Art. V.—Volcanic Activity in Sunday Island in 1814.
[Read before the Auckland Institute, 5th August, 1895.]
I have been favoured by my friend W. D. Campbell, Esq., F.G.S., with the following account, abstracted from the Sydney Gazette, 17th September, 1814, of the first known eruption on Sunday Island, of the Kermadec Group. In vol. xx. of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, page 333, I furnished some notes on the geological formation of Sunday Island, and described an eruption in Denham Bay which took place about 1872; but that described in the Sydney Gazette is of much earlier date, though the place is the same. This first eruption appears to have taken place on the 8th March, 1814, and was of the same nature as the subsequent one, an island of loose volcanic matter having been formed in both cases. All signs of this island had disappeared on the occasion of our visit in the “Stella,” in 1887. The following is the extract:—
“Ship News.—The following remarkable account of one of those convulsions of nature which the mind contemplates with surprise and awe we receive from Captain Barnes, of the ‘Jefferson,’ who witnessed the phenomenon. We have stated, in reporting the ‘Jefferson's’ return to this port in the Gazette of the 3rd instant, that she had gone from hence in June, 1813. Much of the intervening time has been occupied about the coasts of New Zealand, on the north side of which is Sunday Island (one of Curtis's) [sic], and the subject of the present account, lying in 29° 12′ S. lat. and 178° W. long.
” From the 24th to the 27th Captain Barnes was employed in wooding there, and while the boats were on shore the vessel sailed to and fro within a spacious bay on the west side of this island, formed as a crescent, the heads of which were about six miles asunder. Actuated by a curiosity which must be always serviceable to navigation—that of discovering the surroundings of every part which vessels frequent—Captain Barnes employed himself attentively in the business of sounding between these heads, and in no part found less than 45 fathoms. further in the depth gradually diminished, and, after penetrating till within a short distance of the inner shore, he there found 16 fathoms. Leaving the island on the 27th of February, it was afterwards frequently in sight till the 9th of March, when, at the distance of six or seven leagues, a thick cloud of a dark smoky appearance was observed above it the whole day, and shortly after midnight a flame burst forth, which rose to an excessive height, and filled the atmosphere with a strong, fetid, and an almost suffocating vapour, which was felt on board, though then at a distance of about seven leagues. Captain Barnes returned to the island in two months, for the purpose of wooding, as before, and found the appearance of the place entirely altered, and that an island occupied the spot where so short a time before he had found 45 fathoms of water. It is about three miles in circuit, kidney-shaped, its outer edge nearly forming a line with the heads or opposite points of the entrance of the former bay, which lays north and south, has a small bay of its own fronting the ocean, and is covered with a coarse grit. On the near approach of the ship's boats the water became very warm, and at length intensely hot. It was still smoking, and was then evidently an unquenched mass. Its position is not mid-channel, but extends considerably more towards the north shore than the south. A passage through the opening of the north side would be impracticable, owing to the numerous rocks which are scattered through it; but
that on the south seems rather inviting to vessels in want of temporary accommodation, with a safe anchorage. Captain Barnes has subsequently fallen in with the ‘King George’ (Captain Jones, of this port), and, on relating the above circumstance, received information from him that the ‘King George’ had been there shortly before the ‘Jefferson,’ and that he (Captain Jones) had himself also sounded between and within the heads, and could find no soundings at all with a common lead-line in those places where Captain Barnes had found a depth of only 40 fathoms. The idea that suggested itself, from comparing Captain Jones's information with Captain Barnes's own observation, is that this eruptive pile was probably in the act of growing out of the abyss when the latter was there and got soundings at 45 fathoms, the depth diminishing as he went nearer in. The visible extent of its surface, added to the vast height to which it must necessarily have arisen, must fill the mind with astonishment. That Vesuvius might have sprung originally from the like cause is not impossible. Its first eruption took place in the first century of the Christian era; and we do not find anything more remarkable in what is recorded of those that have since taken place than the throwing-up a mountain in one night, in the year 1583, three miles in circumference and a quarter of a mile high; while the island reported to have been thrown up in the bay of Sunday Island may be considerably larger, as its summit is three miles round, and it appears to have a gradual and not a steep ascent.—Sydney Gazette, 17th September, 1814.
“In reference to the above account, it might be as well to mention that, until Lyell's researches into geology were made, no distinction was made between mountains of up-heaval and deposition. It was not understood that a volcano could be formed by ejecta, and built up with that material; hence the comparison of Vesuvius with the Sunday Island incident, which seems to have been largely a local terrestrial upheaval, probably bursting into eruption when the crust of the earth was relieved of the superincumbent weight of water. —W. D. Campbell, F.G.S.”