Eleventh Report of the Committee on Scientific Memoranda

Trans. Devon Assoc., vol. XVIII, (1886), p. 73.


J. Brooking Rowe F.S.A, F.L.S.

Prepared by Michael Steer

Katherine Anderson in her 2005 text “Predicting the Weather”, asserts that Victorian Britain, with its maritime economy and strong links between government and scientific enterprises, founded an office to collect meteorological statistics in 1854 in an effort to foster a modern science of the weather. But as the office turned to prediction rather than data collection, the fragile science became a public spectacle, with its forecasts open to daily scrutiny in the newspapers. And meteorology came to assume a pivotal role in debates about the responsibility of scientists and the authority of science. The present report provides eye witness accounts from Petrockstowe, Tavistock and Plymouth of a violent thunderstorm and a vivid meteorite descent. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers..

"The village of Petrockstowe, some few days since, was visited by one of the most remarkably violent thunderstorms ever experienced within the recollections of that custodian of rural affairs, ‘ the oldest inhabitant.’ The first symptoms of an aerial disturbance was a hot and sultry depressing atmosphere. Heavy thundering was then heard in northern and southern directions, and the disturbance appeared to be moving to a meeting over Petrockstowe. Torrents of rain now fell, deluging the ground, and seriously damaging cottage garden and field crops. A shower of hail, the stones being of an abnormally large size, followed. The chimney of Mr. W. Mills's pleasant residence at the Hall was next struck by lightning, which shattered it from top to bottom, tearing the damper out of the chimney, and depositing it with soot and debris in the centre of the room. The current of the electric fluid then appeared to pass, by the floor, to the door, its course being clearly and curiously marked by a white line, which is visible even up to the time of writing. Making its way out under the sill of the front door, it tore up and broke in pieces a blue stone in the porch, and a tile. Mr. and Mrs. Mills, and their servant, were all startled witnesses of this destructive phenomenon, being in the room at the time; but fortunately received no injury, as neither were in the line taken by the lightning." - North Devon Herald, May 13th, 1886.

The following letter, from Mr. W. A. Nomar, of Torrington, appeared in the Western Morning News of July 12th, 1886:

"Sir, - At 12.15 a.m., on the night of Friday, July 9th, while driving home from seeing a patient at St. Giles-in-the-Wood, a brilliant ball of fire appeared in a perfectly clear sky, as near as possible in the position of the Pole-star, but as the sky was partly obscured by trees I could not see the exact position it appeared in. It seemed to fall directly downwards, through about twenty degrees, and finally disappear. The colour was bluish, very like the colour of the single balls from the large rockets at the Crystal Palace, which afterwards change colour to red and green when the rocket bursts. Before it disappeared I had passed the trees, so that I could see the exact position, which was immediately beneath the Pole-star, at an altitude of from fifteen degrees to twenty-five degrees. There was no report, and no tail; but I think I saw one or two sparks left behind just before it disappeared. It was visible about five seconds. The inspector of the borough police, who I met in the town, and a special constable, had seen it."

This meteor was seen by others, and Mr. William A. Edye, of Old Town Chambers, Plymouth, writing the following day, confirms Mr. Nomar's statement, but says that it was visible for fully ten seconds.