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Early Wellington

The Earthquake of 1848

The Earthquake of 1848.

A month after Colonel Wakefield's death, the inhabitants of Wellington were greatly alarmed by the most appalling earthquake shocks ever experienced.

The “Wellington Independent,” of October 18th, 1848, published a graphic account of the shocks which commenced on October 16th:—

“About half past one o'clock a.m. this morning (Monday), a distant hollow roar page 145 was heard; the sound travelling at a most rapid rate, and almost instantaneously, in the course of a few seconds of time, the whole town was labouring from the most severe shock of an earthquake ever experienced by the white residents, or remembered by the Maoris. The scene can never be described, the crashing of houses, the fall of bricks, the hurrying to and fro of women and children, and the incessant wave-like motion of the earth, producing a chill at the heart and dreadful feeling of sickness, were more than sufficient to appal the stoutest minded in the place. The shocks continued at intervals until half past seven a.m., when daylight broke, the place presented a melancholy appearance. Most of the large brick stores and dwellings, together with many of the solid clay buildings, had received a severe shock, and chimneys were levelled to the roof in about two-fifths of the houses in town. The Wesleyan Chapel, the gaol, and other public buildings were seriously damaged and the smash of glassware and other property was very great. Many people had narrow escapes, but we have to thank God for preserving life and limb.

“During Monday three or four slight quiverings were experienced. The weather cleared off in the evening, and the stars made their appearance, but few slept during the night, and at four o'clock and at half past seven in the morning, two slight shocks took place.

“Yesterday business was at a standstill though the shops were opened as usual. At half past three o'clock, a slight shock passed through the earth; this was followed by a severe one. Every house rocked and quivered like a ship in a gale of wind at sea, and several buildings either fell in or were so shaken as to endanger the inmates or those who passed beneath. Shocking to relate, Barrack Master Sergeant Lovell and two of his children, one, a girl of about four years, and the other, a boy of eight, who were passing down Farish Street, were buried beneath the falling bricks and rubbish which fell from the wall surrounding Mr. Fitzherbert's stores. They were immediately dug out, but we grieve to state that the little girl was quite dead, and the boy was so injured that he expired at eleven o'clock last night. The unfortunate father received severe injuries, but considering the awful nature of his affliction, he is doing better than could have been expected. The Colonial Hospital was severely damaged, so the patients were removed to Government House. The patients at the Military Hospital (locality Sturdee Street), were removed to the wooden barracks at Mount Cook, and the prisoners were taken from the gaol and placed in custody of the soldiery. Tuesday night passed over and daylight at length dawned. Many walked about all night and did not trust themselves in any place of shelter, while numbers found tents and covering in the open air. At 3.40 (Tuesday), severe shocks occurred which completed the ruin of the damaged houses and stores.

“On Wednesday morning the tide rose to an unusual height, overflowing part of Lambton Quay and all the sections at the head of the bay fronting the water.”

The sensation experienced on board H.M.S. “Fly” is described to have been as though the vessel had suddenly grounded. The shock was felt most in the fore part of the ship, and all the men ran up on the deck. The barque “Subraon” was at the time lying at anchor in the harbour, and several people took advantage of an offer made by the Captain to take refuge on board.

Fearful of another such visitation, many settlers with their families determined to leave the Colony for Australia, and took passage in the “Subraon,” bound for page 146 Sydney. The vessel, however, in beating out of the Heads, missed stays, and ran ashore, when she became a complete wreck. The whole of the passengers were saved (amongst whom was Sir Wm. Fitzherbert, a former speaker of the Legislative Council), and the majority again took up their residence in the land of their adoption.

The homeless were sheltered by those who were fortunate enough to be living in wooden houses and the ministers of the several denominations likewise performed good offices, and prayers were offered morning and evening in all the churches left standing, and in most of the private houses of the settlers. On Wednesday (18th), two or three slight shocks were felt, but the “Independent” was issued from the Press about 12 a.m.

On Thursday (19th), Mr. W. B. Rhodes' brick bonded store, the Wesleyan Church and numerous brick buildings were levelled to the ground. Several families took refuge in the new Episcopalian Church,* and the wooden buildings were used as places of refuge.

Friday 20th was set apart by proclamation by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, to be observed as a general day of public fast, prayer and humiliation. The audiences were unusually large, attentive and devout. To prevent alarm, most of the services were held in the open air, and were performed by the Rev. Robert Cole in the Episcopal Churches at Te Aro and Thorndon Flat, morning and evening. By the Rev. P. O'Reilly, Mass at 10.30 a.m., and as the Wesleyan, Primitive Methodist and Independent Chapels were destroyed, the Minister of the Evangelical Alliance announced these services to be held in the Scotch Church. Services were held also at the Hutt, Karori, Johnsonville and on board the “Subraon.”

For the first time on record in the history of the Hebrew faith in New Zealand, those of the Hebrew faith united with the other churches, and met at the house of Mr. Samuel, Kumutoto, on the same day (Friday). (“N.Z. Spectator,” 25th Oct., 1848.)

Slight shocks were felt at intervals during that day. Sergeant Lovell, after lingering until this time, expired during the morning, and was buried with military honours the following day (Saturday, 21st). The band of the 65th Regiment preceded the large gathering of people to his grave. During Saturday, slight shocks were felt at intervals of three or four hours, and a meeting of merchants and others engaged in business was held in Mr. Waitt's store, for the purpose of adopting such measures as were necessary in the present crisis.

Mr. Wm. Hickson occupied the chair. It was unanimously resolved to request His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor to enforce such measures as would prevent persons leaving the Colony without a sufficient previous notice of their intention, and that he would be pleased to provide for the public safety by the appointment of a Board of Survey.

A public notice was on view at the Custom House to the effect that a list of names would be required of persons about to take their departure from Wellington. This list to be supplied by the Captain of each vessel, by which they intended leaving, and affixed to the Custom House forty-eight hours previous to a clearance being given.

A Board of Surveying was appointed and the officer commanding the troops in the Province consented to the employment of the military in the removal of dangerous buildings, subject to certain limitations necessary for the good of the Public Service.

* St. Peter's.