Portland Year Book 1905
|THE GREAT GALE OF 1824 |
|DESTRUCTION OF THE GREAT PIER
Mr Robert Pearce thus describes the event : Towards the close of 1824 the weather was unusually wild, and on the 23rd of November the sea rose so high that it overflowed the Chesil Beach. Anything like it had not been known before, and hence the people were not prepared for it. The story is a tragic one. The old and weak, the infant and the mother were bore down by the flood. Twenty persons were killed or drowned. Between 20 and 30 houses were washed away. In Mr Lowman's writings there is a touching story in connection with this event. He tells of one Grace Mitchell who was among the number who were drowned and whose funeral took place on the 6th of December. In the afternoon of this day, and perhaps after returning from the funeral, a young man, John Comben with his brother, Thomas Comben, and Mr Lowman were walking from Chesil round under the cliff, whilst the father, Bartholomew Comben, was walking along the top. Suddenly and without a moment's warning a large portion of the cliff fell away, 80 or 90 yards in length and representing thousands of tons. It was between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. Mr Lowman only just escaped, being but a few yards from his companion who " was beat to dust.."
Surgeon Ellis in his " History and Antiquities of Weymouth " records : Fleet church and village were destroyed ; at Chiswell 36 houses were demolished, 100 rendered uninhabitable, 100 families deprived of their all, 25 persons drowned, and loss of property amounting to £15,000. Several vessels were wrecked in that vortex of destruction, the West Bay, and their crews numbered with the dead.
"Fido Lunettes " in his " historical tend descriptive account of the Peninsula of Portland " (1825) writes :- On the morning of November 23, 1824, this part of the coast was visited by one of the most awful and terrific hurricanes that ever was known in the memory of the oldest inhabitant. The wind howled in tremendous gusts and the sea roared in a most horrible and frightful manner. The tide was unusually high, its ravages were indescribable and its destruction almost incalculable. Some people are of opinion it was occasioned by an earthquake or other extraordinary phenomenon of nature. The small village of Fleet, forming only one street of houses, and situate about three miles west of Weymouth was almost entirely annihilated. Only one humble habitation escaped the fury of the merciless tempest.. The church shared a similar fate in the general and systematic progress of havoc and annihilation.
At Smallmouth passage the Ferry House was precipitated by the violence of the winds and waves into a heap of ruins ; and the poor, honest worthy old ferryman, after thirty years servitude in that capacity and passage, fell a victim to his benevolence and humanity. In a noble and generous attempt to preserve the life of a dragoon, he was carried away by the force and impetuosity of the current, and inevitably lost. A few minutes after the occurrence of this melancholy disaster, the dragoon was brought on shore safely by, and firmly mounted on his spirited and valuable charger. Opposite the Passage house, on the other side of the ferry, a kind of hovel built by Governor Penn for the accommodation, and convenience of passengers in wet and stormy weather was carried away by the floods and
" Like the baseless fabric of a vision,
Left not a wreck behind.
The passage at high water is now about five times its former distance across and rather unsafe and dangerous. "
" Fido Lunettes "also relates the following remarkable incident:
A female with her infant child seeking for a place of apparent safety and security, was carried away by the current which forced its way through the houses and avenues of the village of Chesil. The infant fell from its mother's arms who was struggling ineffectually to preserve its tender existence and perished ; but the unhappy parent, by it miraculous interposition of Divine Providence, was saved in the following manner. When in the midst of the impetuous waters, and beyond the reach of all human aid, she was tossed by a strange and fortuitous concussion of the waves into a small boat, which had been carried nearly from the same place, and about the same time. The boat soon afterwards drifted by a house in which a young man standing at the window, saw her and stretched out his hand, caught hold of her and, dragged her from her perilous situation. She was literally tossed into the boat, without the least effort or exertion on her part, as it appears from the account of individuals who witnessed this extraordinary event. "
The "Colville" West Indiaman was wrecked and all on board perished. The same writer says :- During this tremendous gale, the Ebenezer smack about 80 tons burden, deeply laden with King's stores, was ran upon the beach at the beginning of the ebb tide. The captain and one man were washed overboard and drowned. . . She was carried by the wind and tide at. this eventful crisis to the highest verge of Chesil Beach and it is supposed that if her burden lead been much lighter she would have gone clear over it. To secure her in this position her cordage was necessarily cut, and this was the only damage she sustained.
This vessel is now refitted, and her cargo unshipped. It is intended to re-launch her in a few days into Weymouth Roads - the Portlanders are hauling her down the beach for that purpose.
The Westernorland, a Swedish ship, 300 tons burthen, in ballast, rode out the gale without her masts and dragged at her cables. The anchor had taken such a strong hold, that. afterwards, to remove the vessel from the situation, it was absolutely necessary to cut the cable and leave it behind.
DESTRUCTION OF THE GREAT PIER.
Fido Lunettes relates : The great pier was irreparably destroyed on Feb. 2, 1665, by which the Island sustained a loss of several thousand pounds and the distress of the poor, who depended upon employment, in the quarries for subsistence, was deplorable. Between this and the North pier, which was also cracked, considerably more than 100 yards of earth slid into the sea, and rocks, forty yards off the great pier head, rose above the water . . . . As the month of December 1734 was attended with very heavy and continued storms of rain 100 or 150 yards of earth on the N. E. end of the island gave way, and fell into tine sea, which in a great measure destroyed the pier and road; the damage was estimated at £4,000. Afterwards, at the expense of £700 a new pier and road were built near the old one. In the chasms made by this shock were discovered several large skeletons on the shore between the castle and the old pier, buried between two large stones perpendicularly erected, with a convenient space intervening and a third laid over or across them.
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