Reid's Hurricane of September 1839

For three days in August 1831, Bermudians were astounded by a strange blue cast to the sun and splashes of sunlight on walls and other surfaces also appeared to have a light blue hue...seemed light blue.


For three days in August 1831, Bermudians were astounded by a strange blue cast to the sun and splashes of sunlight on walls and other surfaces also appeared to have a light blue hue...seemed light blue. Later it was learned that sailors at sea, as far away as off Cape Hattaras, reported their sails appeared blue.

Unknown to Bermudians, during the same time period a terrible hurricane was wreaking havoc in the Caribbean. In seven hours alone, it killed 1,477 people in Barbados and demolished Bridgewater.

Although Bermuda was never affected, other than the loss of shipping in the Caribbean owned by Bermudians, historian Terry Tucker in her book Beware the Hurricane notes another interesting connection between Bermuda and the Hurricane of 1831.

It was in the wake of that Barbadian disaster that a British officer, Lt Col.

William Reid, was sent to the West Indies to assist the recovery.

He became fascinated with hurricanes. In 1838 he published his famous study Reid's Laws of Stormsand was made Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1839 Queen Victoria appointed Reid Governor of Bermuda.

Shortly after Bermuda's scientist governor took office in May, meteorological reports started to appear regularly in the Royal Gazette.

Governor Reid had never actually witnessed a hurricane firsthand, but that was about to change. On the night of September 11 and morning of the 12th one of the most awesome hurricanes in Bermuda's history struck.

The Great Hurricane of 1839 For several days before the hurricane, Bermudians, who were more intimately connected to the weather than most are today, started to see signs indicating some great upheaval in the weather.

The seas on the South Shore were agitated. A luminosity resembling an Aurora Borealis was observed in the ESE, edged by purple clouds and to the South lightening flashed. Tuesday's weather was dark and lowering On Wednesday morning, September 11th, Bermudians awoke to sounds of heavy surf on the South Shore, and felt the wind picking up out of the East.

Farmers looked forward to some rain and refreshing breezes as it had been a long hot summer and the land was parched.

True it is that we did have rain and wind, the Gazette would remark ruefully in its next edition, the former in torrents and the latter with such violence that there is scarcely a spot of 100 feet square, throughout the Islands on which there was an erection of any description, or where a tree grew, that does not exhibit marks of its devastating influence.

Midday on Wednesday, the word flew around town, in shipping offices and on the docks, that the barometer had taken a sudden drop. It continued to fall ominously throughout the afternoon and dense clouds gathered.

At 7 pm the hurricane unleashed its wind, rain and lightening and raged over Bermuda throughout the night. The wind shifted from the ESE to the SW by morning.

At 7 am it moderated for a few hours then redoubled its force for a few hours, before moving off a crushed Bermuda.

A direful visitation Continued on page 21 Reid's hurricane of September 1839 Continued from page 20 It has never fallen to our lot to record so violent and seriously calamitous a Hurricane.the Royal Gazette reported.

We have heard of several instances where whole families were driven from their dwellings to pass the night in the open air, exposed to the pitiless pelting of the storm,the Gazette reported.

Sand and sea spray from the South Shore were carried a mile inland ... and with few exceptions water in household tanks throughout the island is brackish.

Though the gale is not considered to be so violent as the one in 1780, the injury done to property on shore is far beyond it in magnitude.

Sad indeed was the appearance of our Parish on the noon of Thursday,the Gazette reported . Scarcely a house escaped injury, some were leveled and others unrooved and the sides walls rent to the foundation - walls and fences in every direction prostrate -thousands of stately cedars were either torn up with the roots, split in pieces or broken like reeds. Orange, lemon. Lime, peach and banana trees shared the same fate.

Hamilton in tatters The Front Street of Town was covered with branches or entire trees of the Pride of India, whose cool and refreshing shade was so much resorted - portions of verandahs, shutters, blinds, sign boards were to be found in every direction.

A spacious gap was made in the eastern wharf, and the a three quarter iron rod three feet high on the top of the Hamilton Bakery is twisted and bent horizontally. The tower at Tower Hill has been blown down and also the beautiful Mulberry Tree at Point Shares.

From the East End to the West End, the story was the same, the long lists of damage carried in doleful detail in the Royal gazette .

At Ireland Island, the exposed Commissioner's House, the Naval Hospital and hospital buildings were severely damaged, slightly less damage recorded to the Engineer's Barracks, most public and private residences. The Dockyard breakwater was pierced in several areas.

Among the many damaged buildings in St. George's was listed one extra ordinary event: a cottage situated on the South Side of the road leading to the cut having verandahs around it, was taken by the wind bodily across the road and lodged in a field some distance on the other side, breaking down several Cedar trees in its progress.

The Great Hurricane of 1839 was called Reid's Hurricane in Bermuda. Governor Reid became proved to be one of Bermuda's best governors.

When he arrived, he found but four ploughs in all of Bermuda and set about reviving the lost arts of agriculture in this then maritime nation. He also was instrumental in erecting Gibbs Hill Light as a warning to mariners.

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