The August 1883 eruption was not entirely unexpected, but nearly so. Locals took note but were not especially alarmed. In fact, the island briefly became a tourist attraction. The greatest destruction was caused not by ash and fire but by water. The most violent of the explosions, occurring at approximately 10:02 a.
27 August 1883, triggered an immense tsunami. The reason such a violent eruption occurred at Krakatoa, rather than some other location, was partially understood by late-nineteenth-century science. Modern geology affirms this general idea, but offers a more specific explanation for the convergence of volcanic activity. Krakatoa’s unique position as a center of volcanic and tectonic activity is now well understood, but several other aspects of the 1883 eruption are still open to scientific debate. Scientists also continue to scrutinize Krakatoa as a case study in the formation and development of an island ecosystem. Such attention, from scientists and laymen around the globe, began within hours of the eruption, because news of it travelled rapidly via the worldwide network of telegraph lines. Serang in total darkness all morning—stones falling. Batavia now almost quite dark—gas lights extinguished during the night—unable communicate with Anjer—fear calamity there—several bridges destroyed, river having overflowed through rush sea inland. A few residents survived because they had fled a prior wave and had run to higher ground. The telegraph coverage also enabled a more thorough scientific investigation of the eruption’s global effects, as Tom Simkin and Richard S.
Telegrams bearing news of the Krakatau eruption spread quickly and accounts soon appeared in newspapers around the world. Such specificity was essential for calculating the distances and velocities of the oceanic and atmospheric phenomena associated with the eruption. The committee also discussed the speed at which fine ash and dust travelled through the upper atmosphere. Scientists inferred the presence of microscopic particles from the unusual atmospheric effects they produced, which included intense and long-lasting sunsets, a blue or green tinge to the sun and moon, and a large, corona-like haze around the sun. Some of the descriptions are remarkably precise about not only the date and geographical location where a sunset afterglow was first observed, but also about the timing and location in the sky of its particular colors. Pink up to and beyond zenith, and on both sides . 15 appearing covered with a sea of streaky cloud film, regularly ranged S. 20 spot of green being closed in by bright pink all over western sky . One such account is the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’s letter in the 3 January 1884 edition of Nature.
They differ in their time and in the place of the sky where they appear. They differ in their periodic action or behaviour. They differ in the nature of the glow, which is both intense and lustreless. They differ in the regularity of their colouring. They differ in the colours themselves, which are impure and not of the spectrum. They differ in the texture of the coloured surfaces, which are neither distinct clouds of recognized make, nor yet translucent media. The above is merely an abstract of Mr. Hopkins’s letter, to which he subjoins a very lucid description of the sunset of December 16, 1883.
For the most part, the Report’s authors directly quote Hopkins, though they paraphrase points one and six. The remarkable aspect of their précis, however, is what it leaves out—extensive sections of evocative, metaphoric description. After the sunset the horizon was, by 4. 10, lined a long way by a glowing tawny light, not very pure in colour and distinctly textured in hummocks, bodies like a shoal of dolphins, or in what are called gadroons, or as the Japanese conventionally represent waves. Hopkins’s poetic language has its own descriptive precision. The letter also incorporates imagery and diction from some of the poems for which Hopkins is now best known. A bright sunset lines the clouds so that their brims look like gold, brass, bronze, or steel.