August 27th 1883
It's August 27th today and we can celebrate, if that's the word, a cataclysmic event that took place 125 years ago here in what was then the Dutch East Indies.
If you don't know what the occasion is/was then look a moment at this parody of a very famous painting from 1893 - which, for copyright reasons, I supposedly can't reproduce - Edvard Munch's The Scream
. Perusal of the Norwegian artist's journals indicate that traumatic events in his past inspired many of his paintings.Reports collected by the Royal Society in London show that unusually red twilight glows appeared in Norway from late November 1883 through the middle of February 1884. The spectacle was widely seen, as Christiania's daily newspaper reported on November 30, 1883.
Coupled with topographic analysis, this is probable proof that the spectacular twilight seen in one of today's most recognizable paintings was inspired by the eruption of Krakatoa ten years previously.
Coincidentally, and thanks to frequent commentator Miko, I am currently reading Simon Winchester's Krakatoa
- The Day The Earth Exploded, pub. Viking 2003, an immensely gripping account and a highly recommended read
Before we get to the eruption we are treated to a fascinating array of relevant subjects that should appeal to any reader of eclectic interests: the evolution of the Dutch East India Company and its spice trade, Darwinism, the Wallace Line, continental drift, convection currents inside the Earth's mantle, plate tectonics, paleomagnetism, subduction zones, the development of underwater telegraph cables, evidence for Krakatoan eruptions in earlier centuries, and the observed paroxysms of the doomed island in the months, days, and hours before the final cataclysm. While many of the subjects may sound dry, the author's treatment of them isn't.
It is fascinating to learn that in 1856, the electric telegraph was introduced to the Dutch East Indies, connecting the colonial offices in Batavia with the palace in Buitenzorg (now Bogor). -------From then on the pace of technological innovation in Java quickened. The island was connected internationally in 1859, acquiring an undersea line to Singapore (though this failed after a few days) and then, in 1870, links to both the Malay States and Australia. These proved to be totally stable: and so by the time of the Krakatoa eruption (on August 27th, 1888), the places where the explosion was seen and felt and heard and suffered were all connected, by the dots and dashes of Mr. Morse's code, to the world beyond.--------The eruption of Krakatoa was, indeed, the first true catastrophe in the world after the establishment of a worldwidenet work of telegraph cables - a network that allowed news of disasters to be flashed around the world in double quick time. The implications of this rapid and near ubiquitous spread of information was profound.
Similarly, the internet here has spread news of the seemingly abundant disasters, both natural and manmade - earthquakes
, terrorist acts
and the Aceh tsunami
which, although immensely tragic, was surely not as traumatic in its (literally) earth-shattering significance as the tsunami which followed the disappearance of Krakatoa. (I posted these stories within minutes of their occurrence having got the news via telephone or television.)
JMW Turner - The Fighting Téméraire, 1838
This painting probably reflects Turner's observation of another event in the recorded history of this archipelago, the eruption of the volcano Tambora in 1815
. This triggered the notorious “year without a summer”, which caused widespread failure of harvests across Europe, resulting in famine and economic collapse
Dare I say that planet Earth could do with another massive eruption in order to reverse some of the effects of global warming?
Too late. I've said it.