Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bosch in Port Royal

From Empire of Blue Water by Stephan Talty. On June 7, 1692, the pirate lair of Port Royal is hit by a massive earthquake and sunk beneath the waves. In fact, I first read of Henry Morgan and the privateers in an account by Jacques Cousteau who did some underwater archaeology there sometime in the 1960's I believe.

Heath is a priest who has left a detailed account of the earthquake and the corresponding tsunami.
Heath ran toward Morgan's Fort, and the scenes that greeted him along the way were a combination of Jules Verne and Hieronymus Bosch. The tremors had literally liquified the earthen streets on which the townspeople were fleeing for their lives; with its surface gleaming as water saturated the sandy soil, earth became water, and the streets rose and fell in nauseating ripples. People were swept along like corks tossed on a wave, and some clutched at the gables of buildings that went past like boats; one doctor snatched at a passing chimney with his two children around his neck and miraculously survived. But most did not. "while they fled from the Sea, the Earth devoured them in her gaping Jaws," said Heath. "Or they were knockt on the head with their houses falling on them . . . or the Sea met them and swept them away." Men and women were pulled down into the sand and then cemented there, as the quake caused all the water that had surged up into the now-briny earth to be sucked away just as quickly. Some stood trapped in the earth up to their necks, crying for help. One observer reported:
That watery haitus closed again the next moment, catching hold of some people by a Leg, of other by the middle of the Body, and of others some by the Arm, etc., detaining them in dismal torture, by immovably fixed in the ground, till they, with almost the whole Town besides, sunk under Water.
The hardening sand squeezed the captives until they suffocated or until wild dogs swarmed on them and ate their heads. A drawing of the calamity shows women's heads sticking out of the earth like cauliflowers, with dogs poised nearby, as well as a woman and her daughters who were "beat to pieces" by smashing into each other during the quake. "Others went down," Sloane wrote, "and were never more seen."


All around the circle of men and women, oddities of nature that would rarely be seen again were unfolding. Geysers erupted from the ground and arched towering plumes of water into the summer sky; some opened beneath men's feet and shot them a hundred feet in the air until gravity caught up with them and they began to fall on the descending pillar of water, down to the ground and then into it, as they disappeared into the holes that had caught them unawares. Thousands of the "sand volcanoes" were reported throughout the island. "In Clarendon Precinct, the Earth gaped and spouted up with a prodigious Force great Quantities of Water into the Air, about Twelve Miles from the Sea." The vicar of Withywood reported that "dire chasms spew'd out Water to a considerable heighth above the ground." People running for their homes dropped away into "the Pit," tumbling into an infernal washing machine filled with sand, water, and flotsam; a lucky few hit subterranean rivers that had been born just minutes ago and were carried horizontally under the earth at great speed, whipping beneath the feet of their fellow residents, only to crash into another geyser moving upward and so shoot back to the surface a half mile from where they first went down into the earth, drenched but unhurt. One woman ran out of her house into the street and saw the sand before her "rising up,"; she clutched at her black servant, and they dropped together into the earth, "at the same instant the Water coming in, row'd them over and over," until in this sunken world they saw a beam from a house passing and grabbed on to it and were saved. A merchant named Lloyd gave his story: He'd been in his shop when the "earth opened and let me in. He was carried along in an underground channel until he wash pushed up through a wooden floor and found himself lying with other victims, many of them critically wounded. He himself was nearly unhurt, but his house had disappeared completely into the muck that had swallowed him up. One French refugee, Lewis Gauldy, was sucked down and released not once but twice, popping up at various points in the landscape like a target at a shooting gallery. The next day he announced that he'd found God.
I should think so.

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