Found in John Thomas's Earthquake in England (Unbelievable but True) -published by Blackwood's in 1938, this press cutting from the late 1970s from an unnamed newspaper.
Quakes can be our worry, too. Peter J. Smith
At 9.18 on the mining of April 22, 1884, Dr Alexander Wallace and his family were in their garden looking across at the roofs and spires of the town near by. Suddenly, with a roll of sound like "passing wagons", the buildings began to sway and chimneys crashed to the ground in clouds of dust. Dr Wallace saw his house rise and fall and heard ornaments hitting the floor. He felt sick and shaken, but the fence he grasped for support was rocking too. Less than six seconds later it was all over.
What Dr Wallace and his family had experienced was an earthquake. But they were not visiting Japan, California, the Mediterranean or any other of the world's known belts of destructive earthquakes. This was Colchester, Essex, where such things were unheard of.
In the town itself more than 400 buildings were damaged... the brunt of the damage was taken by villages closer to the shock centre to the east and south-east of Colchester. At Peldon, for example, no house or cottage escaped and 70 percent of chimney stacks were thrown down. Nobody was killed, but within an area of about 150 square miles more than 1200 buildings required repair.
The Colchester earthquake of 1884 was the most destructive ever known in Britain and was felt as far away as Exeter in the west and beyond York in the north. But it was not the first British earthquake; nor, contrary to popular belief, are such events uncommon.
The late Peter Haining
was one of many writers fascinated by
the terrible events of the evening of 3rd September 1878, when the
paddle steamer ‘Princess Alice’, laden with over 800 day trippers returning
from an excursion to Margate, was rammed by the collier Bywell Castle close to
North Woolwich. Over 630 men, women and children perished in the disaster,
which remains the worst in the history of river navigation—not just in the UK,
but in the world.
Hoping to publish a book on the subject, Peter Haining kept
clippings both from the centenary coverage of the disaster in 1978 and from
August 1989,when a much smaller vessel, the ‘Marchioness’, sank further
upstream in the Thames. He also researched a similar Victorian sinking in 1875,
when the’ Deutschland’ went down off the Kentish coast, carrying among its
passengers, five German nuns--- a disaster which prompted Gerard Manly Hopkins to compose his
famous poem The Wreck of the Deutschland.
At least 800 lives were lost in the seas around the shores of Britain in the violent storms on the night of 25-26 October 1859. 223 vessels were wrecked: the biggest disaster of all was the loss of the Royal Charter off the coast of Wales, in which almost 450 people died. The ship was returning from Australia and the passengers included many gold miners, some of who had struck it rich at the diggings in Australia and were carrying large sums of gold about their persons. A consignment of gold was also being carried as cargo; it was insured for over £300,000 - about half a billion pounds in todays money. Many of the passengers were killed by being dashed against the rocks by the waves rather than drowned. Others were said to have drowned, weighed down by the belts of gold they were wearing around their bodies. The survivors, 21 passengers and 18 crew members, were all men, with no women or children saved. This poem on one side of a small card was probably sold for a halfpenny or farthing just after the disaster. The address 'Trafalgar, Neyland' is nearby in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire. Of Maria Roberts nothing is known…
We also have a more accomplished poem about a gold ring washed up on the beach (to follow) but this poem was probably composed very shortly after the fateful night: