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EARTHQUAKES

The theory of earthquakes has not yet been formed with any degree of certainty. Anaxagoras supposed that earthquakes were produced by subterraneous clouds bursting out into lightning, which shook the vaults that confined them, B.C. 435.—Diog. Laert. Kircher, Des Cartes, and others, supposed that there were many vast cavities under ground which have a communication with each other, some of which abound with waters, others with exhalations, arising from inflammable substances, as nitre, bitumen, sulphur, &c. These opinions continued to be supported till 1749-50, when an earthquake was felt at London, and several parts of Britain. Dr. Stukeley, who had been engaged in electrical experiments, then began to suspect that a phenomenon of this kind ought to be attributed not to vapours or fermentations generated in the bowels of the earth, but to electricity. These principles at the same time were advanced by Signer Beccaria, without knowing anything of Dr. Stukeley's discoveries, and the hypothesis has been confirmed by the experiments of Dr. Priestley. In many cases, however, it appears probable that the immense power of water converted into steam by subterraneous fires must contribute to augment the force which occasions earthquakes. [...]


Shocks of earthquakes are recorded as occurring at various times in these realms; but they have never been fatal in their consequences, although in some cases (but the instances are rare) a few buildings have fallen, or sustained partial damage. To avoid the fatal effects of a more terrible shock predicted by a madman, for the 8th of April following, thousands of persons, particularly those of rank and fortune, passed the night of the 7th April, 1750, in their carriages and in tents in Hyde-park.


At the time of the great earthquake at Lisbon [...] in Nov. 1755, a singular phenomenon happened to the hotwell at Bristol: the water suddenly became as red as blood, and so very turbid that it could not be drank. The water, also, of a common well, which had been remarkably clear, at once turned as black as ink, and continued unfit for use nearly a fortnight. The tide, likewise, in the river Avon flowed back, contrary to its natural course; and various other effects of some unknown convulsion in the bowels of the earth, were perceived in different places. But all conjecture as to the cause of these extraordinary circumstances was vain, till the news arrived of the earthquake at Lisbon having happened on the same day, which gave a satisfactory solution to the several phenomena.


Extracted from Haydn's Dictionary of Dates and Universal Reference, Fifth edition 1851.

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Further reading...

Historical Earthquake Theories