Kidnapped from Facebook…Jamaica’s Great Earthquake

The following was posted by Kei Miller as a Facebook note. I found it compelling enough to repost, with permission of course…

Kei Miller: (Odd..just last week I had been reading this striking account of Jamaica’s Great Earthqake in 1907. The scenes seem like such an echo of today. Here are some excerpts from Caine’s account)

Jamaica’s Earthquake…

by W.Ralph Hall Caine

The strong breeze began to lose force until, at about 3.30, it had faded into nothingness. For two minutes there was not a breath of wind, no doors banged, no blinds moved, curtains fell back to their places, not a sigh lifted a leaf on any bough. Nature had seemingly withdrawn for her afternoon siesta.

And then I live that moment now without murmur or warning, from the Blue Mountains beyond, or the still bluer heavens above, or the ground beneath our feet, there steals down upon us some intangible, impalpable monster, before whom the very earth reels and groans in violent agony and despair.

The heightening roar is of eternal memory; it was as though some vast herd of tigers, with warm blood already on their tongues, had been suddenly robbed of their prey. A giant had seemingly seized upon the foundations of the structure in which I sat, and was shaking the building with brutal pertenacity…

At the first movement of the earth the ceiling began to fall about my ears, covering me with small particles of mortar and dust though not till long afterwards did I notice either. I stood up with a certain dazed sense of danger that is near, but none of fear. Some guardian angel seems to whisper, “It is not now.” Ah, yes; I know!

That moment, amid the clatter of broken glass, collapsing floors directly above my head, tumbling walls of brick, and falling masonry, the instinct Came “Escape.”

I have heard how the universe seemed to revolve like a child’s top for four or five seconds, and then stop with a frightful jerk. But no one has described to me the dancing earth as I experienced it at that moment. The circular movement was there, close under my feet, but the upward move-ment was not less marked. We seemed to rise and fall as though embarked on the surging sea. Heavy walls swayed like an insecure bad stage setting,and at the same moment the earth rose and fell, bringing down masses of debris at every plunge into some hidden gulf, breaking floors like so much match-boarding, and tearing every holding from its socket in wrathful violence.

At 3.32 Kingston was happy and well. At 3.33 the city was seemingly a hopeless wreck, with the very sun itself obscured from our vision. All man’s handiwork of a generation, nay, of a whole century or more, was instantly flouted. A whole community lay in ruins and in tears, in suffering and in death.

Many efforts have been made to measure the disaster by some standard of significance to the understanding: the roll of death, the area of destruction, the small proportion of buildings left standing, the happening in mere duration of time… How vain!

Some have said the earthquake was all the work of twenty seconds. May be so. But who among us can count the passage of time in the moment of a cataclysm, when the mind is living a vast eternity every second, and the tablets of the memory are crowded with so many conflicting impressions, impulses, and memories?

Any languishing sense of bitter resentment towards any one, at any time, anywhere, falls from us like a discarded cloak. I think of such as near and dear to my own heart, and ask, “Where? Whence? Alone? Why am I not seeking? saving? doing?”


Words cannot picture a scene of such desolation and despair as befell Kingston within that brief and awful space of time. The thunder of falling masonry stuns the air. Solid brick walls bulge, and then collapse with a crash ; great structures of iron, wood, brick, and stone sink like a house of cards ; roofs built entirely of wood glide away from their holdings into the street; entire buildings become in a moment a mere mash of debris.

There is a tiny moment of silence, in which people are trying to realise what has happened. And then out of all this ruin, with the very sun itself obscured by blinding dust, there comes the pleading cry of the helpless, the dreadful oaths of the bitterly hopeless, the swooning and only half conscious groans of the dying. The call for help is everywhere, the plea for water here, the agonised appeal for release from broken timbers there. …

Written 6 hours ago · Comment · Like · Report Note
4 people like this.

Annie Paul Unbelievable. This is eerily similar. i’m speechless. Thanks, its awe-inspiring to read it today, in the 21st century. Where did you find it? Would love to post on my blog…
6 hours ago ·

Kei Miller Annie, I found it in a little book I bought at Sangsters called ‘Old Jamaica Memories’. (part of my revival research). The book i’s apparently part of a series that includes ‘Old Jamaica Journeys’, ‘Old Jamaica Conversations’ and three more. Feel free to repost.
6 hours ago · Report

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “Kidnapped from Facebook…Jamaica’s Great Earthquake”

  1. … take a look at any map … this is a repeat performance from our shared geology … the spinning of a child’s top is imagery that struck me too … evocative account … deep sigh … strength and faith required … thanks for posting this …

  2. my compassion goes out to such a Great country so much great history Haiti i am sorry my heart bleeds so much for this that happened i haiti lets pray for our african brothers and sisters in Haiti this is happening in different part of the world which country is next GOD BLESS HAITI I LOVE YOU

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