22nd December 1843

Guernsey struck by an earthquake

At 3.53pm, Guernsey was shaken by a violent tremor lasting several seconds. It was strong enough to cause the bell in Town Church to ring of its own accord, buildings to sway, and even the piers to rock on their legs.

As The Star reported, “unaccustomed as we are in this happy climate to all the fearful phenomena of nature, general surprise and alarm were created by this occurrence, the more especially as the shock was one of very considerable violence.”

Indeed, so violent was it that the staff of the paper ran outdoors for their own safety, fearing that the building might collapse on them.

Ominous signs

The full report has eerie overtones. Despite being late December, it had still been warm enough for people to be swimming in the sea. Two days before the quake, a luminous cloud had appeared above the water and hovered for 10 or 15 minutes. The nights had been “impenetrably dark”, and were only lit by the passing of a meteor. On the day of the quake itself, the clouds were “singularly tinted with pale green, red and purple”.

The earthquake was also felt in Jersey, Sark, Herm, Devon and even on a few ships close to the Channel Islands. However, despite its apparent severity, the level of damage sustained was low, amounting to little more than a few dislodged and broken roof tiles in St Peter Port and some collapsed chimneys in the parishes.

Some residents reported feeling an aftershock around an hour after the initial quake. The epicentre has since been calculated to have been close to Guernsey, with a magnitude of around 4.4. Earthquakes of this intensity are not particularly uncommon, with up to 15,000 occurring worldwide each year.

The 1843 incident was far from the only earthquake to shake the island. Further tremors were recorded in 1853, 1887, 1889, 1933, 2014 and 2015. The 2014 and 2015 shakes were less severe than that felt in 1843, registering 4.2 and 2.9 on the Richter scale respectively.


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