The Aftermath

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake

Snippets 133.  According to the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal (Volume 2), an earthquake struck Lisbon on 2nd February 1816. The article goes on to list various ships in the region that experienced the shockwave, but other than that details are hard to come by. In geographical histories, it tends to get overshadowed by the massive earthquake in the region of 1755. When Henry Matthews went on a “tour in pursuit of health” in 1817, his first port of call was Lisbon, and he described something of the destruction caused by the recent earthquake, but also ruins still left from the huge 1755 quake. The following quote is taken from Diary of an Invalid, from 1820.

Filth and beastliness assault you at every turn, — in their most loathsome and disgusting shapes.  In yielding to first impressions, one is generally led to exaggerate; but the abominations of Lisbon are incapable of exaggeration…

There is something in the appearance of Lisbon that seems to portend an earthquake; and, instead of wondering that it was once visited by such a calamity, I am rather disposed to consider its daily preservation as a standing miracle. Repeated shocks have been felt of late years; and to an earthquake it may look, as its natural death. From the vestiges which the indolence of the people has allowed to remain, one might fancy the last convulsion had taken place but a few months. Many ruins are now standing just as the earthquake left them. — Gorgeous Palaces, and Solemn Temples now totter in crumbling ruins, an awful monument of the fatal wreck. There are some streets, built since the earthquake, with trottoirs on each side, which make a handsome appearance; and, with any industry on the part of the people, the whole town might be made one of the most cleanly in Europe; — the undulating nature of the ground being so well calculated for carrying away all impurities.

Matthews was also unimpressed with the local people, who seemed to have a problem with the English:

There is no doubt of the fact, that neither the generosity and good faith of the British, nor the blood profusely shed in defence of their country, have endeared us to our Portuguese allies. They dislike us mortally. How is this to be explained? Is it that malicious sentiment of envy, which seems to have overspread the whole Continent, at the prodigious elevation to which England has arisen; or is it the repulsive unaccommodating manners which an Englishman is too apt to carry with him into all countries, which make even a benefit from him, less binding than the winning urbanity by which the French contrive to render confiscation and robbery palatable ?

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About Roger Pocock

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