The Storm, by Daniel Defoe

Chapter III.

Of the Storm in general.

Before we come to examine the damage suffered by this terrible night, and give a particular relation of its dismal effects; it is necessary to give a summary account of the thing itself, with all its affrightning circumstances.

It had blown exceeding hard, as I have already observed, for about fourteen days past; and that so hard, that we thought it terrible weather: several stacks of chimnies were blown down, and several ships were lost, and the tiles in many places were blown off from the houses; and the nearer it came to the fatal 26th of November, the tempestuousness of the weather encreased.

On the Wednesday morning before, being the 24th of November, it was fair weather, and blew hard; but not so as to give any apprehensions, till about four o’clock is the afternoon the wind increased, and with squalls of rain and terrible gusts blew very furiously.

Extract from Royal Society’s Transactions.

The collector of these sheets narrowly escaped the mischief of a part of a house, which fell on the evening of that day by the violence of the wind; and abundance of tiles were blown off the houses that night: the wind continued with unusual violence all the next day and night; and had not the great storm followed so soon, this had passed for a great wind.

On Friday morning, it continued to blow exceeding hard, but not so as that it gave any apprehensions of danger within doors; towards night it increased: and about ten o’clock, our barometers informed us that the night would be very tempestuous; the Mercury sunk lower than ever I had observed it on any occasion whatsoever, which made me suppose the tube had been handled and disturbed by the children.

But as my observations of this nature are not regular enough to supply the reader with a full information, the disorders of that dreadful night have found me other employment, expecting every moment when the house I was in would bury us all in its own ruins; I have therefore subjoined a letter from an ingenious gentleman on this very head, directed to the Royal Society, and printed in the Philosophical Transactions, No. 289, P. 1630, as follows:—

A Letter from the Reverend Mr. William Derham, F.R.S., containing his Observations concerning the late Storm.

Sir, — According to my promise at the general meeting of the R. S. on St. Andrew’s day, I here send you inclosed the account of my ingenious and inquisitive friend Richard Towneley, Esq.; concerning the state of the atmosphere in that part of Lancashire where he liveth, in the late dismal storm. And I hope it will not be unacceptable, to accompany his with my own observations at Upminster; especially since I shall not weary you with a long history of the devastations, &c., but rather some particulars of a more philosophical consideration.

And first, I do not think it improper to look back to the preceding seasons of the year. I scarce believe I shall go out of the way, to reflect as far back as April, May, June and July; because all these were wet months in our southern parts. In April there fell 12.49 lbs. of rain through my tunnel: and about 6, 7, 8, or 9, lbs. I esteem a moderate quantity for Upminster. In May, there fell more than in any month of any year since the year 1696, viz. 20.77 lbs. June likewise was a dripping month, in which fell 14.55 lbs. And July, although it had considerable intermissions, yet had M.19 lbs. above 11 lbs. of which fell on July 28th and 29th in violent showers. And I remember the newspapers gave accounts of great rains that month from divers places of Europe; but the north of England (which also escaped the violence of the late storm) was not so remarkably wet in any of those months; at least not in that great proportion more than we, as usually they are; as I guess from the tables of rain, with which Mr. Towneley hath favoured me. Particularly July was a dry month with them, there being no more than 8.65 lbs. of rain fell through Mr. Towneley’s tunnel of the same diameter with mine.

From these months let us pass to September, and that we shall find to have been a wet month, especially the latter part of it; there fell of rain in that month, 14.86 lbs

October and November last, although not remarkably wet, yet have been open warm months for the most part. My thermometer (whose freezing point is about 84) hath been very seldom below 100 all this winter, and especially in November.

Thus I have laid before you as short account as I could of the preceding disposition of the year, particularly as to wet and warmth, because I am of opinion that these had a great influence in the late storm; not only in causing a replention of vapours in the atmosphere, but also in raising such nitro-sulphureous or other heterogeneous matter, which when mixed together might make a sort of explosion (like fired gunpowder) in the atmosphere. And, from this ex plosion, I judge those corruscations or flashes in the storm to have proceeded, which most people as well as myself observed, and which some took for lightning. But these things I leave to better judgments, such as that very ingenious member of our society, who hath undertaken the province of the late tempest; to whom, if you please, you may impart these papers; Mr. Halley, you know, I mean.

From preliminaries it is time to proceed nearer to the tempest itself. And the foregoing day, viz. Thursday, Nov. 25, I think deserveth regard. In the morning of that day was a little rain, the winds high in the afternoon S. b. E. and S. In the evening there was lightning; and between 9 and 10 of the clock at night, a violent, but short storm of wind, and much rain at Upminster; and of hail in some other places, which did some damage: there fell in that storm 1.65 lbs. of rain. The next morning, which was Friday, Nov, 26. the wind was S.SW. and high all day, and so continued till I was in bed and asleep. About 12 that night, the storm awakened me, which gradually increased till near 3 that morning; and from thence till near 7, it continued in the greatest excess: and then began to abate, and the mercury to rise swiftly. The barometer I found at 12 h. ½ P.M. at 28.72, where it continued till about 6 the next morning, or 6 ¼, and then hastily rose; so that it was gotten to 82 about 8 of the clock, as in the table.

How the wind sat during the late storm I cannot positively say, it being excessively dark all the while, and my vane blown down also, when I could have seen: but by information from millers, and others that were forced to venture abroad; and by my own guess, I imagine it to have blown about S.W. by S. or nearer to the S. in the beginning, and to veer about towards the west towards the end of the storm, as far as W.S.W.

The degrees of the wind’s strength being not measurable (that I know of, though talked of) but by guess, I thus determine, with respect to other storms. On Feb. 7, 1698/9 was a terrible storm that did much damage. This I number 10 degrees; the wind then W.N.W. vid Ph. Tr. No. 262. Another remarkable storm was Feb. 3. 170½, at which time was the greatest descent of the Mercury ever known: this I number 9 degrees. But this last of November, I number at least 15 degrees.

As to the stations of the barometer, you have Mr. Towneley’s and mine in the following table, to be seen at one view. As to November 17th (whereon Mr. Towneley mentions a violent storm in Oxfordshire) it was a stormy afternoon here at Upminster, accompanied with rain, but not violent, nor mercury very low. November 11th and 12th, had both higher winds and more rain; and the mercury was those days lower than even in the last storm of Nov. 26th.

Thus, sir, I have given you the truest account I can of what I thought most to deserve observation; both before and in the late storm. I could have added some other particulars, but that I fear I have already made my letter long, and am tedious. I shall therefore only add, that I have accounts of the violence of the storm at Norwich, Beccles, Sudbury, Colchester, Bochford, and several other intermediate places; but I need not tell particulars, because I question not but you have better informations.

A Table, showing the height of the Mercury in the Barometer at Towneley and Upminster, before, in, and after the Storm.

TOWNELEY UPMINSTER.
Day. Hour. Height of Mercury. Day. Hour. Height of Mercury.
Nov. 25 7 28 98 Nov 25 8 29 50
3 64 12 39
61 9 14
26 7 80 26 8 33
3 70 12 28
9⅓ 47 9 10
12½ 28 72
27 7 50 27 82
3 81 12 29 31
95 9 42
28 7 29 34 28 8 65
3 62 12 88
9 84 9 30 07
29 7 88 29 8 25

Thus far Mr. Derham’s Letter.

It did not blow so hard till twelve o’clock at night, but that most families went to bed, though many of them not without some concern at the terrible wind which then blew. But about one, or, at least, by two o’clock, ’tis supposed, few people, that were capable of any sense of danger, were so hardy as to lie in bed. And the fury of the tempest increased to such a degree, that, as the editor of this account being in London, and conversing with the people the next days, understood, most people expected the fall of their houses.

And yet, in this general apprehension, nobody durst quit their tottering habitations; for, whatever the danger was within doors, it was worse without. The bricks, tiles, and stones, from the tops of the houses, flew with such force, and so thick in the streets, that no one thought fit to venture out, though their houses were near demolished within.

The author of this relation was in a well built brick house in the skirts of the city, and a stack of chimneys falling in upon the next houses, gave the house such a shock, that they thought it was just coming down upon their heads: but opening the door to attempt an escape into a garden, the danger was so apparent, that they all thought fit to surrender to the disposal of Almighty Providence, and expect their graves in the ruins of the house, rather than to meet most certain destruction in the open garden. For, unless they could have gone above two hundred yards from any building, there had been no security; for the force of the wind blew the tiles point blank; though their weight inclines them downward, and in several very broad streets we saw the windows broken by the flying of tile-sherds from the other side: and where there was room for them to fly, the author of this has seen tiles blown from a house above thirty or forty yards, and stuck from five to eight inches into the solid earth. Pieces of timber, iron and sheets of lead, have from higher buildings been blown much farther, as in the particulars hereafter will appear.

It is the received opinion of abundance of people that they felt, during the impetuous fury of the wind, several movements of the earth, and we have several letters which affirm it. But as an earthquake must have been so general that everybody must have discerned it, and as the people were in their houses when they imagined they felt it, the shaking and terror of which might deceive their imagination, and impose upon their judgment, I shall not venture to affirm it was so. And being resolved to use so much caution in this relation as to transmit nothing to posterity without authentic vouchers, and such testimony as no reasonable man will dispute, so, if any relation came in our way, which may afford us a probability, though it may be related for the sake of its strangeness or novelty, it shall nevertheless come in the company of all its uncertainties, and the reader left to judge of its truth: for this account had not been undertaken, but with design to undeceive the world in false relations, and to give an account backed with such authorities, as that the credit of it should admit of no disputes.

For this reason I cannot venture to affirm that there was any such thing as an earthquake; but the concern and consternation of all people was so great, that I cannot wonder at their imagining several things which were not, any more than their enlarging on things that were, since nothing is more frequent, than for fear to double every object, and impose upon the understanding: strong apprehensions being apt very often to persuade us of the reality of such things which we have no other reasons to show for the probability of than what are grounded in those fears which prevail at that juncture.

Others thought they heard it thunder. ’Tis confessed, the wind, by its unusual violence made such a noise in the air as had a resemblance to thunder, and it was observed, the roaring had a voice as much louder than usual, as the fury of the wind was greater than was ever known. The noise had also something in it more formidable; it sounded aloft, and roared not very much unlike remote thunder.

And yet, though I cannot remember to have heard it thunder, or that I saw any lightning, or heard of any that did in or near London; yet, in the country the air was seen full of meteors and vaporous fires: and in some places both thunderings and unusual flashes of lightning, to the great terror of the inhabitants.

And yet I cannot but observe here, how fearless such people as are addicted to wickedness, are both of God’s judgments and uncommon prodigies; which is visible in this particular, that a gang of hardened rogues assaulted a family at Poplar, in the very height of the storm, broke into the house, and robbed them: it is observable, that the people cried thieves, and after that cried fire, in hopes to raise the neighbourhood, and to get some assistance; but such is the power of self-preservation, and such was the fear the minds of the people were possessed with, that nobody would venture out to the assistance of the distressed family, who were rifled and plundered in the middle of all the extremity of the tempest. It would admit of a large comment here, and perhaps not very unprofitable, to examine from what sad defect in principle it must be that men can be so destitute of all manner of regard to invisible and superior power, to be acting one of the vilest parts of a villain, while infinite power was threatening the whole world with desolation, and multitudes of people expected the last day was at hand.

Several women in the city of London who were in travail, or who fell into travail by the fright of the storm, were obliged to run the risk of being delivered with such help as they had; and midwives found their own lives in such danger, that few of them thought themselves obliged to shew any concern for the lives of others.

Furious fire in Norfolk.

Fire was the only mischief that did not happen to make the night completely dreadful; and yet that was not so everywhere, for in Norfolk, the town of ---- was almost ruined by a furious fire, which burnt with such vehemence, and was so fanned by the tempest, that the inhabitants had no power to concern themselves in the extinguishing it; the wind blew the flames, together with the ruins, so about, that there was no standing near it; for if the people came to windward they were in danger to be blown into the flames; and if to leeward the flames were so blown up in their faces, they could not bear to come near it.

If this disaster had happened in London, it must have been very fatal; for as no regular application could have been made for the extinguishing it, so the very people in danger would have had no opportunity to have saved their goods, and hardly their lives: for though a man will run any risk to avoid being burnt, yet it must have been next to a miracle, if any person so obliged to escape from the flames had escaped being knocked on the head in the streets; for the bricks and tiles flew about like small shot; and it was a miserable sight in the morning after the storm, to see the streets covered with tile-sherds, and heaps of rubbish from the tops of the houses, lying almost at every door.

From two of the clock the storm continued, and increased till five in the morning; and from five, to half-an-hour after six, it blew with the greatest violence: the fury of it was so exceeding great for that particular hour and a half, that if it had not abated as it did, nothing could have stood its violence much longer.

In this last part of the time the greatest part of the damage was done: several ships that rode it out till now, gave up all; for no anchor could hold. Even the ships in the river Thames were all blown away from their moorings, and from Execution Dock to Limehouse Hole there was but four ships that rid it out, the rest were driven down into the Bite, as the sailors call it, from Bell Wharf to Limehouse; where they were huddled together and drove on shore, heads and sterns, one upon another, in such a manner, as any one would have thought it had been impossible: and the damage done on that account was incredible.

Together with the violence of the wind, the darkness of the night added to the terror of it; and as it was just new moon, the spring tides being then up at about four o’clock, made the vessels, which were afloat in the river, drive the farther up upon the shore: of all which, in the process of this story, we shall find very strange instances.

The points from whence the wind blew, are variously reported from various hands: it is certain, it blew all the day before at S. W., and I thought it continued so till about two o’clock; when, as near as I could judge by the impressions it made on the house, for we durst not look out, it veered to the S.S.W. then to the W. and about six o’clock to W. by N., and still the more northward it shifted, the harder it blew, till it shifted again southerly about seven o’clock; and as it did so, it gradually abated.

About eight o’clock in the morning it ceased so much, that our fears were also abated, and people began to peep out of doors; but it is impossible to express the concern that appeared in every place; the distraction and fury of the night was visible in the faces of the people, and every body’s first work was to visit and inquire after friends and relations. The next day or two was almost entirely spent in the curiosity of the people, in viewing the havoc the storm had made, which was so universal in London, and especially in the out-parts, that nothing can be said sufficient to describe it.

Another unhappy circumstance with which this disaster was joined, was a prodigious tide, which happened the next day but one, and was occasioned by the fury of the winds; which is also a demonstration, that the winds veered for part of the time to the northward: and as it is observable, and known by all that understand our sea affairs, that a north-west wind makes the highest tide, so this blowing to the northward, and that with such unusual violence, brought up the sea raging in such a manner, that in some parts of England it was incredible, the water rising six or eight feet higher than it was ever known to do in the memory of man; by which ships were fleeted up upon the firm land several rods off from the banks, and an incredible number of cattle and people drowned; as in the pursuit of this story will appear.

Abatement of the Storm.

It was a special providence that so directed the waters, that in the river Thames, the tide, though it rose higher than usual, yet it did not so prodigiously exceed; but the height of them as it was, proved very prejudicial to abundance of people whose cellars and warehouses were near the river; and had the water risen a foot higher, all the marshes and levels on both sides the river had been overflowed, and a great part of the cattle drowned.

Though the storm abated with the rising of the sun, it still blew exceeding hard; so hard, that no boats durst stir out on the river, but on extraordinary occasions; and about three o’clock in the afternoon, the next day, being Saturday, it increased again, and we were in a fresh consternation, lest it should return with the same violence. At four it blew an extreme storm, with sudden gusts as violent as any time of the night; but as it came with a great black cloud, and some thunder, it brought a hasty shower of rain which allayed the storm; so that in a quarter of an hour it went off, and only continued blowing as before.

This sort of weather held all Sabbath-day and Monday, till on Tuesday afternoon it increased again; and all night it blew with such fury, that many families were afraid to go to bed; and had not the former terrible night hardened the people to all things less than itself, this night would have passed for a storm fit to have been noted in our almanacks. Several stacks of chimnies that stood out the great storm, were blown down in this; several ships which escaped in the great storm, perished this night; and several people who repaired their houses, had them untiled again. Not but that I may allow those chimnies that fell now might have been disabled before.

At this rate it held blowing till Wednesday, about one o’clock in the afternoon, which was that day seven-night on which it began; so that it might be called one continued storm from Wednesday noon to Wednesday noon: in all which time, there was not one interval of time in which a sailor would not have acknowledged it blew a storm; and in that time two such terrible nights as I have described.

And this I particularly noted as to time, Wednesday, November 24th, was a calm fine day as at that time of year shall be seen; till above four o’clock, when it began to be cloudy, and the wind rose of a sudden, and in an half-an-hour’s time it blew a storm. Wednesday, December the 2nd, it was very tempestuous all the morning; at one o’clock, the wind abated, the sky cleared, and by four o’clock, there was not a breath of wind.

Thus ended the greatest and the longest storm that ever the world saw. The effects of this terrible providence are the subject of the ensuing chapter; and I close this with a pastoral poem sent us among the accounts of the storm from a very ingenious author, and desired to be published in this account

A Pastoral,

Occasioned by the Late Violent Storm.

Damon. Walking alone by pleasant Isis side.

Where the two streams their wanton course divide,

And gently forward in soft murmurs glide;

Pensive and sad I Melibaeus meet.

And thus the melancholy shepherd greet.

Kind swain, what cloud dares overcast your brow,

Bright as the skies o’re happy Nile till now!

Does Chloe prove unkind, or some new fair?

Melibaeus. No Damon, mine’s a public, nobler care;

Such in which you and all the world must share.

One friend may mollify another’s grief,

But public loss admits of no relief.

Dam. I guess your cause; O you that used to sing

Of Beauty’s charms and the delights of Spring;

Now change your note, and let your lute rehearse

The dismal tale in melancholy verse.

Mel. Prepare then, lovely swain: prepare to hear

The worst report that ever reached your ear.

My bower you know, hard by yon shady grove,

A fit recess for Damon’s pensive love:

As there dissolved I in sweet slumbers lay.

Tired with the toils of the precedent day,

The blustering winds disturb my kind repose,

Till frightened with the threatening blast, I rose.

But O, what havoc did the day disclose?

Those charming willows which on Cherwel’s banks

Flourished, and thrived, and grew in evener ranks

Than those which followed the divine command

Of Orpheus lyre, or sweet Amphion’s hand.

By hundreds fall, while hardly twenty stand.

The stately oaks which reached the azure sky,

And kissed the very clouds, now prostrate lie.

Long a huge pine did with the winds contend;

This way, and that, his reeling trunk they bend,

Till forced at last to yield, with hideous sound

He falls, and all the country feels the wound.

Nor was the God of winds content with these;

Such humble victims can’t his wrath appease:

The rivers swell, not like the happy Nile,

To fatten, dew, and fructify our Isle:

But like the deluge, by great Jove designed

To drown the universe, and scourge mankind.

In vain the frighted cattle climb so high,

In vain for refuge to the hills they fly;

The waters Know no limits but the sky.

So now the bleating flock exchange in vain,

For barren clifts, their dewy fertile plain:

In vain, their fatal destiny to shun,

From Severn’s banks to higher grounds they run.

Nor has the navy better quarter found;

There we’ ve received our worst, our deepest wound.

The billows swell, and haughty Neptune raves.

The winds insulting o’er the impetuous waves.

Thetis incensed, rises with angry frown,

And once more threatens all the world to drown.

And owns no Power, but England’s and her own.

Yet the AEolian God dares vent his rage;

And ev’n the Sovereign of the seas engage.

What tho’ the mighty Charles of Spain ‘s on board.

The winds obey none but their blustering Lord.

Some ships were stranded, some by surges rent,

Down with their cargo to the bottom went.

The absorbent ocean could desire no more;

So well regal’d he never was before.

The hungry fish could hardly wait the day,

When the sun’s beams should chase the storm away,

But quickly seize with greedy jaws their prey.

Dam. So the great Trojan, by the hand of fate,

And haughty power of angry Juno’s hate,

While with like aim he crossed the seas, was tost,

From shore to shore, from foreign coast to coast:

Yet safe at last his mighty point he gained;

In charming promised peace and splendour reigned.

Mel. So may great Charles, whom equal glories move.

Like the great Dardan prince successful prove:

Like him, with honour may he mount the throne.

And long enjoy a brighter destined crown.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37