Here Be Dragons (On the Tsunami at Lyttelton, 15 August 1868)

Here Be Dragons

(On the Tsunami at Lyttelton, 15 August 1868)[1]

—Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or hast thou walked in the recesses of the deep? (Job 38:16)

“Violent Waves off the Coast of Peru,”

Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 3 Oct. 1868: 40.[2]

(On nightwatch.

Dead fingers.

Nose raw.

Not a soul abroad.

Chimney coils

and feet bite.)

The sea recoils



No waves.

The water?

Rocks . . .

Wrack . . .


Tide is out

too far . . .)



(High as the pier.

20 feet!)


(Should I?

Not on your life.)


(The Jane’s running against the wharf—

and back out again . . .

she’s fouled the John Knox

and lost her bowsprit.

The Knox’s rocking,

high and dry!

Dry from the wharf

to Officer’s Point!)





To the bell.

Three times.


Odd. No sound.)

The bay boils and roils darkly.


Ling glisten in the moonlight.

Timbers like arms slowly wave.

(The Government buoy stranded.

Novelty, Jeanie Duncan, Margaret wrecked.


It’s off again. . . .)

[1] The Lyttleton tsunami (15 Aug. 1868) was caused by an earthquake in Arica, Peru: About 3am, a night watchman discovered the ships at Lyttelton’s wharves sitting on the mud bottom. Soon after, a foaming wall of water surged into the harbour, the water rising by more than 7 metres. Ships’ hawsers snapped, and the ships were dashed against the wharves and each other, causing heavy damage. The sea gradually receded, but more big waves rolled in at intervals of four hours, and water levels rose and fell erratically over several days. In smaller bays around the peninsula, tsunami waves penetrated far inland along valleys, damaging homes and carrying away bridges and fences.

[2] The Earthquake Engineering Online Archive. Jan Kozak Collection: KZ793. PEER (Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Centre), University of Califronia. 2005. 4 Mar. 2010, Here, the tsunami that follows an 8.5 earthquake at Arequipa, Peru (13 Aug. 1868) destroys the vessels in the harbour at Arica and sweeps an American steamer onto the shore.


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