A volcanic eruption leads to Derbyshire rebellion

On this day 200 years ago, Mount Tambora, on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, erupted.  The volcanic eruption on 10 April 1815 was one of the most powerful in recorded history and you can see a dramatic photograph of the crater left at the summit in this NASA image here: Mount Tambora.

So you may wonder what this has to do with Derbyshire… Well, the repercussions of the eruption were felt all around the world and we can see the evidence of its impact here in the archives.  Why?  Because the eruption sent volcanic ash and sulphur into the stratosphere, which obscured the sun and reflected its rays, cooling the earth’s climate and resulting in Europe and North America experiencing the ‘Year without a summer’ in 1816.  We can see how this affected the people of Derbyshire because Sir Henry Fitzherbert of Tissington Hall wrote a fascinating account of the year in his notebook.

D239 MF 10229_0001 - cropped

Of the weather he says:

“The spring was most severely cold, the snow falling as late as the 7th of June; and there was no grass till the end of June.”

Sir Henry also used his notebook to record annual prices of basic commodities.  And analysis of his figures shows how the bad weather affected harvests, causing food prices to go up drastically (except, for some reason, malt and cheese!):

  1814 1816 1818
Wheat (per quarter) 80 shillings 170 shillings 90 shillings
Oats 27 shillings 80 shillings 70 shillings
Barley 35 shillings 90 shillings 45 shillings
Malt (per strike or bushel) 70 shillings 16 shillings 12 shillings
Flour (per sack) 2:11:0 5:17:0 3:9:0
Derbyshire Cheese (per cwt = 120lbs) 3:16:0 2:10:0 4:4:0

The rocketing cost of living led to many people falling into poverty (Sir Henry says a third of the population became paupers), which meant that the parishes, who gave relief to the poor, struggled to cope.

We can see some corroboration of this in the Quarter Sessions records.  There were strict criteria setting out who could receive relief from the parish, and parishes would apply to the Quarter Sessions for a removal order to move paupers on to another parish. We have a handy database of removal orders (do ask us to check the database if you’re looking for an ancestor who might have become a pauper) from which I’ve extracted the numbers of orders for each year.  Take a look at the increase in the number of removal orders before and after the eruption:

Year 1814 1815 1816 1817
Removal Orders 54 68 171 228

Poverty and food prices led to social unrest across the country (Sir Henry again provides helpful details), but the biggest uprising happened here in Derbyshire.  On 9 June 1817, the Pentrich Revolution (also known as the Pentrich Rising or Pentrich Rebellion) took place, as armed men marched on Nottingham in the first stage of an attempt to bring about government reform.  The revolution was easily thwarted by troops who were awaiting the marchers at Giltbrook; indeed the revolution seems to have been largely instigated by a government spy, acting as an agent provocateur.   Jeremiah Brandreth, and two other conspirators, William Turner and Isaac Ludlum, were subsequently hanged and then beheaded as a warning to others.

You can read a transcript of Sir Henry’s diary here: D239 M F 10229 pp 4-7 transcription.  The Pentrich & South Wingfield Revolution Group are developing plans to commemorate the Pentrich Revolution’s 200th anniversary in 2017, but it’s sobering to reflect that it may never have happened if not for a volcano that erupted 7000 miles away…

5 thoughts on “A volcanic eruption leads to Derbyshire rebellion

  1. Pingback: Pentrich Rising: guide to sources | Derbyshire Record Office

  2. Indeed the caldera (technical term I have learnt researching this blog post!) is huge: 6km diameter. If my maths is right this would give it an area of about 28km. By comparison, Derby has an area of 78km.

    • 1) The Tambora Volcanic Eruption, 1815
      Tambora is a strato-volcano located on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia, forming the Sanggar peninsula of the island. The island is part of a very active volcanic arc, which is part of the Ring of Fire around the Pacific Ocean.

      The Build-up
      Before the explosion, Tambora stood over 13000 ft (4000m) high. Starting in 1812, 3 years before the huge eruption, the volcano started spewing steam and ash and creating small tremors in the Earth. What people didn’t know was what was coming next…

      On the 5th of April, 1815, after lying quiet for over 5000 years, the first eruption began, lofting a volcanic column 15.5 miles (25 km) into the sky. This initial eruption was heard over 621 miles (1000 km) away.

      The Eruption
      On April 10, 1815, a series of eruptions began, culminating to the largest eruption in recorded history. The eruption lasted several days. It blew a chunk off the mountain almost a mile wide.

      The volcanic column, after flying 25 miles (40 km) into the sky, returned to the ground, creating a huge pyroclastic flow of ash, pumice, and debris. The pyroclastic flow alone killed more than 10,000 people in its path. The ash that fell from Tambora travelled as far as 800 miles (1300 k) away.

      When the pyroclastic flow reached the ocean, the debris created such a large displacement of water that tsunamis as high as 16 feet emanated out from the island. These tsunamis caused flooding, devastation, and death on many of the other Indonesian islands.
      After the eruption was over, and estimated 100-150 cubic kilometers of ash and debris were said to have been ejected from the mountain. [for reference, in 1980, Mt. St. Helen’s ejected about one or two cubic kilometers]

      Volcanoes are measured by a Volcano Explosivity Index (VEI), on a scale of 1-8. Tambora had a VEI of 7. Only 4 other volcanoes in the last 10,000 years have had a VEI that high, and Tambora is the only volcano in recorded history with a VEI of 7.

      The Aftermath
      The giant crater left at the top of the volcano 4 miles wide and 3,640 ft. deep, a hole that is still quite obvious today. The ash that fell from the eruption at Tambora was devastating, killing all the crops and vegetation, causing more than 80,000 more deaths from famine and disease.
      This death count is the largest from any volcano eruption in recorded history. In addition, the amount of sulphur dioxide that was released into the stratosphere made 1816 the year without a summer.

      The Year without a Summer
      In 1816, the overall temperature on Earth, specifically in the Northern Hemisphere, lowered so drastically that it became known as the year without a summer. Weather was disturbed all over, with problems in Western Europe and the United States, as well as Asia. Monsoon season was affected, which is thought to also be tied to a cholera epidemic that year. In places like New England and Canada, frost was recorded in every month of the year, and snow fell in June.
      The summer temperatures in 1816 averaged just a few degrees below normal, but as mentioned, it frosted throughout the summer. The highs were still close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit on some days.
      However, the cold spells, especially at night, caused massive crop failure, and, as a result, even more famine.
      Why? 200 million tons of sulphur dioxide was shot up into the stratosphere. The sulphur dioxide prevented much sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface, lowering the overall temperature, and killing crops and many creatures as a result. This crop failure caused mass famine, which was what caused the death toll to be so high.
      The global changes in temperature did not occur until a year later. This delay was due to the fact that the stratospheric winds take that long to distribute the sulphur dioxide and volcanic ash all around the world.

  3. That crater photo: when I first saw it, my eyes and brain combined to trick me into thinking it was a mountain. I had to stare at it like a Magic Eye picture for a few seconds to get it the right way round.

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