2012-07-15

Before They Were Famous #2334 – Krakatoa

It had been puffing away since the Spring. There's a brief report - a single sentence - on Friday May 25th, in the foreign news summary (column 2 on page 5) of Freeman's Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser. This Dublin newspaper stated "A violent eruption has been going on since Sunday last on the island of Krakatoa, near Anjer, in the Straits of Sunda.". And that's it, dating the start of the eruption as May 20th, 1883. Not much to write home about, as they say.

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A few months later the event had become worthy of an engraving - from a photograph by HJCA Keuchenius - on page 145 of the news magazine The Graphic of August 11.

The written report was on page 139 loc cit:

ERUPTION NEAR BATAVIA, JAVA

ON Sunday, May 20th, the inhabitants of Batavia, the capital of the beautiful island of ]ava, were startled by the noise of what seemed to be a cannonade to the westward. The noise gradually increased, becoming towards noon a tremendous resonant booming. Next day the vibration was at its height and great alarm was felt ; the roar was continuous and deafening, and the rattling of doors and windows very severe. By Wednesday, the 23rd May, the noise and vibration had nearly, if not quite ceased. On that evening, passing ships reported to Anjer, at the entrance of the Straits of Sunda, that great volcanic disturbances had been observed on the island of Krakatau, situated at the mouth of the Straits, about midway between Java and Sumatra. The day following the Dutch steamer Conrad was detained several hours, steaming through miles of mud and pumice stone, while the whole sky, for leagues out at sea, was darkened by the dense smoke issuing from the crater. The forces working underground having thus at last found a vent, the noises which produced such alarm in Batavia had ceased. The scene was one of remarkable grandeur and novelty. At night the sky was lighted by the flames which shot up from the crater, during the day a dense smoke-cloud hung in the air, while the pumice-strewn sea added to the wonder of the scene A steamer was chartered from Batavia for the express purpose of enabling people to see this remarkable sight. Krakatau has not before been active since 168o, when an almost similar eruption took place. Greater volcanic energy is manifested in this part of the world than anywhere else. Java alone contains forty-five active and non-active volcanoes. For the foregoing description (which we have been obliged to condense from a highly interesting narrative), and for the photographs depicted in our engraving we are indebted, to Mr. H. J. C. A. Keuchenius, of the University of Leyden, and Member of the Batavia Bar.

It still hadn't gone bang though. That wouldn't happen for another couple of weeks. A third of the island had disappeared by August 27th. There was a further, longer, report in The Graphic of September 8 (pages 242-244) after the dust had settled (again, as they say). A few 'stock engravings' of pre-devastation Batavian scenery accompanied it.

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