22nd December 1843
An earthquake shakes the Channel Islands
At 3.53pm, the Channel Islands were shaken by a violent tremor lasting several seconds. It caused the bell in Guernsey’s Town Church to ring of its own accord, buildings to sway, and 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.” So violent was it, the staff of the paper ran outdoors for their own safety, fearing that the building might collapse on them.
A luminous cloud
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 felt in Jersey, Guernsey, 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 and some collapsed chimneys.
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 islands. 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.
FREE Jersey history newsletter
Don't miss our weekly update on Jersey's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.