. The Episcopalian Church and Presbyterian Chapel (which were constructed of wood) escaped, whilst the places of worship of the Wesleyans and Independents, which had been substantially constructed of brick, are now razed to the ground.

Printed by D. Wall, 76, York Street, Sydney.

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