The Lieutenant-Governor to the Governor-in-Chief.
[Extract from New Zealand Gazette. ] Government House, Wellington, 19th October, 1848.
It is my most painful duty to inform your Excellency that a terrible calamity has overtaken this province: an earthquake has occurred, and the Town of Wellington is in ruins.
On the morning of Monday, the 16th October, about twenty minutes to 2 a.m. the first shock occurred, and was sufficiently strong to throw down or injure most of the chimneys in the town, and to crack the walls of very many of the brick buildings. Considerable loss of property was sustained by breakages in the houses, and a good deal of alarm excited in the minds of the inhabitants. During the whole of Monday shocks and tremblings of the earth were from time to time experienced, but of a slighter character than the first.
On Tuesday, the 17th October, about 4 o'clock a.m., another rather smart shock was felt, and again at 8 a.m. Lighter ones continued at intervals during the day, until at twenty minutes to 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when a sudden and much more violent shock took place: by this, chimneys previously remaining up were for the most part cast down. The Native Hospital, the Gaol, many of the large brick stores, and the higher brick walls were either very much rent or wholly thrown down; immense destruction of property took place, and, I regret to add, a melancholy loss of life. Barrack-Sergeant Lovell and two of his children were thrown down and buried by falling ruins. Upon being extricated, one of the children was found dead, and the other so seriously injured that it died a few hours afterwards. The Sergeant himself was much hurt, and now lies in a precarious state.*
During the remainder of Tuesday and the succeeding night slight shocks only were felt; but about 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning a stronger one occurred, and another about 8 a.m. Minor shocks continued at intervals during the remainder of the day and evening until the morning of Thursday, the 19th, at ten minutes past 5 a.m., when a most violent and awful shock took place; every building was rocked to and fro in a fearful manner, and, with the exception of the wooden dwellings, most of the houses and stores were seriously shattered or fell in. The whole population were in the utmost consternation and alarm; and the destruction of property was immense; but, most providentially, up to the present time no further loss of life has ensued. Numbers of persons are, however, ruined; many left houseless and homeless, except such temporary shelter as can be afforded by the new church, Te Aro, by Government House (where the hospital patients and some others are taken in), and by the wooden buildings of their friends. Many persons are afraid of remaining in any of the houses at night, and retire to the bush among the hills in the hope of being more secure, notwithstanding the wild and inclement weather by which the earthquake has been accompanied.
A blow has been struck at the-prosperity, almost at the very existence, of the settlement, from which it will not readily recover. Terror and dismay reign everywhere; for the last four days no business of any kind has been transacted. The energies of all seem paralysed, and during that period no one has been able to feel for a moment that even life itself is secure. As I now write, too (11 p.m., 19th October), incessant and alarming tremblings of the earth are experienced. What may be the eventful result, or when this dreadful state of suspense and anxiety may be terminated, God alone can tell, but every one seems to feel a presentiment that it will end in some still more fearful catastrophe than any which has taken place.
The sad ravages which have already occurred, and the terror which so frightful a visitation page 176 naturally produces in moat men's minds, will, I apprehend, drive from the colony all who can find the means of getting away. The few ships now in port, waiting for moderate weather to sail, are crowded to excess with colonists abandoning the country, and numbers are unable to obtain passages.
Under this awful visitation, I deemed it my duty at once to summon my Executive. Council, and, with their approval, to proclaim a day of public and solemn fast, prayer, and humiliation, in order that supplication might be offered up to Almighty God to avert the occurrence of any similar visitation; and Friday, the 20th day of October, was appointed for this purpose. I will not fail to communicate to your Excellency such further information and reports as it may be in my power from time to time to render.
I have, &c.,
His Excellency the Governor-in-Chief.
* Since dead.
In continuation of my despatch of the 19th instant, I have the honour to inform, your Excellency that, between half-past 11 p.m. on the 19th and 1 a.m. on the 20th, frequent and rather strong shocks succeeded each other in rapid succession, during which time the earth appeared to be in a continual state of agitation under foot. The shocks and the pulsation of the ground then ceased until about 5 a.m., when slight shocks again occurred, and were repeated at intervals during the whole of Friday, but no further damage was done by them; and, although shocks have been experienced occasionally up to the present time (11 a.m., Saturday, the 21st October), I would hope that the worst is over, and that the convulsions of Nature may gradually subside. We are not, however, aware of any eruptions having taken place, or any vent being opened in any direction; though strong lurid lights, seen, in the sky in the evenings, in the north and south, seem to be reflections from the light of some volcano.
Yesterday (Friday, the 20th October) was, in accordance with the intimation given your Excellency in my last despatch, observed as a solemn fast-day, and I am happy to say that it was most reverently observed, persons of all classes and all denominations responding in right feeling and conduct befitting such an occasion, and showing, by the immense assemblages at the various religious observances of the day, that they acknowledged the hand of the Almighty, and looked to Him only for safety and protection.
In consequence of the long continuance of the earthquake, and the uncertainty as to what may be its eventual results, I have deemed it right, under the advice of my Executive Council, to order the detention for a few days of any vessels in harbour which might attempt to leave it, the alarm and apprehension being so great that, if the few ships now here were to sail away, the people would consider themselves as altogether deserted, and without any means of security left them should futures shocks occur and produce greater devastation than already exists. This order, I find, has already exercised a most beneficial influence in keeping up the spirits and confidence of the population. I have also taken the precaution of shipping on board Her Majesty's ship "Fly" the greater part of the specie in the colonial chest until such time as the elements appear more settled. The Commissariat Department have, I believe, also done the same, under the instructions of the Senior Military Officer.
Persons arriving by a vessel leaving Otakou on Wednesday, the 18th, state that no shock had been experienced there up to the time of her sailing. I have no accounts from Whanganui or Nelson, but fear the earthquakes must have been felt severely at both. From Queen. Charlotte Sound an open boat came over, in very stormy weather, for the purpose of bringing away a party of European women who were living there, and were alarmed at the convulsion going on. At Porirua the military barracks are destroyed, and the troops are living in whares. The Natives have no recollection of any earthquakes at all corresponding, in either degree or continuance, to the one which is now visiting us.
I. have. &c.,
His Excellency the Governor-in-Chief.