Saturday, November 05, 2005

Account of a Hurricane in Jamaica

Extract from a letter dated Chester Coffee Estate, three-quarter way up the Blue Mountains (Jamaica), from the side of a large wood fire ; thermometer 58°, the mountain winds blowing almost a hurricane, and the rain descending in Equinoctial torrents.—16th October 1815, 10 a.m.

As soon as I was sufficiently recovered from the effects of the yellow fever to bear the journey, I was brought to this invigorating climate, and wonderful its effects have been in eleven days.

This is a higher situation than any I have yet visited, higher even than Mount Atlas. The house is superb, with fireplaces in every room, and the climate that of the South of France. There is a large and beautiful garden, where grow side by side, in the utmost luxuriance and full of fruit, the mangan, cinnamon, and nutmeg trees of the East; the apple, pear, and nectarine of England ; and the pine-apple, orange, cocoatree, guava, &c. of the West.

In no other part of the world, perhaps could you see assembled the productions of so many countries; and this is from the unvarying temperatures of the climate, being neither influenced by the season nor ever getting too warm for European plants, or too cold for those of the tropics.

Kingston, Nov. 5, 1815.—Little did I expect, when I sat down so comfortably at Chester Hill to write to you by my snug fireside, what danger and misery were awaiting me. It was then, as you may see by my date, blowing very strong, but we expected nothing further.

I was interrupted at twelve o'clock by a summons to luncheon; in the midst of it we were suddenly alarmed by seeing the fine mangan tree in our garden torn up by the roots, whisked into the air, and carried out of sight; this made us apprehend what soon succeeded—a violent hurricane. After this first gust of wind, fresh ones attacked us, each with increased violence: not one of the beautiful trees was left standing; cedar, orange, apple, and all the large trees being torn up, and the cocoas, cabbages, &c., snapped in the middle.

The wind continued raging with tremendous force; and next, we were terrified beyond description by the whole wing of that part of the house we had just quitted, walls and all, giving way, though a most substantial stone building ; the roof entire, without loss of a shingle or beam, being carried up into the air, the walls falling in with a tremendous crash; and the beams, boards, &c. of the two floorings were seen flying with amazing velocity through the air, knocking down all that came in contact with them. It was with the utmost difficulty that, on hearing the walls shaking and cracking, we saved ourselves, and got into the farther end, or rather division, of a double house.

Here, however, we had not been ten minutes before the wind getting under the remaining part of the roof (since the fall of the wing, totally unprotected) tore it up too, throwing down on us the ceilings and some of the beams, by one of which I was
knocked down and hurt.

However, we contrived to rush out, expecting that the walls, now unroofed, must follow; and being unable to stand upright from the fear of being taken off our legs, we crawled into the kitchen—an outhouse which, being very low and nearly circular, we hoped might stand. We were disappointed; for after our seeing the coffee-store, coffee-works, overseer's house, all the negro houses, and every possible place of shelter, blown down; not a tree standing; beams, trees, branches, and wooden shingles with large nails in them flying about in every direction, with certain death to every living thing they encountered; night coming on and the gale increasing the kitchen gave way, injuring us all more or less, and, I fear, maiming one negro for life. I only received another hard blow.

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.

What I suffered from cold, and the bruises I had received, exceeded in mere bodily suffering anything I have ever felt or expect to feel—far worse than the surgeon's knife searching the bullet; and I certainly never felt the passion of fear before —at least nothing resembling my sensations that night.

At about two in the morning one of the walls fell in; luckily, so that the wind blew the stones &c. from, instead of on us: still, a great part fell over our heads on the flooring, of course on boards, with a tremendous crash. "We conceived it was the whole house, and the screams of the poor women and children, the (as they supposed) dying prayer of the men, were horrible beyond anything I can conceive.

I rose up from sitting on an empty barrel, hoping the beams might strike my head first, and end my sense of suffering for myself and my companions. For that the beams were falling, and that death seemed inevitable, was evident; but, after many alarms of this sort and constant dread, the gale abated at sunrise, after the longest night I ever passed.

At 6 a.m. the rain and wind had entirely ceased and we were able to walk out of our dungeon and witness the scene of destruction. Not a house, a tree, a negro hut or shed, left standing; large trees thrown down or torn away; small snapped off close to the roots; all the beautiful garden destroyed; one of the four walls of the house levelled, a wing entirely down, the remainder unroofed: and we had no means of communication with our neighbours, as every rivulet was swelled to an impassable river.

At the end of three days, however, we got to the nearest neighbour's house, which had not suffered so much; and a week after, the roads and rivers admitted of my return here safe and sound.

Kingston has suffered much less than the mountains. . . . The hurricane has cooled the air, and now the temperature of Kingston is tolerable even after leaving the Blue Mountains.

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