Twelfth Report of the Committee on Scientific Memoranda

Trans. Devon Assoc., vol. XIX, (1887), p. 51-53.


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

Prepared by Michael Steer

The present report provides eye witness accounts of vivid meteorite descent from: Sparkwell, Torrington, Teignmouth, Sidmouth and parts of Cornwall. For deeper insight into the phenomenon the reader is referred to Ursula B. Marvin’s (2006) “Meteorites in history: An overview from the Renaissance to the 20th century. A Geological Society publication. 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.

At various places in Devon and Cornwall a brilliant meteor of an unusually beautiful description was observed on the evening of Tuesday, November 2nd, 1886. The following accounts are from the Western Morning News:

"The Rev. C. H. Crooke, Vicar of Sheepstor, wrote: 'The time of the appearance of the meteor was, as near as I can state it, 8.5 p.m. I was returning from church with the vicar of Sparkwell, and in walking up his garden-path towards the house, suddenly a very brilliant light struck us both with amazement. Every object around became clearly visible. The colour and effect were similar to those of the electric light.  On looking up we discovered the cause to be an intensely bright and very large meteor rushing through the sky in the direction of north-east to south-west. The body of the meteor appeared to be of the size of a large lamp globe, say about eight or nine inches in diameter. It continued its course for about three or four seconds. I had an unobstructed view of the wonderful sight, and at the end of the few moments during which it was visible, it suddenly exploded noiselessly and disappeared. Its course through the sky had been meanwhile marked on the surface of the heavens as if by a red mark of fire scratched on them, and this remained more or less distinctly visible for some minutes. I can offer you no scientific explanation, but simply relate facts in the hope that others may be able to supply my deficiencies.'

"A Torrington correspondent said that the meteor appeared to shoot out over that town, flooding the streets with a beautiful and brilliant light, which caused the individual grass blades in neglected spots to be distinctly visible. It passed towards the west, leaving a long ‘tail,' which remained as a curved line of yellowish-red for nearly three minutes.

"From Godolphin Vicarage the Rev. S. Rundle wrote: “0n Tuesday evening a meteor of vivid luminosity passed over Godolphin at a quarter past eight. Its course was from west to north-east, and during its passage of two or three seconds it obscured the light of moon, which was then shining brightly.'

"Mr. A H. Jenkins wrote from Trewirgie, Redruth, that on Tuesday night, about eight p.m., he observed a meteor of extraordinary brilliance, the light being as strong as an ordinary flash of lightning, and lighting up the whole northern sky. This was seen at Falmouth and many other places.

"The representative of the Western Morning News at Camborne reported that about quarter to eight on Tuesday evening a meteor was observed from Camborne to strike across the sky from the south-east towards the north-west, in a straight line, travelling with great velocity. There remained for several seconds afterwards an extremely bright purple and yellow streak in the sky, seemingly jointed like a cane, and having somewhat the appearance of a rocket It was the largest meteor seen at Camborne for many years.

"Gunnislake and Penzance correspondents described the meteor as being of great beauty, lighting up the whole neighbourhood, and leaving a luminous line behind it" - Western Morning News, November 4th, 1886.

Mr. Lewis Heal wrote from Teignmouth, November 10th, 1886:

"I have been expecting to see a notice of this extraordinary phenomenon from some correspondent in this neighbourhood, qualified to give an account of the appearance from a scientific standpoint, but having looked for such communication in vain, I think it a pity that an occurrence so important to science should pass unnoticed, and consequently took the liberty of asking you to insert this unvarnished statement. On Tuesday evening, the 2nd instant, at about ten minutes past eight o'clock, I was walking on the Den at Teignmouth, and when opposite Powderham Terrace, close to the coloured light placed there by the Trinity House authorities, I was suddenly aware of a most vivid and brilliant light which flashed across the sky in a south- easterly direction. So vivid indeed was the flash, that though the night was dark, every stone in the road stood out with the greatest possible distinctness, and I could see distant objects very clearly. When I first saw the meteor for the moment I considered it was a sky rocket, but thought it far too brilliant; but as the appearance lasted for several seconds, I at once concluded that this could not be the case."

The following letter appeared in the Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette of November 4th, 1886:

"Sir, - I have witnessed many what may be considered remarkable meteors, and reported several in your columns, but one that I witnessed exactly two hours since surpassed in brilliancy and duration any that I ever remember seeing before. It happened at the time stated, and first appeared about one-third from the zenith, in the centre of the western sky, which was cloudless. It descended perpendicularly, traversing about 20 degrees; and, judging by counting at the time, must have occupied about from six to ten seconds in its transit Four colours - viz., yellow, violet, grey, and white - were very distinct, and yellow, with a strong pinkish hue towards the tail, predominated in the nucleus, which, speaking comparatively, appeared about the size of a racket ball, and the length of the luminous portion equalled about one-fourth of the depth of the western sky. Although the half-moon was shining brilliantly a short distance to the south of it, the whole heavens were powerfully illuminated by it ; and after it had passed away the transit was marked by a curious-looking line of light, which continued for nearly two minutes. I may have been mistaken, but my impression was that I heard a sound at the time.
                                        "Yours faithfully, Thomas H. S. Pullin, M.D.
"Sidmouth, November 2nd, 1886, 10.16 p.m."