An Early Account of a Tsunami

The following is a transcription of an account of an incident in the West Country of England, and Wales of 1607. I found it in the18th century  Gentleman’s Magazine who claimed it was a document found in the Bodleian library.

It shows that the name may be new but the event is not. It also shows how beautifully people wrote in those days, if you can deal with the strange spellings. But it also stops you in your tracks if you think what the aftermath must have been like – no emergency services, no food airlifts, and how long would it have taken to restock all those farms, rebuild lives homes and businesses? It is also a reminder of  how much of their lives were seen as a result of God’s intervention.

On Tuesday Jan 27 about 9 in the morning, ‘the sunne being fayrly and bryghtly spred,’ huge and mighty hills of water were seen in the elements, tumbling one over another in such sort as if the greatest mountains in the world had overwhelmed the low vallies, to the inexpressible astonishment and terror of the spectators, who, at first, mistaking it for a great mist, or fog, did not on the sudden prepare to make their escape from it; but on its nearer approach, which came on with such swiftness as it was verily thought the fowls of the air could not fly so fast; they perceived that it was the violence of the waters of the raging seas, which seemed to have broken their bounds, and were pouring in to deluge the whole land, and then happy were they that could fly the fastest. But s violent and swift were the huge waves, and they pursuing one another with such rapidity that in less than 5 hours space, most part of the countries on the Severn’s banks were laid under water, and many hundreds of men, women, an children, perished in the floods. From the hills might be seen herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep, with husbandmen labouring in the fields, all swept away together, and swallowed up in one dreadful inundation. Houses, barns, ricks of corn and hay, were all involved in the common ruin. Many who were rich in the morning were beggars before noon, and several perished in endeavouring to save their effects.

Bristol and Aust suffered terribly, and all the country from Bristol to Gloucester on both sides the Severne, was overflowed to the distance of six miles, and most of the bridges over it and the adjacent buildings were destroyed or defaced: At Chepstow, Goldclift, Matherne, Callcott-Moor, Redrift, Newport, Dardiffe, Cowbridge, Swansey, Langherne, and many other parts of Glamorganshire, Monmouthshire, Carmarthenshire, and Cardiganshire, the waters raged so furiously and came on so fast, that, upon a moderate supposition, there cannot be so few persons drowned as 500, men, women and children; besides many thousand herd of cattle that were feeding in the valleys, together with sheep, hogs, horses and even poultry, all of which were suddenly immerged in the waters and could not escape.

But what is still more strange, says my author, there are now not only found floating upon the waters still remaining, the dead carcasses of men and cattle, but also all kinds of wild beasts, as foxes, hares, rabbits, rats, &c. some of them upon one anothers backs, as thereby thinking to have saved themselves.

At a place in Merionethshire there was a maid a milking, who was so suddenly surrounded with the waters that she could not escape, but had just time to reach a high bank on which she stood secure from the inundation but without any relief from hunger and cold for two days; several ways were devised to bring her off, but in vain, till at length two young men contrived a raft, which, with long poles they pushed along, and with great labour and hazard fetched her away half dead with fear, rather than with hunger and cold, for, strange as it is to relate, the hill, or bank on which the maid stood was all so covered over with wild beasts and vermin that came thither for safety, that she had much ado to keep them from creeping upon her; and though among those there were many of opposite natures, as dogs and foxes, hares and hounds, cats and rats, with others of that sort, yet the one never once offered to annoy the other, but in a gentle sort they freely enjoyed the liberty of life without the least expression of enmity, or appearance of natural ferocity[makes no sense!!]

Glamorgan, Carmarthen, Cardigan and other counties in South Wales, bore their part in this dreadful visitation; many to save their lives ascended hills, trees, steeples, and houses, where they might see their cattle, and sometimes their wives and children perish without being able to give them the least assistance.

At Cardiff a great part of the church next the river was carried away by the violence of the flood.

Children at school, and travellers upon the road were equally involved in this general calamity; if they fled to the house tops, or to the tops of the hills, they were alike in danger of perishing by hunger and cold; but many were involved before they were aware of their danger. Some, indeed, escaped miraculously; in Glamorganshire a blind man that had been long bed-ridden, had his poor cottage swept away, and himself, bed and all, carried into the open fields, where, being ready to sink in 2 fathom water, his hand, by providence, chanced upon the rafter of a house, and by the force of the wind, then blowing Easterly, he was driven to land, and so escaped; in another place, a boy of 5 years old being upheld a long time upon the water by means of his long coats that continued hollow about him, was at length carried to land, by taking fast hold of the wool of a dead sheep that came floating by him just as he was ready to sink. A mother and 3 children were saved in Camarthenshire by means of a trough in which the mother used to make her bread; many more there were, says my author, that through the handy works of God were preserved; but there were not so many so strangely saved, but there were as many in number as strangely drowned.

“The lowe marshes and fenny grounds neere Barnstable, in the countie of Devon, were overflowene [sic] so farrre out, and in such outragious sort, that the countrey all along to Bridgewater was greatly distressed thereby, and much hurt there done; it is a most pittifull sight to beholde what numbers of fat oxen there were drowned; what flocks of sheepe, what herdes of kine have their bin lost. There is little now remaining there to be seene but huge waters like to the main ocean; the tops of churches and steeples like to the tops of rocks in the sea; great reekes of fodder for cattle are floating like ships upon the waters, ad dead beastes swimming thereon, now past feading on the saeme. The tops of trees a man may behold remaining above the waters, upon whose braunches multitudes of al kind of turkies, hens, and other such like poultry, were faine to fly up to save their lives, where many of them perished for want of reliefe, not being able to fly to dry laund by reason of their weakness.

This mercilesse water, breaking in to the bosome of the firme laund, has proved a feareful punishment as well to all other living creatures, as also to all mankinde; which, if it had not bin for the mercifull promise of god, at the last dissolution of the world by water, by the signe of the raine bowe, which is still shewed us, we might have verity beleeved this time had bin the very hour of Christ his coming; from which element of water extended towards us in this fearefull manner good lord deliver us all. Amen

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