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The Daily Volcano Quote: eruption in Eritrea, May 1861 13 June 2011

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A native of Edd states as follows:

On the night of the 7th or morning of the 8th of May, the people of Edd were awakened by the shock of an earthquake, followed by others, which continued with little intermission for about an hour. At sunrise, a quantity of fine white dust fell over the village like rain. About noon the character of the dust appeared to change, and the whole place was covered with the dust nearly knee-deep. On the 9th the dust somewhat abated, and we were able to see a little in our houses without light. At night we saw fire and dense smoke issuing from a mountain called Jebel Dubbeh, about a day’s journey inland; and this continued all the time I remained at Edd. The ashes only fell for two days. Sounds like the firing of guns issued from the mountain. This mountain is inhabited, but no one had reached Edd thence when I left. Nothing of the kind had ever been heard before, and the people were exceedingly frightened.

This account has been amply confirmed from other sources, and the most remarkable feature of the case is the immense extent affected by the disturbance.

At Perim the sounds emitted by the volcano were distinctly heard, and they were attributed to a bombardment. The firing (as it was supposed to be) commenced at about 2 a.m. on the 8th of May, and continued, with long intervals, up to the 10th or 11th. The general idea at Perim was that the sound proceeded from the African coast. The ‘firing’ on the 8th was very heavy, and continued for nine or ten hours.

Both the steamers Candia and Ottawa reported having had two very hot days in the lower part of the Red Sea, and on the 10th they encountered what appeared like a London fog, which continued for several hours. The captain of the latter vessel described this fog as consisting of very fine dust, so that he could not see the length of the ship, and during its continuance the weather was perfectly calm.

On the 8th of May several shocks of an earthquake were felt at Mokha and Hodaida, and there, as well as along the entire coast of Yemen, and inland as far as the mountain range, the dust, described as ‘white ashes,’ fell for several days; the noises were also heard, and, as usual, were attributed to artillery.

At Massowah the (supposed) firing of guns was heard as coming from Annesley Bay, and so exact was the resemblance that the whole town was in a state of consternation. It was believed that the French were bombarding Dissee, and the authorities despatched special messengers to ascertain the cause of such an unaccountable proceeding. The nacoda of the boat which brought the news from Massowah to Aden was detained ten days in the Dhalac Archipelago, unable to continue his voyage owing to the dense clouds of dust which darkened the air. Many other nacodas reported the same thing, and one brought a specimen of the dust. He said it fell in such quantities that he could not keep his poop clean by continual sweeping. The dust appears like very finely powered pumice, containing minute particles of mica. Although the greater part of the shores of the Red Sea are of igneous origin, no active volcano has been known in modern times, save in the Zebeier islands, one of which was observed in a state of activity by the commander of the Indian Navy steamer Victoria, in, I think, August 1846.

Letter from Captain B. L. Playfair, Officiating Political Resident at Aden, describing ‘an eruption of a hitherto unknown volcano on the east coast of Africa, within the Red Sea’, published in a letter from Charles Bell in The Times, 20 June 1861, p. 10. ‘Jebel Dubbeh’ is Dubbi volcano. Edd is on the coast of Eritrea, about 40 km (24 miles) north of Dubbi. A nacoda or nakhoda is the ‘captain or master of a local boat in Indo-Malayan or Arabian waters’ (OED).

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