Wednesday, August 28, 2013

When Krakatoa Blew its Top

    Exactly 130 years ago, when the island of Krakatoa, located in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, erupted on August 26th, 1883, the shock was felt (and heard) for thousands of miles. The extreme seismic event killed tens of thousands of people from both the initial explosion and the earthquakes and tidal waves that followed and affected global weather for years to come.  Mystic Seaport’s collection of The Nautical Magazine includes copies for the period. Because of the strong British naval and commercial presence in the area, the magazine carried a number of reports about the devastation surrounding the explosion. “This remarkable disturbance of the sea made itself felt in various parts of the world…notably in Australia and Southern Africa, also at Karachi in India. The vast amount of pumice which lay upon the surface of the sea, in some places many feet in thickness, gave an appearance as if the ocean bed had appeared above water.” More important to the Schuit family, proprietors of the Anjer Hotel that appears in the accompanying image of an advertising card from the Museum’s collection, “A succession of earthquake waves swept the shores of the strait, utterly destroying the towns of Anjer, Merak, Tyringin and Telok Betong, together with some of the lighthouses on both shores.”

Mystic Seaport, Accession # 1994.99.5 

Enhanced image from front of 1994.99.5

    The London and China Telegraph for Feb. 27, 1868 lists G. Schuit as the proprietor of the Anjer Hotel in Anjer in the Sunda Strait. When Krakatoa erupted 15 years later, another member of the Schuit family, H. Schuit, was the proprietor, and other reports tell us that the hotel, which was set above a seawall, was ripped from its foundation by the waves. An issue of Popular Science for 1884 states that while Mr. Schuit survived the incident, his family did not. This earlier picture is one of the few reminders of the idyllic setting of the Anjer Hotel before 1883.

    This business card, showing Mr. Schuit’s multiple enterprises, was probably obtained by Capt. Timothy Benson in the 1870’s or ‘80’s while on trading voyages to the Orient. There is evidence in our manuscript collection that Capt. Benson visited Anjer as late as 1881, 2 years before the Krakatoa cataclysm.