So, as many of you know, I’m now on my research fellowship at the Huntington Library. In a previous post I promised to share with you some cool stuff I found, and on day one, here it is!

Mt. Tambora, a volcano located in Indonesia, is certainly a place haunted by catastrophe and history. On April 10, 1815, the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history–100 times more powerful than the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens–blew the mountain to smithereens, killing 90,000 people. This eruption was one of the major triggers of the catastrophic climate change that occurred between 1810 and 1820, resulting in strange weather patterns, crop failures, famines, and religious panics. This “Cold Decade” is the subject of my research.

Today, in a British naval journal, I found an eyewitness account of the 1815 Tambora eruption, from a letter written by a British resident. Here it is in its entirety. (“Tambora” is a more modern permutation of the word “Tomboro.”)

“Eruption of Mount Tomboro. Extract of a Letter, dated the 29th of May, 1815, from Batavia, from a Merchant of that Place.

We have had one of the most tremendous eruptions of the Mountain Tomboro, that ever perhaps took place in any part of the world; this mountain is situation on the island of Subawa, and is distant from Batavia not less than 350 miles. We heard the explosions here distinctly, and had some of the ashes. It was totally dark at Macassar long after the sun was up; and at noon, at Sourabaya, the sun succeeded in enlightening the good folks so as to allow them to see some yards around; the ashes lay at Macassar, which is 250 miles from Sambawa, 1 1/2 inches deep. Captain Feen, of the Dispatch, and Captain Eatwell, of the Benares, who have visited the island since the eruptions, both declare, that the anchorage is much changed, and that they found the sea, for many miles around the island, so completely covered with trunks of trees, pumice stone &c. as he was told, that a village was inundated, and had three fathoms of water over it. Great numbers of the miserable inhabitants have perished, and others die daily. The crops of paddy (rice) have been utterly destroyed over a great part of the island; so that the situation of the unfortunate survivors will be really pitiable.”

The power of this eruption is almost unimaginable. If you want to read about a similar event that was even more catastrophic, Google something called the “Toba Catastrophe Theory.”

Can’t wait to see what I’ll find tomorrow!

The photo of the caldera of Mt. Tambora is by Jailiang Gao and is used under Creative Commons 3.0 (Attribution) license.