Volcanoes: 18th Century Reports in Newspapers – Blog #7 by Edmund King

Posted on February 8th, 2013 by Amy

Volcanoes: 18th century reports in newspapers

Volcanoes have such a powerful impact upon our minds and on the environment around us. Reports are numerous in The British Newspaper Archive.
One of the earliest mentions of volcano in the BNA recounts how a very large bird was suffocated by the ‘sulphurous vapours’ emitted by Etna.  “…’tis conjectur’d that the sulphurous vapours of that volcano suffocated him…”

Newcastle Courant - Saturday 08 July 1721

 

Newcastle Courant – Saturday 08 July 1721

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000085/17210708/007/0003

‘A short account of the causes of earthquakes’ was printed in the Sussex Advertiser of February 1749. It provides a convincing explanation for the origin of a volcano, even if we know much more today.

Sussex Advertiser - Sunday 19 February 1749 page 2

Sussex Advertiser – Sunday 19 February 1749 page 2

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000260/17490219/003/0002

The eruption of Vesuvius in 1737 was  described in some detail in the Newcastle Courant in June 1737. The procession of the people of Naples towards the volcano, carrying the Head of St. Januarius and a piece of the Holy Cross, did not appear to make any difference to the eruption.

Newcastle Courant - Saturday 25 June 1737 page 1

 

Newcastle Courant – Saturday 25 June 1737 page 1

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000085/17370625/005/0001

The eruption of Vesuvius again in 1759 was  reported in the London papers, and a synopsis printed in the Caledonian Mercury in January 1760. The lava flows ceased and local people had some respite.

Caledonian Mercury - Wednesday 16 January 1760

 

Caledonian Mercury – Wednesday 16 January 1760

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000045/17600116/002/0001

Vesuvius attracted the attention of many. As British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples from 1766 to 1800, Sir William Hamilton became an expert on volcanoes. (He is often known as the husband of Emma Hamilton, who became the mistress of Lord Nelson.) In October 1780, the Scots Magazine published:  ‘An account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August 1779’. In a letter from Sir William Hamilton, K.B. F.R.S, to Joseph Banks, Esq; P.R.S.,  we can read some six pages of Hamilton’s detailed  work.  In addition to the many observations about the eruptions,  made at a distance, Hamilton experienced the volcano many times himself and says of this particular occasion:  “We then went up to the crater of the volcano; in which we found, as usual, a little mountain throwing scoriae and red-hot matter with loud explosions; but the smoke and smell of sulphur was so intolerable, that we were under the necessity of quitting that curious spot with the utmost precipitation.”

The Scots Magazine - Sunday 01 October 1780

The Scots Magazine – Sunday 01 October 1780

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000545/17801001/001/0001?browse=true

In the latter half of the 18th century, the trend towards a more analytical response to volcanoes and their eruptions is apparent. The Scots Magazine published a long article in February 1787, signed by Theophrastus, on: ‘Observations on volcanoes, and the formation of basaltic rocks, with a collection of curious recent phenomena.’  A summary of earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural phenomena in the 1780s is given. The article ends: “The knowledge of facts is the only foundation of true philosophy.”

The Scots Magazine - Thursday 01 February 1787

 

The Scots Magazine – Thursday 01 February 1787

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000545/17870201/001/0001?browse=true

Early in the 18th century, the sense of awe and wonder at volcanic eruptions was strongly in evidence. This gave way to a spirit of rational enquiry and fact gathering, as exemplified by Sir William Hamilton.  At the start of the 19th century, understanding of volcanoes was increasing greatly, as part of the growth of rational thinking about natural events, with explanations for their behaviour being  sought through scientific study.

Ed King

February 2013

Further reading:

Sir William Hamilton – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hamilton_%28diplomat%29

Volcanoes – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcano

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5 Responses to “Volcanoes: 18th Century Reports in Newspapers – Blog #7 by Edmund King”

Gillian DarleyFebruary 8th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

What a nice selection – you’ve expanded my range of quotations when I go out lecturing on Vesuvius, the most famous volcano in the world (published 2011, (2012 pb) Profile Books

BNAFebruary 10th, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Oh, we’re delighted to hear that you like the article on volcanoes – and we hope you continue to visit the site.

BNAFebruary 11th, 2013 at 9:36 am

Hi Gillian, we’re very pleased to hear that we’ve added to your list of quotations about volcanoes. Regards, Grant.

Sue McGeeverMarch 15th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Joseph Wright of Derby, the artist, an ancestor by marriage actually witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius and painted it in about 1774 – 1776.

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