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The New Zealand Evangelist

Wellington. Phenomena And Events Of The Month

page 116

Wellington. Phenomena And Events Of The Month.

The Weather.—Storms.

After a winter unusually mild, and a spring, so far as it had gone, rich in promise as to flowers, fruits, and general vegetation— after a year remarkable for lovely weather, and for the absence of storms, earthquakes, and elemental commotion,—after a period of profound peace, great activity, and unprecedented prosperity; all at once the pent up elements above and below have burst forth; the common and special agencies of destruction have been let loose; and the plough-share of ruin has been driven right through the settlement. In close succession we were visited with two, or rather three south-easters, the most violent by far that we have had for years: the wind blew something like a hurricane, and the rain often descended in torrents; out-door occupations were necessarily suspended, and in-door employments were sadly interrupted; as few houses were proof against the incessant battering of the hostile elements; at every hole, crack, or crevice where moisture could enter, the water came oozing through or pouring in; the fire and water struggled doubtfully for the ascendancy on many a hearth, and so searching was the ordeal that few houses sustained the character of being fully waterproof. From the quantity of rain that fell, floods were severely felt in some locallties, and feared in many more. While the storms continued, our hearts trembled and our prayers ascended for the safety of those exposed to the dangers of our rugged shores; and although, so far as we have heard, the accidents have not been so numerous as we dreaded, yet our fears were by no means groundless: the Master of the Fisherman was struck by the boom, fell overboard, and was lost, south of Mount Egmont; the Harriet Liethart was wrecked near Wanganui, but providentially no life was lost; three of our Wesleyan Missionary brethren, Messrs. Hobbs, Kirk, and Stannard, with the families of the two latter, narrowly escaped. The south-easter, however, would have past away without any special notice, as things of course, now and again to be expected, and for which we are tolerably prepared, but a deeper and far more durable impression has been produced by the phenomena that followed.

The Earthquakes.

Since the commencement of this colony slight shocks of earthquakes have been felt on an average two or three times in a year; but these shocks were so slight as neither to cause damage nor produce alarm. We have felt none however for a twelvemonth; but during the present month we have been visited with a perfect storm of them—of more than a fortnight's duration, and they are not yet over—alarming and destructive, beyond anything ever witnessed in this country by the oldest settler, or known by tradition to the oldest native. We have had four tremendous shocks, with from one to two hundred slighter ones, varying in all degres of strength from the slightest tremor to a very smart concussion; after some of the page 117 great shocks the earth seemed for hours to be in a constant state of oscillation. The first three violent shocks occurred at low water, and followed each other after an interval of three tides, or about 37 1/2 hours. The first was on Monday the 16th, about 20 minutes before 2 in the morning; the second on Tuesday the 17th, about 20 minutes past three in the afternoon; and the third on Thursday the 19th, about 5 in the morning. The second was more violent than the first, and the third more violent than either. The fourth violent shock did not take place till Tuesday the 21th, at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and seems to have been differently felt from the other three; in some places more, in others less than any of them. The motion of the shocks seemed sometimes to be undulatory, and again it appeared to be vertical and heaved and jolted upwards. The shocks were often preceded by a hollow rumbling sound like the distant boom of cannon; latterly the sound was often heard without any shock being felt, and on the other hand the sharpest of the secondary shocks were often preceded neither by sound nor any note of warning. The barometer stood unusually low till after the third, shock; on Wednesday the 18th it stood as low as 20. 14. The shocks were most violent and destructive on alluvial sand, or gravelly formations, as Te Aro and Thorndon flats; on the clay-stone formation, as on the terraces surrounding the town, they were somewhat less violent; and on the Karori-road, at Wades’ town, and Kai Warra, where the houses are nearer the rock, the shocks wore comparatively light. Small clefts were made in the earth in some places, but the water in the wells has not been disturbed. The shocks were felt from Banks' Peninsula to Cape Farewell, on the Middle Island, and from beyond the Wairarapa to Taranaki on this island; but so far as we have heard they were not felt at Otakou, nor at Hawke's Bay on the East Coast. The probability is that the force has been submarine, somewhere to the South or South East of Cook's Straits. The Straits seem to be the centre along which the electric current proceeded, shaking the land on both sides, but most violently at the south entrance, and gradually diminishing in force as it proceeded to the north. From the Heads round to Cape Terawite large rocks were rent, and fragments rolled down and were precipitated into the sea, and on the opposite shore about Cloudy Bay, the ground is said to be cleft in various places.

On the evening of Tuesday the 17th, a light was seen to the North East, and on some of the following nights appearances like the reflection of some powerful light, were seen among the clouds to the south. The appearances, the violence and duration of the shakings, the constant rumbling sounds beneath the earth and other indications led to a general belief that a volcano had broken out in some one of the mountains near the centre of the island, and the hope was fondly cherished that if the dormant embers of some smouldering crater had been kindled up and burst forth—if some closed up volcano was come again into a state of activity, a safetyvalve would be opened by means of which the pent up subterraneus fires, that by their explosive force are shaking the earth in all directions page 118 around us, would be allowed to escape, and the return of similar convulsions in future likely to be diminished; but these conjectures have as yet received no conffrmation, and it is not at all improbable that the lights were simply atmospheric,—meteoric appearances of some kind, arising from the air being surcharged with electricity: such appearances are common during earthquakes.

Destruction of Property.

The destruction of property, has been very great; scarcely a clay or brick building but is either thrown down or rent and shattered so as to be uninhabitable. The Wesleyan Chapel was rent by the first shock, shattered completely by the second, and brought to the ground by the third. Several of the large brick stores passed through the same process. The gaol is a tottering ruin, the roof being supported only by the two aide-walls, and these very much rent. The Colonial Hospital is in a similar state. Most of the other brick buildings and the stone barracks at Porirua are rent and shattered to a great extent. Almost every chimney in the settlement has been thrown down. Wellington presents a melancholy scene of ruins,—the labour of years has perished in a day. A great number of families are houseless and homeless, living for the time being with their friends and neighbours. Many slept during the danger in tents.

Loss of Life.

Property is valuable, but we lament to say that what is incomparably more dear to its possessor, life, has been lost in this calamity. During the second great shock, on Tuesday the 17th, Barrack Serjeant Lovel and two of his children were opposite the Commissariat store in Tarish-street, of which he had the charge; the shock was so sharp and sudden, that before they could escape a brick wall fell upon them all; the youngest, a girl of four years of age, was instantaneously killed; the other child, a boy of seven, died that same night; and Mr. Lovel himself died on the following Friday, leaving a widow and two young children to lament his sudden and unexpected death. He was 57 years of age. He was buried on the Saturday after, with military honours, and followed to the grave also by a great many of the civilians, in respect to his character and the occasion of his death. But heavy as the hand of God has fallen on this family, claiming our warmest sympathies, and most earnest prayers, we are happy to say that not another accident has occurred. No other family has to lament the loss of any of its members, and beyond these three, not another individual has had a hair of his head touched. Another singular preservation of life was experienced on Thursday night, the 25th, The barque Subraon, with about forty passengers on board, for Sydney, struck on a rock near the mouth of the harbour; but though completely wrecked, and the danger great, not a life was lost.

The General Fast.

In a calamity so terrific—coming so directly from the hand of page 119 God—in which human power was unavailing—in which prayer and supplication were the only means that could prevail; after the awful shock on Thursday morning, the general feeling of the community was, that a day of fasting and prayer ought to be observed throughout the settlement. The ministers were about to memorialize the Governor to appoint a day, that so all business being suspended, it might be universally and simultaneously observed. But before this was done, they received notice from his Excellency, that he and his Council were about to issue a Proclamation, that Friday, the 20th, should be observed for this purpose, and requesting them to make such arrangements as would be necessary for their respective congregations. Friday was accordingly observed with great solemnity by all classes, Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews, as a day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation, and several public services were held in all the congregations. As the Wesleyan, Independent, and Primitive Methodist Chapels were destroyed, the Ministers of the Evangelical Alliance held united services in the Scotch Church. From the great numbers that assembled, and from apprehensions of danger should alarm be excited, the forenoon service was held in the open air. The ministers of the Alliance held services also at the Hutt, Johnsonville, Karori, and on board the Subraon, in which a number of families had taken refuge from the impending danger. The day was fine, the audiences were unusually large, and the services solemn and impressive. The Sabbath following was a delightful day, and the attendance upon public worship was every where more numerous and equally attentive. The existence of the Evangelical Alliance has been of great service and signal benefit at this time.

Public Prayer Meetings.

Amid the general destruction of property, and the affecting loss of life, it is truly delightful to witness the solemnizing and quickening effects produced upon the community by this striking visitation; the careless have been awakened, the slothful have been aroused, and the zealous have been stimulated to increased activity; prayer, earnest and devout, has been all but universal. In town and country, all the places of worship have been opened almost every night for religious exercises, and crowded congregations have engaged in these exercises with the most lively interest. Many who have not for years attended any place of worship, and who rarely, if ever, bowed a knee to God, have been brought to cry like the Philippian Jailor—“What must I do to be saved?” There has indeed been a great awakening—a shaking of hearts as well as of houses. God has been working, and many we hope will be turned permanently to the Lord. An unusual amount of labour and responsibility is devolved upon the Ministers of the Gospel, Sabbath School Teachers, Christian Parents, and all who profess the Gospel, that by their prayers, instructions, and example, they may help forward the work that has been so unexpectedly and auspiciously begun. Come, O breath of the Lord, breathe upon us that we may live!

page 120

General Remarks.

The fearful violence of the shocks,—the ruinous destruction of property—the frequency and long continuance of the danger, inspired universal alarm, and in the case of many besides females, produced an undefined sensation of terror. So exclusive was the concern for life, that the loss of property was scarcely thought of We should not envy the feelings of those who were not awed and solemnized by such instantaneous displays of unseen and irresistible power—who were not more or less alarmed, when the solid earth was not simply trembling, but shaking terribly, as if convulsed with paroxysms, and the strongest buildings rocking like ships in a storm. In these circumstances, fear and alarm were certainly natural emotions; and considering the suddenness and greatness of the dangers we can fully sympathize with the feeling of terror, so extensively felt. But in the whole of this visitation, mercy has been so conspicuous over judgment, that we have no sympathy with those who would doubt and despond; we can look at nothing scarcely but the mercy. The distinction between life and property has been so marked,—the destruction of the one and the preservation of the other, appear in such striking contrast,—the upsetting of a single boat has often caused more loss of life,—the spirit of prayer has been so extensively poured out—the ground of our past deliverance, the free mercy of God through Christ remains still the same,—the whole circumstances of the visitation resemble so much the chastisement of a loving Father, rather than the punishment of an inexorable Judge, that we cannot but think that God's preserving us so signally, amid so many danger, is a token that he has further mercies yet in store for us. If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not thus far have accepted our sacrifices of prayer and thanksgiving, nor shown us this deliverance, (Judges 13, 23.) If this calamity had been deferred till ten years hence, how awfully disastrous the consequences should have been, when brick buildings would have generally superseded those of wood! If the third shock had come first, how many lives might have been lost! But mercy hath triumphed over judgment! Our prayer is that temporal loss may in every case be spiritual gain, and that the destruction of property may in every case lead to the salvation of souls!


The new Chapel in this place was opened on Sabbath, the 1st of October, by the Rev. W. Woon, of Waimate, who preached three Sermons, two in English and one in Maori. This Chapel has been erected principally by the Wesleyans, and for their use, but will be open for all Evangelical Ministers visiting the settlement. We rejoice to hear of the multiplication of the houses of God throughout the land, and hope and pray that wherever His word is preached, His spirit may be poured out.

Printed at the Office of the "Wellington Independent," Lambton-quay.