The Storm, by Daniel Defoe

Chapter IV.

Of the extent of this Storm, and from what parts it was supposed to come; with some circumstances as to the time of it.

As all our histories are full of the relations of tempests and storms which have happened in various parts of the world, I hope it may not be improper that some of them have been thus observed with their remarkable effects.

But as I have all along insisted, that no storm since the Universal Deluge was like this, either in its violence or its duration, so I must also confirm it as to the particular of its prodigious extent.

All the storms and tempests we have heard of in the world, have been gusts or squalls of wind that have been carried on in their proper channels, and have spent their force in a shorter space.

We feel nothing here of the hurricanes of Barbadoes, the north-west of New England and Virginia, the terrible gusts of the Levant, or the frequent tempests of the North Cape. When Sir Francis Wheeler’s squadron perished at Gibraltar, when the city of Straelfond was almost ruined by a storm, England felt it not, nor was the air here disturbed with the motion. Even at home we have had storms of violent wind in one part of England which have not been felt in another. And if what I have been told has any truth in it, in St George’s channel there has frequently blown a storm at sea, right up and down the channel, which has been felt on neither coast, though it is not above 20 leagues from the English to the Irish shore.

Storms in Holland.

Sir William Temple gives us the particulars of two terrible storms in Holland while he was there; in one of which the great cathedral church at Utrecht was utterly destroyed: and after that there was a storm so violent in Holland, that 46 vessels were cast away at the Texel, and almost all the men drowned: and yet we felt none of these storms here.

And for this very reason I have reserved an abridgment of these former cases to this place; which as they are recited by Sir William Temple, I shall put them down in his own words, being not capable to mend them, and not vain enough to pretend to it.

“I stayed only a night at Antwerp, which passed with so great thunders and lightnings, that I promised myself a very fair day after it, to go back to Rotterdam in the States Yacht, that still attended me. The morning proved so; but towards evening the sky grew foul, and the seamen presaged ill weather, and so resolved to lie at anchor before Bergen ap Zoom, the wind being cross and little. When the night was fallen as black as ever I saw, it soon began to clear up, with the most violent flashes of lightning as well as cracks of thunder, that 1 believe have ever been heard in our age and climate. This continued all night; and we felt such a fierce heat from every great flash of lightning, that the captain apprehended it would fire his ship. But about eight the next morning the wind changed, and came up with so strong a gale, that we came to Rotterdam in about four hours, and there found all mouths full of the mischief and accidents that the last night’s tempest had occasioned both among the boats and the houses, by the thunder, lightning, hail, or whirlwinds. But the day after, came stories to the Hague from all parts, of such violent effects as were almost incredible; at Amsterdam they were deplorable, many trees torn up by the roots, ships sunk in the harbour, and boats in the channels; houses beaten down, and several people were snatched from the ground as they walked the streets, and thrown into the canals. But all was silenced by the relations from Utrecht, where the great and ancient cathedral was torn in pieces by the violence of this storm; and the vast pillars of stone that supported it, were wreathed like a twisted club, having been so strongly composed and cemented, as rather to suffer such a change of figure than break in pieces, as other parts of the fabric did; hardly any church in the town escaped the violence of this storm; and very few houses without the marks of it; nor were the effects of it less astonishing by the relations from France and Brussels, where the damages were infinite, as well from whirlwinds, thunder, lightning, as from hailstones of prodigious bigness. This was in the year 1674.

“In November, 1675, happened a storm at north-west, with a spring tide so violent, as gave apprehensions of some loss irrecoverable in the province of Holland, and by several breaches in the great dikes near Enchusen, and others between Amsterdam and Harlem, made way for such inundations as had not been seen before by any man then alive, and filled the country with many relations of most deplorable events. But the incredible diligence and unanimous endeavours of the people upon such occasions, gave a stop to the fury of that element, and made way for recovering next year all the lands, though not the people, cattle, and houses that had been lost.”

Thus far Sir William Temple.

Effects of the storm of 1661

I am also credibly informed that the greatest storm that ever we had in England before, and which was as universal here as this, did no damage in Holland or France, comparable to this tempest; I mean the great wind in 1661, an abstract of which, as it was printed in Mirabilis Annis, an unknown, but unquestioned Author, take as follows, in his own words:—

A dreadful storm of wind, accompanied with thunder, lightning hail and rain; together with the sad effects of it in many parts of the nation.

Upon the 18th of February, 1661, being Tuesday, very early in the morning, there began a very great and dreadful storm of wind (accompanied with thunder, lightning, hail, and rain, which in many places were as salt as brine) which continued with a strange and unusual violence till almost night; the sad effects whereof throughout the nation are so many, that a very great volume is not sufficient to contain the narrative of them. And indeed some of them are so stupendous and amazing, that the report of them, though from never so authentic hands, will scarce gain credit among any but those that have an affectionate sense of the unlimited power of the Almighty, knowing and believing that there is nothing too hard for him to do.

Some few of which wonderful effects we shall give a brief account of, as we have received them from persons of unquestionable credit in the several parts of the nation.

In the city of London, and in Covent Garden, and other parts about London and Westminster, five or six persons were killed outright by the fall of houses and chimnies; especially one Mr. Luke Blith, an attorney, that lived at or near Stamford, in the county of Lincoln, was killed that day by the fall of a riding house not far from Piccadilly: and there are some very remarkable circumstances in this man’s case, which do make his death to appear at least like a most eminent judgment and severe stroke of the Lord’s hand upon him.

From other parts likewise we have received certain information, that divers persons were killed by the effects of this great wind.

At Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire, a maid was killed by the fall of a tree, in or near the churchyard.

An honest yeoman likewise of Scaldwele, in Northamptonshire, being upon a ladder to save his hovel, was blown off, and fell upon a plough, died outright, and never spoke word more.

Also at Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire, a man was blown from an house, and broken to pieces.

At Elsbury, likewise, in the same county, a woman was killed by the fall of tiles or bricks from a house.

And not far from the same place, a girl was killed by the fall of a tree.

Near Northampton, a man was killed by the fall of a great barn.

Near Colchester, a young man was killed by the fall of a windmill.

Not far from Ipswich, in Suffolk, a man was killed by the fall of a barn.

And about two miles from the said town of Ipswich, a man was killed by the fall of a tree.

At Langton, or near to it, in the county of Leicester, one Mr. Roberts had a windmill blown down, in which were three men; and by the fall of it, one of them was killed outright, a second had his back broken, and the other had his arm or leg struck off; and both of them (according to our best information) are since dead.

Several other instances there are of the like nature; but it would be too tedious to mention them: let these therefore suffice to stir us up to repentance, lest we likewise perish.

There are also many effects of this storm which are of another nature, whereof we shall give this following brief account.

The wind hath very much prejudiced many churches in several parts of the nation.

At Tewkesbury, in Gloucestershire, it blew down a very fair window belonging to the church there, both the glass, and the stone-work also; the doors likewise of that church were blown open, much of the lead torn up, and some part of a fair pinnacle thrown down.

Also at Red Marly and Newin, not far from Tewkesbury, their churches are extremely broken and shattered, if not a considerable part of them blown down. The like was done to most, if not all the public meeting places at Gloucester City. And it is reported, that some hundreds of pounds will not suffice to repair the damage done to the cathedral at Worcester, especially in that part that is over the choir.

The like fate happened to many more of them, as Hereford, and Leighton Beaudesart in Bedfordshire, and Eaton–Soken in the same country; where they had newly erected a very fair cross of stone, which the wind blew down: and, as some of the inhabitants did observe, that was the first damage which that town sustained by the storm, though afterwards, in other respects also, they were in the same condition with their neighbours. The steeples also, and other parts of the churches of Shenley, Waddon, and Woolston, in the county of Bucks, have been very much rent and torn by the wind. The spire of Finchinfield steeple in the county of Essex, was blown down, and it broke through the body of the church, and spoiled many of the pews; some hundreds of pounds will not repair that loss. But that which is most remarkable of this kind, is, the fall of that most famous spire, or pinnacle of the Tower church, in Ipswich: it was blown down upon the body of the church, and fell reversed, the sharp end of the shaft striking through the leads on the south side of the church, carried much of the timber work down before it into the alley just behind the pulpit, and took off one side of the sounding-board over the pulpit: it shattered many pews: the weather-cock, and the iron upon which it stood, broke off as it fell; but the narrowest part of the wood work, upon which the fane stood, fell into the alley, broke quite through a grave stone, and ran shoring under two coffins that had been placed there one on another; that part of the spire which was plucked up was about three yards deep in the earth, and it is believed some part of it is yet behind in the ground; some hundreds of pounds will not make good the detriment done to the church by the fall of this pinnacle.

Very great prejudice has been done to private houses; many of them blown down, and others extremely shattered and torn. It is thought that five thousand pounds will not make good the repairs at Audley-end house, which belongs to the Earl of Suffolk. A good part also of the Crown-office in the Temple is blown down. The instances of this kind are so many and so obvious, that it would needlessly take up too much time to give the reader an account of the collection of them; only there has been such a wonderful destruction of barns, that (looking so much like a judgment from the Lord, who the last year took away our corn, and this our barns) we cannot but give a short account of some part of that intelligence which hath come to our hands of that nature.

Barns destroyed.

A gentleman of good account, in Ipswich, affirms, that in a few miles’ riding that day, there were eleven barns and out-houses blown down in the road within his view; and within a very few miles of Ipswich round about, above thirty barns, and many of them with corn in them, were blown down. At Southold not far from the place before mentioned, many new houses and barns (built since a late fire that happened there) are blown down; as also a salt house is destroyed there: and a thousand pounds, as it is believed, will not make up that particular loss.

From Tewkesbury it is certified, that an incredible number of barns have been blown down in the small towns and villages and thereabouts. At Twyning, at least eleven barns are blown down. In Ashchurch parish, seven or eight. At Lee, five. At Norton, a very great number, three whereof belonging to one man. The great abbey barn also at Tewkesbury is blown down.

It is credibly reported, that within a very few miles circumference in Worcestershire, about an hundred barns are blown down. At Finchinfield in Essex, which is but an ordinary village, about sixteen barns were blown down. Also at a town called Wildhampstead, in the county of Bedford (a very small village) fifteen barns at least are blown down. But especially the parsonage barns went to wrack in many places throughout the land: in a few miles’ compass in Bedfordshire, and so in Northamptonshire, and other places, eight, ten, and twelve are blown down; and at Yielding parsonage, in the county of Bedford (out of which was thrust by oppression and violence the late incumbent) all the barns belonging to it are down. The instances also of this kind are innumerable, which we shall therefore forbear to make farther mention of.

We have also a large account of the blowing down of a very great and considerable number of fruit-trees, and other trees in several parts; we shall only pick out two or three passages which are the most remarkable. In the counties of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester, several persons have lost whole orchards of fruit-trees; and many particular men’s losses hath amounted to the value of forty or fifty pounds at the least, merely by destruction of their fruit-trees; and so in other parts of England proportionably, the like damage hath been sustained in this respect. And as for other trees, there has been a great destruction made of them in many places by this storm. Several were blown down at Hampton Court, and three thousand brave oaks at least, but in one principal part of the forest of Dean, belonging to his Majesty. In a little grove at Ipswich, belonging to the lord of Hereford (which together with the spire of the steeple before mentioned, were the most considerable ornaments of that town) are blown down, at least two hundred goodly trees, one of which was an ash, “which had ten load of wood upon it: there are now few trees left there.

In Bramton Bryan Park in the county of Hereford, belonging to Sir Edward Harly, one of the late knights of the Bath, above thirteen hundred trees are blown down; and above six hundred in Hopton Park not far from it: and thus it is proportionably in most places where this storm was felt. And the truth is, the damage which the people of this nation have sustained upon all accounts by this storm, is not easily to be valued: some sober and discreet people, who have endeavoured to compute the loss of the several countries one with another, by the destruction of houses and barns, the blowing away of hovels and ricks of corn, the falling of trees, &c., do believe it can come to little less than two millions of money.

Force of the wind.

There are yet behind many particulars of a distinct nature from those that have been spoken of; some whereof are very wonderful, and call for a very serious observation of them.

In the cities of London and Westminster, especially on the bridge and near Wallingford house, several persons were blown down, one on the top of another.

In Hertfordshire, a man was taken up, carried a pole in length, and blown over a very high hedge; and the like in other places.

The water in the river Thames, and other places, was in a very strange manner blown up into the air: yea, in the new pond in James’s park, the fish, to the number of at least two hundred, were blown out and lay by the bank-side, whereof many were eye-witnesses.

At Moreclack, in Surrey, the birds, as they attempted to fly, were beaten down to the ground by the violence of the wind.

At Epping, in the county of Essex, a very great oak was blown down, which of itself was raised again, and doth grow firmly at this day.

At Taunton, a great tree was blown down, the upper part whereof rested upon a brick or stone wall, and after a little time, by the force of the wind, the lower part of the tree was blown quite over the wall

In the city of Hereford, several persons were, by the violence of the wind, borne up from the ground; one man (as it is credibly reported) at least six yards.

The great fane at Whitehall, was blown down; and one of the four which were upon the White Tower, and two more of them strangely bent; which are to be seen at this day, to the admiration of all that behold them.

The several triumphant arches in the city of London were much shattered and torn; that in Leadenhall-street lost the King’s Arms, and many other rare pieces that were affixed to it; that in Cheapside, which represented the Church, suffered very much by the fury of the storm; and a great part of that in Fleet-street (which represented Plenty) was blown down: but, blessed be God, none as we hear of were either killed or hurt by the fall of it.

The wind was so strong, that it blew down several carts loaded with hay in the road between Barnet and London; and in other roads leading to the city of London.

Norwich coach, with four or six horses, was not able to come towards London, but stayed by the way till the storm was somewhat abated.

It is also credibly reported, that all, or some of the heads which were set up upon Westminster hall, were that day blown down.

There was a very dreadful lightning which did at first accompany the storm, and by it some of his Majesty’s household conceive that the fire which happened at Whitehall that morning, was kindled; as also that at Greenwich, by which (as we are informed) seven or eight houses were burnt down.

Thus far the Author of Mirabilis Annis.

It is very observable, that this storm blew from the same quarter as the last, and that they had less of it northward than here; in which they were much alike.

Now as these storms were perhaps very furious in some places, yet they neither came up to the violence of this, nor any way to be compared for the extent, and when ruinous in one country, were hardly heard of in the next.

But this terrible night shook all Europe; and how much further it extended, he only knows who has “his way in the whirlwind, and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.”

As this storm was first felt from the west, some have conjectured that the first generation or rather collection of materials, was from the continent of America, possibly from that part of Florida and Virginia, where, if we respect natural causes, the confluence of vapours raised by the sun from the vast and unknown lakes and inland seas of water, which as some relate are incredibly large as well as numerous, might afford sufficient matter for the exhalation; and where time, adding to the preparation, God, who has generally confined his Providence to the chain of natural causes, might muster together those troops of combustion till they made a sufficient army duly proportioned to the expedition designed.

I am the rather inclined to this opinion, because we are told, they felt upon that coast an unusual tempest a few days before the fatal 27th of November.

Course of the wind.

I confess, I have never studied the motion of the clouds so nicely, as to calculate how long time this army of terror might take up in its furious march; possibly the velocity of its motion might not be so great at its first setting out as it was afterward, as a horse that is to run a race does not immediately put himself into the height of his speed: and though it may be true, that by the length of the way the force of the wind spends itself, and so by degrees ceases as the vapour finds more room for dilation; besides, yet we may suppose a conjunction of some confederate matter which might fall in with it by the way, or which meeting it at its arrival here, might join forces in executing the commission received from above, all natural causes being allowed a subserviency to the direction of the great supreme cause; yet where the vast collection of matter had its first motion, as it did not all take motion at one and the same moment, so when all the parts had felt the influence, as they advanced and pressed those before them, the violence must increase in proportion: and thus we may conceive that the motion might not have arrived at its meridian violence till it reached our island; and even then it blew some days with more than common fury, yet much less than that last night of its force; and even that night the violence was not at its extremity till about an hour before sunrise, and then it continued declining, though it blew a full storm for four days after it.

Thus providence by whose special direction the quantity and conduct of this judgment was managed, seemed to proportion things so, as that by the course of things the proportion of matter being suited to distance of place, the motion should arrive at its full force just at the place where its execution was to begin.

As then our island was the first this way, to receive the impressions of the violent motion, it had the terriblest effects here; and continuing its steady course, we find it carried a true line clear over the continent of Europe, traversed England, France, Germany, the Baltic sea, and passing the Northern Continent of Sweedland, Finland, Muscovy, and part of Tartary, must at last lose itself in the vast northern ocean, where man never came, and ship never sailed; and its violence could have no effect, but upon the vast mountains of ice and the huge drifts of snow, in which abyss of moisture and cold it is very probable the force of it was checked, and the world restored to calmness and quiet: and in this cicle of fury it might find its end not far off from where it had its beginning, the fierceness of the motion perhaps not arriving to a period, till having passed the pole, it reached again the northern parts of America.

The effects of this impetuous course, are the proper subjects of this book; and what they might be before our island felt its fury, who can tell? Those unhappy wretches who had the misfortune to meet it in its first approach, can tell us little, having been hurried by its irresistible force directly into eternity: how many they are, we cannot pretend to give an account; we are told of about seventeen ships, which having been out at sea are never heard of: which is the common way of discourse of ships foundered in the ocean: and indeed all we can say of them is, the fearful exit they have made among the mountains of waters, can only be duly reflected on by those who have seen those wonders of God in the deep.

Yet I cannot omit here to observe, that this loss was in all probability much less than it would otherwise have been; because the winds having blown with very great fury, at the same point, for near fourteen days before the violence grew to its more uncommon height, all those ships which were newly gone to sea were forced back, of which some were driven into Plymouth and Falmouth, who had been above a hundred and fifty leagues at sea; others, which had been farther, took sanctuary in Ireland.

On the other hand, all those ships which were homeward bound, and were within 500 leagues of the English shore, had been hurried so furiously on afore it (as the seamen say) that they had reached their port before the extremity of the storm came on; so that the sea was as it were swept clean of all shipping, those which were coming home were blown home before their time; those that had attempted to put to sea, were driven back again in spite of all their skill and courage: for the wind had blown so very hard, directly into the channel, that there was no possibility of their keeping the sea whose course was not right afore the wind.

On the other hand, these two circumstances had filled all our ports with unusual fleets of ships, either just come home or outward bound, and consequently the loss among them was very terrible; and the havock it made among them, though it was not so much as everybody expected, was such as no age or circumstance can ever parallel, and we hope will never feel again.

Situation of the Shipping.

Nay, so high the winds blew, even before that we call the storm, that had not that intolerable tempest followed so soon after, we should have counted those winds extraordinary high: and any one may judge of the truth of this from these few particulars; that the Russia fleet, composed of near a hundred sail, which happened to be then upon the coast, was absolutely dispersed and scattered, some got into Newcastle, some into Hull, and some into Yarmouth roads; two foundered in the sea; one or two more run ashore, and were lost; and the reserve frigate, their convoy, foundered in Yarmouth roads, all her men being lost, and no boat from the shore durst go off to relieve her, though it was in the day time, but all her men perished.

In the same previous storms the —— man-of-war was lost off of Harwich; but by the help of smaller vessels most of her men were saved.

And so high the winds blew for near a fortnight, that no ship stirred out of harbour; and all the vessels, great or small, that were out at sea, made for some port or other for shelter.

In this juncture of time it happened, that together with the Russia fleet, a great fleet of laden colliers, near 400 sail, were just put out of the river Tyne: and these being generally deep and unwieldly ships, met with hard measure, though not so fatal to them as was expected; such of them as could run in for the Humber, where a great many were lost afterwards, as I shall relate in its course; some got shelter under the high lands of Cromer and the northern shores of the county of Norfolk, and the greater number reached into Yarmouth roads.

So that when the great storm came, our ports round the sea-coast of England were exceeding full of Ships of all sorts; a brief account whereof take as follows:—

At Grimsby, Hull, and the other roads of the Humber, lay about 80 sail, great and small, of which about 50 were colliers, and part of the Russia fleet as aforesaid.

In Yarmouth roads there rode at least 400 sail, being most of them laden colliers, Russia-men, and coasters from Lynn and Hull.

In the River Thames, at the Nore, lay about 12 sail of the Queen’s hired ships and storeships, and only two men-of-war.

Sir Cloudesly Shovel was just arrived from the Mediterranean with the Royal Navy: part of them lay at St Helens, part in the Downs, and with 12 of the biggest ships he was coming round the Foreland to bring them into Chatham; and when the great storm begun was at an anchor at the Gunfleet, from whence the association was driven off from sea as far as the coast of Norway; what became of the rest, I refer to a chapter by itself.

At Gravesend, there rode five East India-men, and about 30 sail of other merchantmen, all outward bound.

In the Downs 160 sail of merchant ships outward bound, besides that part of the fleet which came in with Sir Cloudesly Shovel, which consisted of about 18 men-of-war, with tenders and victuallers.

At Portsmouth and Cowes, there lay three fleets; first a fleet of transports and tenders, who with Admiral Dilks brought the forces from Ireland that were to accompany the king of Spain to Lisbon; secondly, a great fleet of victuallers, tenders, store-ships, and transports, which lay ready for the same voyage, together with about 40 merchant-ships, who lay for the benefit of their convoy; and the third article was, the remainder of the grand fleet which came in with Sir Cloudesly Shovel; in all almost 300 sail, great and small.

In Plymouth Sound, Falmouth, and Milford Havens, were particularly several small fleets of merchant ships, driven in for shelter and harbour from the storm, most homeward bound from the Islands and Colonies of America.

The Virginia fleet, Barbadoes fleet, and some East India-men, lay scattered in all our ports, and in Kinsale, in Ireland, there lay near 80 sail, homeward bound and richly laden.

At Bristol, about 20 sail of home-bound West India-men, not yet unladen.

In Holland, the fleet of transports for Lisbon waited for the King of Spain, and several English men-of-war lay at Helvoet Sluice; the Dutch fleet from the Texel lay off of Cadsandt, with their forces on board, under the Admiral Callenberge. Both these fleets made 180 sail.

I think I may very safely affirm, that hardly in the memory of the oldest man living, was a juncture of time when an accident of this nature could have happened, that so much shipping, laden out and home, ever was in port at one time.

No man will wonder that the damages to this nation were so great, if they consider these unhappy circumstances: it should rather be wondered at, that we have no more disasters to account to posterity, but that the navigation of this country came off so well.

Ships adrift.

And therefore some people have excused the extravagancies of the Paris Gazetteer, who affirmed in print, that there was 80000 seamen lost in the several ports of England, and 300 sail of ships; which they say was a probable conjecture; and that considering the multitude of shipping, the openness of the roads in the Downs, Yarmouth, and the Nore, and the prodigious fury of the wind, any man would have guessed the same as he.

It is certain, it is a thing wonderful to consider, that especially in the Downs and Yarmouth roads anything should be safe: all men that know how wild a road the first is, and what crowds of ships there lay in the last; how almost everything quitted the road, and neither anchor nor cable would hold; must wonder what shift or what course the mariners could direct themselves to for safety.

Some which had not a mast standing, nor an anchor or cable left them, went out to sea wherever the winds drove them; and lying like a trough in the water, wallowed about till the winds abated; and after were driven some into one port, some into another, as Providence guided them.

In short, horror and confusion seized upon all, whether on shore or at sea: no pen can describe it; no tongue can express it; no thought conceive it, unless some of those who were in the extremity of it; and who, being touched with a due sense of the sparing mercy of their Maker, retain the deep impressions of his goodness upon their minds, though the danger be past: and of those I doubt the number is but few.

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