Philobiblon: Blogging a hurricane, of 1815

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Blogging a hurricane, of 1815

Miss Frances Williams Wynn is today getting an account of a hurricane in Jamaica in 1815.

Unfortunately the name of the author of the letter is not given. I assume it is not FROM Miss Williams, since although the frank expressions of fear at one point made me think it might have been written by a woman, the reference then to a surgeon extracting a bullet from the writer led me to decide it was highly likely to be from a man. (A woman might be shot in a variety of circumstances, but it is hard to imagine her referring to it this casually.)

The other thing that struck me is that while a hurricane might be terrifying enough now, you at least usually get considerable warning and a chance to prepare not only physically but also mentally. In the days before weather forecasts, that wasn't the case. You had no idea what was coming, or what stage any assault by the elements was at - was this point the worst, or was it about to get a whole lot worse?

This certainly sounds about as bad as it could be:

As a last resource and almost forlorn hope, we betook ourselves to a cellar under the ruins of the house, trying to hope that, if the walls fell in (and we heard stones dropping from them every instant), they might not beat in the floor of the dining-room over our heads and crush us with their fall. That they would fall, we had no doubt; and a very, very slender hope that the flooring would withstand them, and no possibility of escape.

This was about eight in the evening, when the night was just setting in. Our cellar was about nine feet square: up to our knees in water from the torrents of rain falling through the unroofed ruin above us, under a constant shower-bath in that cold climate that very cold night, in the instant expectation of being crushed to death or horribly mangled, we remained the whole of that dreadful night.

Our party consisted, besides myself, of Mr. A., Dr. M., the overseer, the bookkeeper, four black men, and four black women with their six children.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, there is nothing that can mentally prepare a person for a hurricane. It is pure, primal terror. And I also think people in the 19th century, especially farmers, would have been much more in tune with the weather and climate than we are. We are so sheltered and out of touch with nature, despite our satellites and radar. It's probably mentally worse for us since hurricanes shatter our deep pretensions to power and dominance over nature. In past ages they had no illusions about human vulnerability.

11/05/2005 05:59:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

I take your point about awareness of vulnerability. Certainly, one reason why we've become so much more risk averse is that we are actually far, far safer.

11/05/2005 06:14:00 pm  

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