The Recent Catastrophe in the Straits or Sunda caused by the eruption of Mount Krakatoa. 25th August 1883
Story conveyed from the steamer 'Nowshera' and 'Roma'
Transcribed from 'The Queenslander' 29 September 1883 (page 28).
This wonderful article was supplied by 'Steve Murphy'
The Recent Catastrophe in theStraits or Sunda.
THE brief telegrams we have been able to publish concerning the terrible loss of life caused by the immense tidal wave that swept over the Strait of Sunda during the latter
part of last month have given but a faint idea of the great convulsion of nature that has taken place in that part of the world. The steamer Nowshera, which arrived in Brisbane a few days ago, was at Batavia on the 26th of August, the day following the disturbances caused by the eruption of the volcano on the island of Krakatoa, but she had already passed through the Strait of Sunda, and left before accounts came in of the appalling loss of life and immense destruction of property that had taken place. The B.I.S.N. Company's mail steamer Roma, however, which reached Moreton Bay on Monday, came through the strait on the 6th September, and from Captain Mann and the passengers who came by her we have been able to learn some particulars of the disaster. The Strait of Sunda is the passage between the islands of Sumatra and Java, leading from the Indian Ocean into the Sea of Java. It is from seventy to ninety miles wide, and the western coast of Java, on the one side of the strait—where the principal loss of life, as far as is known, took place—is from ninety to 100 miles in length. On the western coast, some thirty or forty miles from the north-western point of Java, was situated the town of Anjer, and about thirty miles off this town, and nearly in the middle of the strait, was the island of Krakatoa. This island, which was uninhabited, was six or seven miles long and four or five miles broad, and on it was Mount Krakatoa, rising 2623 ft. above the level of the sea. This is a volcanic mountain, and had, we believe, been last in a state of eruption about thirty years previously. Although it is supposed that many other extinct volcanoes burst into activity about the same time, it is to the sudden eruption of Mount Krakatoa that the great convulsions that have taken place, and the consequent tidal wave, are attributed. Long before the Roma reached the Strait of Sunda indications that something unusual had occurred were noticed. Instead or a favourable current, Captain Mann met with a very strong one in the opposite direction, and when 200 or 300 miles away large quantities of floating lava or pumice stone were met with. This got thicker as the strait was approached, and some of the pieces seen were of great bulk. The weather was very bad, and as the vessel lurched a good deal the pipes by which water is supplied to the circulating pump got completely blocked up with small particles of lava. Until these were cleared it was impossible to continue steaming, and while this work was being done the steamer had to be stopped for several hours. This delay, which the passengers regarded at the time as very annoying, probably saved the fine steamer Roma from destruction. Had she continued without stopping she would have reached the strait before daylight on the morning of the 5th instant; and as the ordinary channel, in which there had previously been twenty-eight fathoms of water, had become studded with dangers, the chances of here escaping shipwreck would have been extremely small. As it was, at 8 o'clock on the morning of the 6th instant the Roma was steaming along on the usual course, when there hove in sight the Dutch man-of-war Prince Heinrich, flying the signal " You are running into danger; stop !" It may be imagined that Captain Mann was not slow in carrying out this command. The man-of-war soon came up, and, sending off a boat to the Roma, conveyed the tidings that the strait had been completely transformed, and that the old channel was no longer navigable. Captain Mann, however, was given a course to steer which had been ascertained to be safe, after which the vessels parted company, the Roma proceeding cautiously towards the strait, and the Prince Heinrich continuing to cruise about the vicinity to warn other vessels that might be following in the same track. The Roma had to make a considerable detour from the usual course, and by going slow and taking soundings escaped all dangers. On getting into the strait ample evidences were seen of the great convulsions that had taken place. In some places islands shown on the chart had completely disappeared : others had been broken up into several parts, and land and rocks had been thrown up above the water where previously no dangers had existed. One island of considerable size, called Thwart-the-Way, is situated right in the middle of the strait. The tidal wave, which is described as having been over 100 ft. high, must have swept clean over Thwart-the-Way, and what was once a picturesque island, covered with beautiful green trees, has been burst up into five or six distinct pieces of land, rugged looking and bare. Mount Krakatoa now stands alone in its grandeur. All the surrounding portions of the islands have been thrown over into the main channel towards Boczee Island, about five miles to the north-northeast. The volcano itself is apparently as high as ever, and Captain Mann describes its appearance as exactly resembling the Rock of Gibraltar. Two small islands (Verlaten and Langs) close to Krakatoa Island, strange to say, remain almost intact. Fourth Point Lighthouse is gone, only the foundations remaining; and at Flat Cape—the south-west point of Sumatra—the lighthouse keeper's quarters have been demolished, and only a temporary light is exhibited. The western coast of Java, at one time thickly studded with villages, is now a scene of desolation. As far as the Roma people could see, not a habitation was left. Some say that a portion of the coast has actually subsided, and that what was densely inhabited land is now sea. The Roma passed within half-a-mile or so of what was once the town of Anjer, but not a vestige of it remains above water. It is said that this was the most thickly populated part of densely inhabited Java, and the loss of life must have been, as it has been described, appalling. Farinland could be seen the marks left by the wave that had inundated the country ; and all along the coast, as indeed all land in the vicinity of the strait, is covered with white lava dust, appearing at a distance similar to hoar-frost. As the Java shore was previously lined with green trees and rich verdure, the contrast is indeed striking. All shipping on this coast must have been swept upon to the land or foundered. It is not known that any large vessels were in the neighbourhood at the time, but there is sure to have been a large number of smaller craft at Anjer and other towns on the coast. The Roma reached Batavia on the evening of the 6th instant. This town, being on the northern coast of Java, was fortunately protected from the full force of the tidal wave by the north-west point of that island. As it was, two breakwater piers, extending half-a-mile from the shore, were washed away, and some of the buildings were slightly damaged. The water rose into the streets of the town, and a few people were drowned. Krakatoa is eighty or ninety miles from Batavia, but the shock of the eruption was distinctly felt on the night of the 25th August, accompanied by rumbling noises. The houses were shaken, and the whole population were seized with a panic, running hither and thither in wild terror. On the 26th a shower of ashes and powdered pumice-stone caused almost complete darkness for four or five hours. When the Roma was at Batavia it was believed that 30,000 people had lost their lives; but it was impossible to arrive at anything like a correct estimate. The calculation then made only took into account the population on the Java side of the Strait of Sunda, as it had been impossible to communicate with the Sumatra shore. On the Sumatra coast the nearest port to Java is Telok Betong, which is in rather dangerous proximity to Krakatoa. The telegraphic cables being all destroyed, a man-of war had endeavoured to get to Telok Betong, but had been unable to make headway through the thick coating of pumice-stone that covered the surface of the water near the coast. One of the Netherlands-India Company's steamers was at anchor at this port when signs of the disturbance were first felt, but having steam up, she at once put to sea, and safely lay to in the strait until the danger was over. From the fact that she survived, it is probable that the tidal wave was not as high on the Sumatra as on the Java coast. Still it is most likely that much loss of life and damage to property occurred on the former island. In fact, it is supposed that a severe earthquake had been experienced in Sumatra, concurrent with the other disturbances in the Strait of Sunda, and there is reason to fear that the latest estimate wired to us, and placing the total mortality as high as 75,000, is only too near the mark. In the district of Anjer alone there were about 10,000 inhabitants. It would, however, probably take months to form anything like a correct idea of the extent of the damage. The unfortunate people who have been so suddenly swept off the face of the earth were mostly Malays, although amongst the native population of Java was a considerable proportion of Chinese. It is not likely that many Europeans were amongst the inhabitants of the towns and villages destroyed. Immediately after the eruption three British men-of-war at Batavia were sent out by the commander of the squadron in those waters to ascertain the damage done and warn passing vessels of existing dangers. The Prince Heinrich, as has been seen, was also sent on a similar mission. As the Roma was expected, a special look-out was kept for her, fortunately with success. A cablegram received recently states that a complete resurvey of the Strait of Sunda has been ordered by the Admiralty.