Did the 1883 Krakatoa Explosion Leave Ships in Peril?

In summary: The men, fixed to their beds by the fear of being hurled from their berths, could only see a dense blackness in which the fire flamed and sparkled.At last, at 5 a.m. the tempest died away, and the weary and frightened men were able to get up and look around them. The decks were ankle deep in ashes and cinders, whilst the air was so flammable that a lighted match was dangerous.Captain Watson thought that his ship might have been blown out of the sea, and he was sorely tempted
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On route to China, the Irish merchant vessel Charles Bal ran with the wind, NW through the Sunda Strait, just prior to the explosion of Krakatoa on 27 August 1883. [My comments].
The following report is extracted from pages 253 to 259 of: “The Log of The Cutty Sark”. Basil Lubbock. 1925. It is a good read.

The British ship Charles Bal was actually within sight of Krakatoa when the explosion split the island in twain.

Captain Watson’s description of his experience is worth recording. At 7 p.m. on 22nd August in 15° 30’ S., 1[0]0° 5’ E., [Indian Ocean] the Charles Bal suddenly ran into a milk-white sea, which coming from ahead gradually extended until it touched the horizon all round. The sky, also, gave forth a silvery glare, somewhat like an Aurora display, the cumulus clouds, which showed here and there being edged with a pinky light.

These phenomena continued to recur until the 25th, when the Charles Bal made Java Head; [T. Layar] the land was seen to be covered with thick dark clouds, pierced continually and in every direction by forked lightning.

Princes Island [Pulau Panaitan] was passed at 9 a.m. on the 26th, and by noon a small portion, along the water’s edge, of the N.E. corner of Krakatoa could be made out, the rest of the island being covered by a dense, black cloud.

The wind was S.W. with fine weather. By 2.30 the eruption was noticed to be growing steadily in violence: masses of black cloud being whirled to the N.E. at amazing speed, whilst the noise resembled heavy artillery fire at a second's interval one moment and the next a crackling and hissing as if of a mighty and furious fire.

At 4.15 p.m. the Charles Bal was only 10 miles south of the volcano, which was belching out what looked like blinding rain in a tornado-like squall of wind, and the glare was like that from countless millions of red hot ashes. The wind was moderate at W.S.W., and Captain Watson now shortened sail to lower topsails and fore sail, being more than troubled for his ship’s safety, as the roaring noise increased and every feature of the eruption grew more terrifying.

By 5 o’clock the sky had been completely covered in by a pall of black smoke, which shrouded the ship in a smothering darkness. A hail of pumice stone now began to fall — it was quite hot to the touch and many of the pieces were so large that the skylights had to be covered, whilst the crew of the Charles Bal had hurriedly to don boots and sou’westers to protect their feet and their heads.

For an hour these brickbats fell without ceasing; they were then followed by smaller stones and ashes and dust, which last blinded the eyes and speedily covered the decks to a depth of 3 or 4 inches, and all the time an intense blackness covered sky, sea and land.

Captain Watson now hove his ship to, not daring to hold his course in face of the stupendous cataclysm ahead. The Charles Bal was abreast of the Fourth Point — at least it was believed that the light had been caught sight of for a moment.

At this point Captain Watson described his situation as a truly fearful one. Sand and stones still fell without ceasing. The blackness over the doomed island was continually broken by sudden bursts of light as the: volcano roared in explosion after explosion, whilst all around the ship every kind of lightning zigzagged, flared and dazzled.

With the wind now blowing strongly from the S.W., the Charles Bal was put on the port tack, and gradually head-reached away from the Java shore until at 11 p.m. Krakatoa bore W.N.W. 11 miles off, and the eruption was in plain observation of her crew.

Chains of fire were noticed ascending and descending between the island and the black pall above it, at the same time balls of white fire rolled away from the S.W. end in a continuous stream. The wind blew strong, hot, choking and sulphurous, with the suffocating smell of burning cinders. Some of the lumps which were bombarding the ship seemed to be made of red hot iron. Captain Watson kept a man in the chains with a leadline, and the lead came up quite warm from a bottom of 30 fathoms.

From midnight to 4 a.m. the Charles Bal might well have been off the Mouth of Hell itself. The choking wind held strong but unsteady between S.S.W. and W.S.W. The pitch blackness on every side was pierced every other second by a blaze of fire as Krakatoa burst forth with a roaring and a thundering, which clattered, banged and rumbled as if the whole Earth were being shattered to pieces.

Electricity ran everywhere. The mastheads and yardarms of the Charles Bal were studded with corposants [St Elmo's fire], whilst a peculiar lurid pink flame seemed to come down out of the clouds until it appeared to be resting on the trucks of the masts.

At 6 a.m. the eruption grew somewhat less violent and it became light enough to make out the Java shore. The Fourth Point lighthouse was passed at 8 a.m. The Charles Bal hoisted her number but got no answer. At 8.30 she passed close enough to Anjer [Anyer] to make out the houses, but no movement of any kind could be detected ashore.

At 10.15 a.m. the ship passed within half a mile of the Button Island. The weather for the moment was finer, no ashes or cinders were falling, the sea showed like glass under the lee of the island and the wind was south-east, light. An hour later a fearful explosion came from Krakatoa, now over 30 miles distant; and for the first time the crew of the Charles Bal took notice of an earthquake wave. Four times this wall of water rolled up, sweeping right over the southern end of the Button, and rising half way up its north and east sides, whilst it could be seen running high over the Java shore. With this wave the wind came strong out of the S.W. by S., whilst; the sky was rapidly covered in by dense clouds of smoke, and by 11.30 a.m. the darkness had become so thick that it could be felt.

The ship was running N.E. by N. 7 knots under three lower topsails. Two ships had been sighted to the north and N .W. just before the sky closed in — they were the barques Norham Castle and Sir Robert SaIe — so Captain Watson put out his sidelights, placed two men on the look-out forward and gave his two mates instructions to watch on either quarter.

Once more the heavens began to rain stones and sand, and, in addition, mud, which was so thick and sticky that a man had to be specially employed washing it off the binnacle glass. At noon the atmosphere was so dense and impenetrable that men standing together could not see each other, and the crew had to grope their way about the decks as if in the thickest, blackest fog.

This terrifying state of things continued until 2 p.m., when the fall of mud ceased, though there was no diminution in the thunderings of the volcano, in the wild play of the lightning or in the brilliant glare of the flaming sky above Krakatoa.

Soon after 2 p.m. the lower yards were distinguished, and by 5 West Island and the horizon ahead were visible. But the sky remained dark and heavy, sand fell at times, and the roaring of the volcano continued very distinct, though by this time the Charles Bal was fully 65 to 70 miles away, with the North Watcher in sight over the bow.

The ship came out of the ordeal without any serious damage, but she looked as if she had been covered with cement from truck to waterline, her spars, sails, blocks and ropes being all coated with a mixture of mud and sand, which stuck like so much melted glue.

The last ship to take orders from Anjer was Carmichael’s Medea. She had to plough her way through a sea of pumice stone in order to reach Batavia. Here she was anchored in pitch darkness whilst Captain Thomson landed in the Dutch Custom-house officer’s boat. On the way to the shore, the final outburst, the one which probably split the island, occurred, and a glare went up into the sky which was so bright that human eyes could not bear it, then came the thunderous report in roll on roll of ear-shattering sound, such as has been reckoned to be the greatest ever heard upon this earth.

This was followed by the tidal waves, which caught the Charles Bal off the Button. The first wave picked up the [Dutch Custom-house] boat and, without breaking, deposited it on top of a goods shed where its terrified occupants lay prone until the water had subsided.

The Jason, of the same line, was one of the first ships to arrive off Anjer after the eruption. She found the Straits completely changed, there were islands where there should have been none, and some familiar landmarks had disappeared altogether, whilst the ramshackle town of Anjer was absolutely wiped out.

Captain Richardson landed. At first he could find no sign of life whatever, but at last a half-demented native was encountered.

To the captain’s stupefied enquiry :—“Where is Anjer?” the native replied in tones of terror :— “Anjer gone; wave come; all gone, all gone !" and straightway fled in a panic, as if he feared a second convulsion of Nature.

Captain Richardson estimated that the wave must have been 60 feet in height from the evidence of wreckage in the top of a solitary palm tree, which stood some distance from the beach.

[Edited to fix OCR errors].
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  • #2
Baluncore said:
The following report is extracted from pages 253 to 259 of: “The Log of The Cutty Sark”. Basil Lubbock. 1925. It is a good read
Very nice! thanks for posting this, I've never come across the log recording itself.
  • #3
Wow, that's quite an account. That captain was still trying to make progress under such dire conditions until safety of ship took over.

Here' s another volcanic account by Pliny when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD:


I remember many scientists centuries later didn't believe his account of the volcano erupting straight upward until they understood the nature of pyroclastic flows and the speed at which they traveled:


and the best timeline, I have ever seen:

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That is fascinating.
It strikes a chord in me, as a kid i read every sea story i could lay my hands on but never encountered that one.

What do you suppose was behind the electric discharge? Evaporation of water, or the magma underneath everything (sounds like you could have caught fish pre-cooked!) ?
  • #5
What a coincidence. I was looking at Astronuc's thread: Calderas and 'Super-Eruptions',
and noticed that the Krakatoa eruption wasn't listed, so I read the wiki entry, not more than 4 days ago.
Some of the numbers are mind boggling:
The sound waves from the explosion traveled around the world for 5 days.
The explosion was equivalent to a 200 megaton bomb.
2 1⁄2 inches of mercury (8.5 kPa)
ercury (8.5 kPa).
People 3000 miles away heard it.​
  • #6
Without a current eruption in the news we needed some excitement in this forum. At first I didn't think it appropriate to post an extract from the book, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a classical type description. With work place safety rules today such a passage could not happen, if it did happen it would not be reported. Clipper ships of the day were racing from Britain with cotton to Shanghai and Sydney for tea, wool and grain. To avoid the Sunda Strait and travel an extra week via the Lombok Strait would not have been encouraged as the first vessel to load would be the first to depart, so might be more likely to return to Britain before the commodity price dropped.

There is a parallel in this report with the fear of being sucked down into a whirlpool. It is interesting that the Charles Bal was unable to proceed when it had clearly passed Krakatoa. “Captain Watson now hove his ship to, not daring to hold his course in face of the stupendous cataclysm ahead”. It is an anomaly in the report. I suspect that the rising thermal plume countered the regional SW winds. That would have slowed progress of the sailing vessel, it would also have prevented the dust clearing. I suspect that while the Charles Bal was hove-to, part of the fear would be that the vessel was being drawn back towards the vertical thermal plume of Krakatoa. But later the wind is reported as being strong from the SW, so the vessel could again proceed. Maybe that was not realized or not clearly reported at the time, it does not add up.

jim hardy said:
What do you suppose was behind the electric discharge?
I believe that the lightning was the discharge following charge separation by MHD, the cross product of the Earth's magnetic field and the high vertical velocity hot gasses.

jim hardy said:
(sounds like you could have caught fish pre-cooked!) ?
“The lead came up warm from 30 fathoms”. Like the recipe for cooking a crow, put a rock in the pot with the crow, when the rock is soft, eat it.

The best reference work on Krakatoa is probably; SYMONS, G.J. (1888): The Eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena. Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society. Trübner & Co., London.
A pdf copy of which can be found here; https://archive.org/details/eruptionkrakato00whipgoog
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jim hardy said:
What do you suppose was behind the electric discharge?

lightning is very common in volcanic eruptions, the process of charge separation is very similar to that which is happening
in the typical thunder storm cell. It's just occurring with dry particles (ash) rather than wet ones (rain and hail) ... MHD and the Earth's magnetic field are not required




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  • #8
if you ever get a chance to get a copy of this book

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by ...
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Krakatoa is a pleasure from beginning to end. ... Simon Winchester has in Krakatoa: The Day the World ... credentials to bear on writing the story of Krakatoa: ...

it's very good. I met Simon on one of his vists to Otago Uni. geology dept. he was a good friend of one of my (now retired) lecturers Dr.Tony Reay, they did their Phd's together ... think it was Oxford (UK)

The book starts well before the eruption setting the scene of the commerce in Indonesia, the East India Tea Co. etc
an enjoyable read

Simon wrote another one as well, another good read about the 1906 San Francisco quake ...

A Crack in the Edge of the World: ... 8.25 earthquake rocked San Francisco in the ... San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Author Simon Winchester talks about ...
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Yes, nature's phenomena can shake the bedrock beneath our comfortable (relatively speaking) lives. I can't imagine what captain and crew thought was really happening to create what must have seemed to be incomprehensible terrors. Was the world coming to an end? After all, they didn't have shipboard wireless (even Morse code transmitters) in those days. Under electrical conditions like those, it's unlikely that radios would do any good anyway. So, for all they knew the entire world could have been going up in a great cataclysm of fire, smoke and lightning. A modern, scientifically inclined guy like myself might have doubts about his beliefs in such conditions.
Relatedly, what phenomena would be observed in near and outer space? Ash clouds from smaller eruptions extend for miles above sea level, so the Van deGraaf generators they constitute are pushing charges a long way upward...
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Mark Harder said:
Relatedly, what phenomena would be observed in near and outer space? Ash clouds from smaller eruptions extend for miles above sea level, so the Van deGraaf generators they constitute are pushing charges a long way upward...
Possibly a "sprite" caused by lightning discharging, however those are rare.
  • #11
1oldman2 said:
Possibly a "sprite" caused by lightning discharging, however those are rare.
View attachment 104055
definitely a sprite :smile:
sprites are actually quite common, they are getting photo'ed on a weekly basis these days :smile:
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davenn said:
definitely a sprite :smile:
sprites are actually quite common, they are getting photo'ed on a weekly basis these days :smile:
Hi, I haven't read up on sprites lately so I was assuming they were still rarely observed, after a little thought I realized that with all the photography going on aboard the ISS these days they probably are turning up frequently. The pic I posted was a stock NASA image that I thought would demonstrate the "sprite" to MH, I enjoy watching the ustream feed from ISS and a good lightning show during orbital night is always a welcome event, unfortunately the camera settings don't allow sprites to be seen, The astro's on the other hand have some great camera equipment.
While we are on the subject of Krakatoa, I remember seeing a movie in about "69" or "70" called Krakatoa east of java. Definitely a Hollywood version but that's what comes to my mind reading this thread, after reading the log here it's apparent the real deal was way worse than the film. :smile:
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many of my storm chaser mates have been photographing sprites
still on my "to achieve list" !

1oldman2 said:
called Krakatoa east of java. Definitely a Hollywood version

Krakatoa East of Java (1968) - Watch Movies Online For Free
https://two movies.net/watch_movie/Krakatoa_East_of_Java
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Watch Krakatoa East of Java online for free, download Krakatoa East of Java. ... Watch Krakatoa East of Java Movie online. ... Click here to read the full guide...hahaha ... that made me giggle .. east of Java ? ... don't think so

trust Hollywood to get it wrong

@1oldman2 did you see my new big quake thread ?
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davenn said:
trust Hollywood to get it wrong
It's what they do best. :film::lava::smile:
davenn said:
did you see my new big quake thread ?
No, but I'm about to. :thumbup:
  • #15
Nautilus (September 26, 2014) - The Sound So Loud That It Circled the Earth Four Times

A barometer at the Batavia gasworks (100 miles away from Krakatoa) registered the ensuing spike in pressure at over 2.5 inches of mercury1,2. That converts to over 172 decibels of sound pressure, an unimaginably loud noise.

Closer to Krakatoa, the sound was well over this limit, producing a blast of high pressure air so powerful that it ruptured the eardrums of sailors 40 miles away. As this sound travelled thousands of miles, reaching Australia and the Indian Ocean, the wiggles in pressure started to die down, sounding more like a distant gunshot. Over 3,000 miles into its journey, the wave of pressure grew too quiet for human ears to hear, but it continued to sweep onward, reverberating for days across the globe. The atmosphere was ringing like a bell, imperceptible to us but detectable by our instruments.

By 1883, weather stations in scores of cities across the world were using barometers to track changes in atmospheric pressure. Six hours and 47 minutes after the Krakatoa explosion, a spike of air pressure was detected in Calcutta. By 8 hours, the pulse reached Mauritius in the west and Melbourne and Sydney in the east. By 12 hours, St. Petersburg noticed the pulse, followed by Vienna, Rome, Paris, Berlin, and Munich. By 18 hours the pulse had reached New York, Washington DC, and Toronto. Amazingly, for as many as 5 days after the explosion, weather stations in 50 cities around the globe observed this unprecedented spike in pressure re-occuring like clockwork, approximately every 34 hours. That is roughly how long it takes sound to travel around the entire planet.
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I was impressed with this docudrama on the event.

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  • #17
pinball1970 said:
I was impressed with this docudrama on the event.

Yes, I saved that video some time ago very good

thankyou for posting :)
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Related to Did the 1883 Krakatoa Explosion Leave Ships in Peril?

1. What exactly is the Krakatoa Explosion report?

The Krakatoa Explosion report is a scientific document that describes the eruption and aftermath of the Krakatoa volcanic island in Indonesia, which occurred on August 26-27, 1883. It includes observations, measurements, and analysis of the explosion's impact on the surrounding environment.

2. Why is the Krakatoa Explosion report significant?

The Krakatoa Explosion report is significant because it was one of the largest and most destructive volcanic eruptions in recorded history. It also sparked global interest in the study of volcanoes and their impact on the environment and society.

3. Who wrote the Krakatoa Explosion report?

The Krakatoa Explosion report was written by a team of scientists and researchers from the Dutch East Indies government, led by Dutch geologist Rogier Verbeek. The team also included German naturalist Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn and Dutch meteorologist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje.

4. What information does the Krakatoa Explosion report contain?

The Krakatoa Explosion report contains detailed information about the eruption, including the size and strength of the explosion, the resulting tsunami and its impact on nearby coastlines, and the changes in the island's landscape. It also includes data on the atmospheric and environmental effects of the eruption, such as the volcanic ash and gases released into the atmosphere.

5. How did the Krakatoa Explosion report contribute to the understanding of volcanoes?

The Krakatoa Explosion report contributed significantly to the understanding of volcanoes by providing detailed observations and measurements of a major volcanic eruption. It also helped to establish a better understanding of the effects of volcanic activity on the environment and the potential hazards posed by such eruptions.

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