Saturday, September 4, 2010

Canterbury Earthquake 1888

Christ Church Cathedral 1 September 1888

Star, Issue 6332, 1 September 1888, Page 3


The violent earthquake shock, which so rudely roused everyone from sleep at a few minutes past four this morning, may possibly not be the severest on record in this part of New Zealand, but it has certainly been by far the most destructive since the "Canterbury Pilgrims " landed. In the first place, what everyone feared would happen some day has actually happened, the spire of the Cathedral has come to grief. Its tapering, graceful outline, a landmark for every dweller on the plains within thirty miles, and a beacon for the mariner crossing Pegasus Bay, no longer cuts the sky. Twenty-six feut of the cross and upper spire have given way, and the melancholy appearance of the wreck strikes every eye. Hanging by the iron bands built into the stonework, the cross and parts of the finial still remain aloft, the cynosure of all eyes in the crowd which constantly gathers and melts away in the square below. Fortunately, the rest of the building has suffered no serious damage. Even the lower part of the spire, as far as is known at present, is perfectly sound. The blocks of stone fell mostly towards Cathedral square, and spared the building, though bright white spots on the grey masonry of the tower and ornaments show plainly where they struck in their descent, in some cases breaking off large splinters in their course. One hole has been made in the high roof of the nave, but it is not large; the more noticeable damage occurring in the lower roof, which is broken through in several places. The falling stone, it is curious to note, struck clear of the memorial font to Captain Stanley, coming to the ground on either aide of it, and spoiling nothing but a single arm of one of the tall gas-standards. Details, however, will be found under the heading "Cathedral."

It may, nevertheless, be stated here that services will not be held at the usual hours to-morrow, the City Council having been advised that with the tower in its present state it would be unsafe to do so.

We have said that the shock this morning was possibly not the severest that has been experienced here in Christchurch. A comparison of notes with people who remember the very alarming shake which occurred early on the morning of June 5, 1869, leads us to that conclusion. One of the most vivid memories remaining in the minds of those who remember that phenomenon is the hideous fear that was exhibited by animals. The unearthly noise caused by the barking of dogs, the lowing of cattle, and expressions of fear on the part of other dumb creatures, can never be forgotten by one who heard it. Nor is it easy to forget the waving of trees, the uncanny wave-like motion of the hedges, or the twisted and fractured chimneys that were to be seen in many quarters of the town. Still, the characteristic feature of the Cathedral City had not then been reared, and the damage done on this occasion, therefore, at once assumes a magnitude beyond that of former days. Elsewhere. Reports have not come in as yet in any quantity from other Provinces, but it appears evident that the vibration was heaviest on the West Coast of this island. In many places, indeed, the shock though very long and, of course, uncomfortable, seems to have done but little damage. In other places the inhabitants seem hardly to have done more than just to notice the shake.

The Cathedral.
At the time of the shock a man named Ross, employed by Mr Brightling, was walking along the middle of the road through Cathedral square in front of the Cathedral. He states, that the spire began to sway and the bells to ring almost with the commencement of the earthquake, and when the shock reached its climax, the upper part of the structure seemed to collapse, and came crashing to the ground. One of the pieces of stone fell very near to Ross. Most of the stone struck the footpath, south-west of the tower, between the fence and the drinking fountain, about eight feet from the fence, and about on the spot where the small piece of stone which was detached from the spire by the earthquake of 1881, fell. The mass of stone which came down this morning seems to have exploded like a bombshell, for fragments, some half as large as a man's body were strewn all over the footpath, and even on the road. The asphalt was smashed to pieces, for an irregularly shaped patch of nearly a yard in extent. A considerable portion of the debris fell into the Cathedral yard on the northern side of the tower. A young man, whose name could not be ascertained, was also an eye-witness of the disaster to the steeple. He was on the footpath near the Godley Statue, and bolted, under the impression that the entire tower was coming down. Finding it did not fall, he returned, and was soon joined by others, anxious, like himself, to see the extent of the damage. In a few minutes a crowd of considerable size was collected around the building. Many persons picked up the smaller pieces of the stone which were scattered about, to preserve as mementoes of the event. All devoted themselves to examining the tower as well as they could in the dim light, and many expressed the opinion that it was considerably out of the perpendicular. When however, the morning began to dawn, it wasseen that the graceful shaft which has long been the architectural pride of Christchurch was, although truncated, erect.
Mr Anderson, the steeplekeeper, went to the cathedral with the utmost promptness, and was inside it about ten minutes after the shock. He lighted the gas and found that there was only one place of leakage — from one of the standards near the font. One of the branches of this had been broken off by a large splinter of wood, detached from a roof beam by the concussion of a blow on the roof by some of the falling masonry. Having stopped the leak, he proceeded to make an examination of the building. He has had some experience of South America, par excellence the land of earthquakes, and knew what to look for. That was dust at the bottom of the walls inside. It seems that when a wall is injured by an earthquake, the shock dislodges certain particles of mortar, &c, which form tiny heaps and ridges on the ground. Mr. Anderson's examination was satisfactory. Dust there was none. The walls were uninjured. Together with Mr A. Merton, and another gentleman, Mr Watkins, who joined him, he pursued his investigations. He ascended the spire, to find that nothing was injured below the break. The cross, which, was hanging against the side of the steeple, he secured as well as he could with a rope. The four largest bells of the peal, which
had been "rung up," were "rung down" by the earthquake, and it was those which caused the clamorous peal which added so much to the startling effect of the shock. During the morning the debris was cleared away, from around the base of the tower, and arrangements were made for lowering the cross from its insecure position. Barriers were erected across the footpath to prevent people approaching too near, and a constable placed as a sentry over them. The gates of the grounds were also fastened to prevent the public from intruding on what might be dangerous ground. It will be necessary to remove about six feet of the remaining stonework of the spire, as it has become loosened.

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