THE HURRICANE OF 1831 IN ST. VINCENT; BY AN EYE-WITNESS
Edited by Mary BROWNE* (see source at end of article)
The month of August is considered one of the hurricane months, and although this island had not for half a century experienced anything of the kind (or whilst other islands have suffered materially, St. Vincent has invariably escaped) yet it is usual for all the merchant vessels to leave on or before the 1st of August, otherwise the insurance is doubled. On Monday, the 1st of August, I left Kingston [Kingstown] and at 12 o’clock wheeled my horse’s head homewards.
Passing the Bay of Calliaqua, and which is 3 miles from Kingston [Kingstown], I observed several of the merchant vessels getting under weigh for England. During the preceding week and up to within a short period of its occurrence, we had nothing to indicate the approaching hurricane. On the Wednesday evening it was perfectly still, calm, and serene, and we had taken a drive to Langley Park, as if to take a last look at the beautiful scenery — the luxuriant fields of canes promising an abundant harvest. We remarked on our return that the weather was close and sultry. After midnight the wind began to rise, and with the earliest dawn of the morning, about 5 o’clock, I looked
from my window and observed the sea running high, and the smaller boughs of the large almond tree near our house breaking off and falling to the ground, but as the wood is particularly brittle it occasioned me no alarm. From this period the gale increased in strength almost every moment, larger limbs were broken off, the sea began to run mountains high, and to present the grandest and most awful appearance you can well imagine; the waves rising to such an astonishing height that it appeared as if the ocean would swallow up the island, and the wind, blowing in a slanting direction across them, caused the spray of each wave as it broke to be thrown up in the air nearly twice its own height, curling, fretting, and foaming, in vain efforts to oppose the violence of the wind — a complete conflict of the elements.
But I was soon called from my brief contemplation of these sublime objects to the nearer danger which threatened us, and to my situation in these trying circumstances, with 700 individuals looking up to me for protection, amongst these the members of my own household – my wife and children — and besides, my residence, the various buildings, my horses, cattle, mules, sheep, and every living thing that might suffer from the violence of the storm, for as yet I had no suspicion that a hurricane was advancing onwards. The first thing that began to awaken my fears was on looking out of my room to observe the overthrow of the carpenter’s and cooper’s shops. I hastily threw on my clothes, and while doing so intelligence was brought me that the mule and cattle shed had fallen in upon the animals, upwards of 30 in number, and fears were entertained that many must be killed. Down the hill
I posted, through torrents of rain accompanied by one of my drivers, and on reaching the spot I observed to my surprise, but to my great relief, that the roof had given way in the centre, and as it fell the mules had fled to one end, and the cattle to the other, where they were separately cooped up, unable to move but not having suffered any injury. The sides of bamboo I ordered to be removed so as to admit of their coming out into the pasture, and a pen to be enclosed adjoining an empty megass house (where the canes after the juice is expressed are dried for fuel) that they might take shelter there, as it was composed of substantial brick-pillars, pitch-pine rafters, and a good roof; fortunately however, before my orders could be carried into execution, that building, amongst the ruins of which they must have perished, was itself hurled down by the increasing violence of the gale.
As I ascended the hill to look after the security of my own family and the house, which was a frail fabric built of wood, but in a more sheltered situation, another messenger overtook me to inform me that our magnificent wharf which was 200 feet in length and had cost L3,000, was in danger from the height at which the waves were running into the bay, and recommending that measures should be taken to secure the new iron crane placed at its extremity. I despatched two overseers and a company of negroes with directions to fasten the hawser to the crane, and to bring it on shore, and make it fast to a tree, that should the wharf give way we might ascertain where the crane fell and afterwards recover it. I stood at the window looking at this new peril, and to observe how my directions were carried into effect. I saw with an anxious
eye a wave of unusual size rolling on majestically towards the wharf and crane on its extreme point — they were then both perfect and uninjured — onwards it rolled, mounting higher and higher — it towered far above both crane and wharf — it fell with tremendous violence upon them, and when it subsided the next instant, not one vestige was to be seen. The poor overseer had reached the spot just before, he led the way and had attained the middle of the wharf, when a shriek from the negroes who earnestly besought him to return, as it was giving way, caused him to turn round and speedily retrace his steps, and he did so most providentially, for a foot beyond where he stood the wharf separated, and was in an instant swept into the ocean. The remainder immediately after, with the two storehouses on the beach, following it into the troubled abyss of the waters.
But there was no time for reflection. I heard that no lives were lost, and my attention was drawn back to things nearer home. The cloth had already been laid on the table in our large dining-room, and every preparation had been made for our family prayers and breakfast, but the wind blowing in such gusts as to threaten to burst the windows and doors open, we thought it safest to remove all the crockery ware, glass, and other frail materials into the back rooms. We had scarcely done so before our attention was called to one of the north windows which shook violently and appeared as if it were every instant about to burst in. My wife, myself, and two eldest sons in vain exerted our utmost efforts to retain it in its place, but found it overpowering our comparatively puny strength and deemed it wise to make a timely retreat, when the whole frame, window
and all burst in, overthrowing the sofa which had been placed against it and falling with violence on the dining-table in the centre of the room. The folding cedar doors on that side of the room then began to shake violently and, bursting the locks and bars, flew open with the greatest violence. We immediately brought two immense boxes I had made to pack my books and linen in, and we succeeded in again closing the doors and placing one box upon the other against them, which resisted the efforts of the wind as long as it continued in the direction of the north-east.
Still I entertained no idea of its being a hurricane, and, as the bursting in of the window admitted both rain and wind, we continued with great presence of mind to remove the books from the ledges round the room and bow window in front, and every article of furniture, with few exceptions, into the back room which was separated from that in front by other folding doors. In the midst of our occupation there was a brief lull in the storm for a few moments, during which on looking out I observed a kind of whirl-wind in the air and various light materials carried up to a great height with a rapid spiral motion, and then in an instant after the wind wheeled round to the opposite point of the compass — south-west. This brief lull, this sudden change — were too sure indications of a hurricane to admit of a doubt, and I became sensible of the dreadful reality; but without communicating my opinion or my fears to the rest of my family. The former wind from the north-east was a slight gale — a mere sportive breeze — compared to that which now succeeded. It blew, it raged, it raved, it roared; gust after gust, so awful and so terrific, like the explosion of cannon or the bursting
of huge waves against the rocks! The folding cedar doors on this side defied every effort to keep them closed — locks, bolts, bars; the table, side-board and sofa that were ranged against them all were swept aside, and they flew open in mockery of our puny efforts and various contrivances, the wind having free course and raging with the fury of a bursting cataract through the opening it had made. Many of my valuable books (you know what pains I took in their collection, and how carefully they have been always preserved), and several articles of furniture were still unremoved when the room began to shake violently and I perceived that all this part of the building must inevitably fall. I stood at the door between the inner and the front sitting rooms, and watching every opportunity rushed forwards, seized an armful of books, retreated to the doors and placed them in the hands of my wife and family to convey backwards and then returned. One mulatto domestic only followed me, and as I sometimes stood half way in doubt whether to proceed, I turned round and saw him trembling from head to foot with fear, and as pale as death. Again and again I darted forwards — closing the doors on my retreat as gusts rose — and thus I fortunately succeeded in carrying off every book, and most of the furniture. We then aimed for the large dining table, sofa, and remaining chairs; but it was too late. The room began to rock like a cradle, the panes and frames of the windows to crack, and we hastily drew back to the chamber doors, which opened from the inner room, and there stood for an instant at the entrance: — it shook more violently — the rafters, beams, pillars, posts, all gave way with one tremendous crash, amidst the…..
((to be continued…page 60 – 80 still under transcription)).
* This paper consists of a letter, dated St. Vincent, W. I., Nov. 13th, 1831, from a clergyman who was then the owner of "Grand Sable" in that island. It has been placed at my disposal, and edited, by Miss BROWNE, the granddaughter of the writer. — Ed.
SOURCE: Timehri: The Journal of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana by Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana, edited by Everard F. im Thurn – Volume 5, pages 54 – 78. Published December 5, 1886.
(Special Thanks to Joan Leggett for providing a copy of this article for transcription).