Seismology: Earthquake, Jan 4th 1886


Eleventh Report of the Committee on Scientific Memoranda

Trans. Devon Assoc., vol. XVIII, (1886), pp. 71-72.


J. Brooking Row F.S.A, F.L.S.

Prepared by Michael Steer

A majority of the records in this committee report are extracts of letters from local inhabitants to newspapers, with reference to the earthquake on January 4th 1886, as it affected the general South Hams area. A great deal of useful information on earthquakes in southern England from ancient to modern times is available in Earthquakes of the South of England, by Ian West. 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 following accounts of an earthquake shock appeared in the local papers:

"What was undoubtedly a shock of earthquake, and a rather severe one, passed over the district of the South Hams yesterday morning, at about twenty minutes past ten o'clock. It was felt very generally all along the route between Dartmouth and Kingsbridge, as well as at other places lying more inland. Just after leaving Dartmouth, the driver of a bus which runs daily to and from Kingsbridge had a rather alarming experience, as of an oscillation of the ground, which lasted some seconds; and on arriving at Stokefleming, what he thought at the time must have been imagination was fully confirmed - persons standing about in alarmed groups. Mrs. Fox, who keeps a grocer's shop at Stokefleming, states that her house verily ‘rocked.' In the 'Green Dragon,' public-house, kept by Mr. Martin, the shock caused a quantity of plaster to fall from the ceilings. At Strete the oscillation was similarly felt. Mr. Wallace, postmaster of that village, asserted that he had just come from Eastdown, in the parish of Blackawton, where he had been in the course of his duties as letter-carrier, and the shock was very conspicuously felt there, several miles inland. The phenomenon appears, however, to have been more severe at Torcross than any other part, the inhabitants being thrown into a great state of alarm. The occupants of the ‘Fisherman's Arms’ which house stands on the beach, were so frightened that they one and all rushed out of the place, thinking, as they said, that the building was going to fall. Mr. W. Vickery, of the Torcross Hotel, gives several indications of the severity of the shock. In fact, it appears to have been felt by almost everyone in the village. At Stokenham, Chillington, and Frogmore, there was a unanimous confirmation of the oscillation and shaking experienced in the other villages, but in a lesser degree. It reached even as far as Kingsbridge, where it was most distinctly felt. At all the places mentioned the report of the time of the shock being felt agrees to two or three minutes. A further confirmation has been given by persons who were on the road at the time - some walking, and others driving or riding - in some cases several miles apart."  Western Morning News, Jan. 5th, 1886.

"The shock of earthquake in the South Hams, reported in the Western Morning News of yesterday, appears to have been felt very generally throughout the entire district, as far as the Start Point. The Rev. G. Trewby asserts that there was a distinct oscillation experienced at East Prawle. From West Alvington, Charleton, East Alvington, Dodbrooke, and other places are also received reports of the shock." – Western  Morning News, Jan. 6th, 1886.

Mr. Hamilton Williams, Claremont, Kingswear, wrote to the editor of the Western Morning News, Jan. 4th, 1886:

"Sir, - It may be interesting to you, especially should there be any corroborative evidence on the subject, to know that we have just experienced what I cannot but think was the shock of an earthquake. It was as nearly as possible at 10.30 a.m. The whole house shook, though solidly built on rock, and to such an extent in the upper floors that the servants were quite terrified, and my little girl of three years old ran out of her nursery to seek for help. All the windows rattled violently, and the table at which my elder children were working was visibly shaken. Those on the ground floor thought the noise to be that of thunder, but it was something quite different from that; and I am unable to explain the circumstance other than by the assumption that it was an earthquake.” — Western Morning News, January 6th, 1886.

Mr. T.G. Carew, writing to the Western Morning News from Hillside, South Brent, states:

"I distinctly felt the shock of an earthquake here on Monday, at about half-past ten in the morning, and heard at the same time a rumbling sound." — Western Morning News, January 7th, 1886.