Friday, August 12, 2016

The Great Inverness Earthquake of 1816

The earth shakes in many corners of the world, wreaking havoc to homes and infrastructure alike. But the biggest earthquake ever to hit Scotland happened nearly 200 years ago today.

On August 13, 1816, the people of Inverness were mostly abed. It was a calm night. Moonlight filtered down through a misty haze that lay across the fields. At four minutes before 11pm, the ground heaved, for up to 1 minute, according to some reports. Those out in the country reported a sound like a rushing wind. Those in town thought someone was rolling a heavy object along the slate roofs. Slate stones tumbled to the street, chimney caps fell. Those houses with servant bells heard them all ring at once, with some wire jangling so hard it broke. Dogs howled. Chickens screeched. The 45-meter-tall steeple on the new courthouse and prison was twisted perpendicularly on its base. The Mason Lodge cracked from foundation to rooftop.

People, some of them naked, ran out into the street. Women were said to faint. Others screamed. Still others ran and kept running, hiding in the fields until morning. An aftershock at 11:30 only added to the pandemonium.

Historical evidence has led researchers to believe the earthquake was likely 5.1 on the Richter Scale. It was felt for more than 100 square miles. More aftershocks kept rumbling through for the next week.

Miraculously, no one was hurt or injured. The Masons helped villagers repair their chimneys and roofs. When consulted, the architect for the steeple advised leaving it the way it was as a “wonder” to be viewed for generations to come. Publications from the local paper to the Naval Chronicle reported the news. The stories only magnified with time. Later stories reported that the great bell of the town rang twice during the quake.

It seems even earthquakes improve with age.

Steeple photograph © Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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