On Earthquakes in Devonshire – Supplement (1885)

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Author(s): Parfitt. Edward; Year published: 1885; Origin: DA Transactions; Pages: 281-284
Topic(s): earthquakes and geology; Location(s): 

By Edward Parfitt. (Read at Seaton, July, 1885.)

As a supplement to the paper I had the honour of reading to the Association last year on “Earthquakes in Devonshire”, I now mention two or three that escaped my investigation. These have been very kindly pointed out to me by a gentleman with whom I have been in correspondence – Mr William White, who, in connection with Mr. R. Meldola, has been collecting and investigating all the particulars of the earthquake which occurred in East Anglia on April 22nd, 1884. The first of those which now remain to be recorded as felt in Devonshire occurred on

July 1st, 1747. – This was felt in many parts of the West of England, and appeared of an extensive character; it was felt at Exeter, and is recorded in the London Magazine, V. xix. p. 124.

May 5th, 1789. – A shock was experienced at Barnstaple at 3.15 a.m. It began with a rumbling noise, and continued for near a minute; direction said to have been from east to west. This is recorded in the Gentleman’s Magazine, v. lix. p. 457.

October 6th, 1863. – In addition to those places mentioned under this date in my paper add Seaton, Colyton, Bridport, Yeovil, neighbourhood of Tavistock and Ilfracombe; recorded in the Times.

October 30th, 1868. – In addition to the places under this date add Honiton; in Times, November 2nd, 1868.

January 22nd, 1885. – A shock occurred at Taunton, and was heard and felt by many persons in North Town, Bradford, Creech, Lydeard St. Laurence, Handy Cross, Stogumber, Monksilver, Charlinch, near Bridgwater, Coombe Florey, and along the line of hills forming the southern boundary against the Quantocks. It was also heard and felt at Exbridge, in Brushford parish. Bury, in Kingsbrompton, several places in Morebath, and at Shillingford. Through the kindness of Mr. H. S. Gill, who made enquiries, and also sent me cuttings from the Tiverton Gazette, and also of the Rev. G. Molyneux, who made enquiries for me along the line of the earth wave, I obtained useful information. The Tiverton Gazette of January 27th, 1885, under the heading of “District News, Bampton”, says,

“A Shock. – On Thursday evening, about eighteen minutes to nine, what is said to have been a shock of earthquake was felt here by several persons. The vicar says that at the vicarage it sounded to him like a heavy traction-engine, and the servants distinctly heard a rumbling noise under the floor. At South View Capt. and Mrs. Gataker heard a noise like a heavy report, and everything in the house rattled. A report was spread in the town [Bampton] that there had been a heavy fall of rocks and stones in Mr. Periam’s quarries, but no damage had been done there. Several considered it was the train passing very late that evening; but the fact is the 8.20 train leaving Bampton for Tiverton left punctually. The shock was felt also at Shillingford, and a vibration was felt in the schoolroom at Morebath.”

Part of this last paragraph is scarcely correct, as I have a letter from the schoolmaster stating that the children were that evening having their treat, and that from the noise made and the tramping of feet just then, he did not either hear or feel anything more than what was going on in the room.

“Mr. Capron, of Shillingford, thought he heard the rumbling of thunder, and felt so sure that it was so that he went out to see the state of the weather: he found a bright and clear sky. Another inhabitant of Shillingford heard a noise, and likened it to a very sudden and violent blast of wind down the chimney of his house.”

This was kindly communicated by the Rev. W. Harpley.

In reply to a letter of mine, the Rev. O. C. Wright very obligingly gave me the following experience he had at the vicarage at Bampton:

“The time was eighteen minutes to nine, and the effect in the drawing-room was like a heavy body, say a traction-engine, passing under the window, which looks east, the motion, I imagine, passing, east to west. In the kitchen the servants were alarmed by a rumbling noise and shaking under the floor. Some of my neighbours heard a report, and houses with cellars under them and higher felt the shaking more; some who were upstairs, thinking there had been a heavy explosion; rushed down and even out. The effects were felt at Shillingford, two miles distant, and also at Combehead, one and half mile distant, and considerably higher. A small piece of wall was thrown down in the town, but no further damage was done. The porters at the station felt the shock like a heavy mineral train passing. I am not prepared to say what was the duration of the shock; it was certainly felt by the majority of the inhabitants as a heavy passing body.”

A medical gentleman residing at Bampton was sitting in his room, heard a noise which he thought resulted from the fall of a large water-butt from its stage in the yard, and which he fancied was rolling over the stones. On going out immediately to examine he found that nothing, so far as he could see, had been disturbed.

“At Petton Cross a young farmer exclaimed in the midst of the family-circle, ‘Hark! there’s a train coming. What can it mean at this time of the night?’ All heard the noise, which ceased after six or seven seconds, and was not heard again.”

This was communicated by Rev. W. Harpley.

I addressed a letter to Rev. Canon Hillyard, of Oakford, four miles north of Bampton. In the absence of the canon this was very kindly answered by the Rev. G. Molyneux, who says,

“I find on making enquiries that some ladies noticed an unusual ‘rumble’ as though a heavy waggon or traction-engine were passing, but they felt no motion. They described the sound as being like the roar produced by a chimney on fire, and went so far as to satisfy themselves that such was not the case.”

This shock has been distinctly traced from where it was first felt for about twenty-four miles, from Taunton to Oakford, in the direction of east to west, and, so far as it can be traced, it seems to have been along the line of junction of the Devonian and Carboniferous systems. For the first ten miles from Taunton to the outcrop of the Carboniferous, the shock was through the New Red Sandstone Series; but the rest of the way to Oakford was apparently in the junction of the older rocks. There can, I think, be little doubt that both the Devonian and the Carboniferous are buried beneath the New Red Sandstone Series; the shock may therefore have begun and followed the line of junction, although at first deep down beneath the Trias.

With so much independent evidence as has been in this instance educed there can, I think, be little doubt as to the cause of the alarm created; and although no particular damage was done here, it appears quite evident that the old forces are still active, and may at any moment exert themselves to a much greater extent than they have done within the historic period.

In the active seismic region in Japan the action and the effects of recent earthquakes have been carefully studied by Mr. John Milne, professor of mining at the Imperial College of Engineering at Tokio, Japan. This gentleman says,*

“The earthquake may be compared with the effect produced by a charge of dynamite exploded beneath the surface of the ocean. In the vicinity of a point above, or nearly above the explosion, the disturbance is violent and destructive, while at a distance the motion is principally felt as waves which are being propagated horizontally.”

I have not been able to fix on the exact locality where the shock occurred, the wave of which was felt along the line from Taunton onwards for about twenty-four miles; but so far as the wave has been traced, it appears to have traversed the line of least resistance; namely, the junction of the Devonian and Carboniferous systems.

* Times, p. 12, May 26th, 1885.

Other writings by Edward Parfitt