Daily Archives: March 15, 2011

Japan, 15 June 1896: earthquakes and a tidal wave

In April 1892 the Adelaide Advertiser printed a description of ‘the great earthquake of 1891’ from a letter written by an agent of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company at Hiogo, Japan, and forwarded to the company’s Adelaide office. The writer described the earthquake as ‘the greatest seismic disturbance of the present century. The first and most severe shock occurred at 6.40 a.m. on October 28 and lasted about three minutes…’ During those few minutes nearly 10,000 people were killed and nearly 20,000 injured, and nearly 130,000 buildings were destroyed and over 50,000 partially destroyed (the writer gives exact figures).

The shock was accompanied by a low rumbling sound, the earth was violently shaken, and moved like the surface of a pool of water agitated by the wind, although the morning was perfectly bright and calm. … The earthquake was felt from Sendai in the north to Nagasaki in the south, over an area of 92,000 square miles, but most severely between Kobe and Tokio, the centre being the Nagoya-Gifu plain, one of the Japan’s great gardens.

Five years later there was another major upheaval, this time centred further to the north-east. By way of a ship that came directly from China and Japan, a report arrived in Australia a few weeks later of ‘the subsidence of a huge area off the northern coast of Japan.’

On Monday, the 15th June, the whole coastline of Iwate, Miyagi, and Aomori Prefectures, and of Rikuzen Province, a stretch of land measuring from 150 to 200 miles in length, was inundated by a tidal wave. Hundreds of houses have been swept away and probably thousands of lives lost. … There is unfortunately no room to doubt that the nation has to mourn a devastation almost, if not quite, equalling the terrible earthquakes in Central Japan in 1891.

The tidal wave was ‘preceded or accompanied by great seismic disturbances.’ The affected area stretched ‘from Sendai Bay on the south to Hachinohei and the eastern head of Aomori Bay on the north.’ The event was ‘a crushing catastrophe.’ Details to hand ‘suffice to make it clear that the country is face to face with little less than a national disaster. The feeling of the people is that the year promises to be a dark one.’

1891 earthquake: Advertiser (Adelaide) 23/4/1892, p. 4. 1896 earthquakes and inundation: quotations are from the report as printed in Sydney Morning Herald 21/7/1896, p. 6; see also Brisbane Courier 25/7/1896, p. 9.