THE TRUTH ABOUT THE CYCLONE.
MOST people, we imagine, wondered a little at the mention of the Bengal Cyclone in the Queen's Speech, and fancied it a pardonable but bizarre freak of Sir Charles Wood, whose perception of political perspective is never very acute. The papers received this week from India, however, fully explain the paragraph. It is most unusual to mention in a Royal Speech a tempest, or an explosion, or any one of the calamities within the daily experience of mankind, but Sir Charles Wood had before him the official report on the Cyclone. - This document, so far from diminishing its importance, as offi- cial narratives generally do, raises it to the level of the great historic calamities, of events like the destruction of Pompeii, the earthquake in Lisbon, or the catastrophe which in our own time half desolated Catania. The storm of the 4th October, begotten apparently about the Andaman Islands, rushed in a north-westerly direction along the coast at a pace which rose to twenty-seven miles an hour, struck places as widely dis- tant as Hidgellee and Calcutta with undiminished fury, and from the sea to Pubna and thence eastward to the Garrow Hills, —say from Southampton to Chester, and thence in a bold curve to Lincoln—it left a broad track of desolation. Behind it, or rather with it, travelled a storm wave up from the Bay, often thirty feet high, which "swept over the strongest embank- ments, flooding the crops with salt water and carrying away entire villages." Indeed if the storm wave had been sentient it could not have chosen a better Riot for its destructive play. Right through a rich spongy tract full of people, and salt, and cattle, and brackish creeks, covered with low close jungle, and full of shallow, mud-lined, sedgy marshes, the Hooghly cleaves for it a road often miles wide past the Indian metro- polis, past the railway centre, right away through thefl riceland to the Ganges, and the broad indigo-producing counties of the East. Its first tremendous blow was levelled at Midnapore, the great maritime county west of the Hooghly, bearing much the relation to Calcutta that Kent bears to London, and though the great dyke of Hidgellee stood the shocks till the wave overflowed villages by the score. The police report the deaths at 20,665, and "in the track from Kedgeree to Kookrahutt,ee, a distance of many miles, three-fourths of the whole population, with their cattle and other property, may be said to have perished." To realize such a catastrophe we must imagine an English county crossed by a body of water such as that which first poured out of the Holmfirth reser- voir, but salt, so that when the gale is over the soil is still almost unfitted for cultivation and there is no fresh water to drink. In Tumlook, the salt mart of this district, "out of 1,400 houses only twenty-seven remained standing," the wind hitting harder than the wave. This was all on the west side of the river,—below Calcutta on the opposite bank—and on the east the destruction was still greater. In Sanger Island, a desolate, thinly-populated district of twenty-eight square miles, inhabited chiefly by foresters and tigers, with a few peasants, the storm wave literally clove the country in two. The wave was fifteen feet above the soil, and so terrible were its weight and force, driven on as it was by the hurricane, that "it cut a channel right across the island, severing it into two halves," a sentence which reads rather like the description of an event in geolo- gical history than of any occurrence conceivable In our own day. Imagine the Isle of Wight cloven in twain by a wave which did its work at twenty-seven miles an hour ! Fifteen feet of water, some ninety yards broad, and 300 miles deep, hurled on you at the speed of a passenger express train! Rushing to form this channel, the water swept away the embankments by which all this low coast is protected, "utterly destroyed all houses, huts, storehouses, and other buildings, 3,565 in number, drowned 7,000 cattle, and left alive out of a population of 6,000 souls only 1,488." Those who escaped did so either by climbing the large trees or by floating on the roofs of their own houses, which" were carried inland on the mainland many miles," the wave having force left to destroy one town at a distance of eight miles from the channel. Wherever throughout the Twenty-four Pergunnahs of the riverain county on the Calcutta side the wave flowed, it left poverty so deep that the missionaries found the people, maddened with hunger, fatigue, and the impossibility of getting water, trying to eat grass; and the salt warehouses of Mr. Fraser, the largest European salt manufacturer, were broken open by the people, "who," says the official reporter, had "been driven almost mad by hardship, and who wanted the salt to mix with the kind of grass which they ate eagerly." At Diamond Harbour, says the Superintendent of Police—a European— within a circle of six miles, "it is impossible to go fifty yards on the road without seeing a dead human body," the popula- tion having been overtaken by the water and drowned while in full flight along the road. In Calcutta, ninety miles from the sea, and nearly twenty-nine miles north of this point, 40,698 huts were swept away, the habitations, that is, of 203,990 human beings; ten vessels sunk at once, and 145. driven on shore, of which ninety-seven were severely injured, and thirty-six totally lost. The loss of life, however, was not great, the solid English buildings protecting the town, and the wave striking most heavily on the opposite side. It Howrah 1,978 persons are reported drowned, 12,762 cattle killed, and property estimated at 600,000/. swept away. From thence to Serampore and Hoogilly, a distance of twenty- six miles along the line of railway, and probably more thickly
populated than any_country district on earth, the homes of the people were either cleared off or so injured that it was necessary to replace them, and the very jungle so battered that months afterwards the track of the storm was as clear as the track of a horse through barley.
There is no doubt a possibility of exaggeration in many of these figures, the estimate of property in particular being made with a motive, but it must be remembered that they are put forward by a Government which had declared many of the reports exaggerated, that the police is con• trolled by Europeans, and that most of the statements are the result of collated reports from police, salt agents, private Europeans, and the sufferers themselves. The extent of the storm, which was in fall force over a district 121 miles long by about 19 wide, will of itself account for the magni- tude of the figures, which are again confirmed by the measures adopted by Government. The whole population, men, women, and children, were at once taken on the relief list in the Indian mode, work on full wages being offered to all who would accept it ; but, says the Secretary, this assistance "was necessarily inadequate to the wants of such a popu- lation." " A. sum of 11,6651. was expended by private persons in stores of food and clothing, but up to January the Govern- ment was compelled to feed all women and children, "no work was procurable on the western side of the river," and "the people of Sanger Island must for some time to come continue to be fed on charity." The disaster, when all is told, is less in reality than that which fell upon the cotton workers of Lancashire, but a calamity so terrible, and caused by the powers of nature alone, takes a stronger hold on the imagination than any gradual or customary loss. • A thousand persons die in Great Britain every day, yet we register isolated deaths by accident, andathere is reason in the difference of our estimate. All life is based upon the pre- sumption that nature will retain her habits,—will not, so to speak, declare with her irresistible power war upon our de- signs. Suppose we had reason to fear, or even to imagine, that the Atlantic, rising 30 feet above its level might any day hurl itself on Liverpool, or that London might be exposed to earth- quake, or worse than all, that the Gulf Stream might deflect its course, where would the motive to energy be found ? The rush of a wave such as that which on the 4th October struck the banks of the Hooghly is a calamity of this kind,—one which affects the imagination out of all proportion to its result because so sudden so capricious, and so entirely be- yond all human control. ?Without cotton cotton-workers must starve,—that sequence is visible, but that a village eight miles from the river should be swept away in a second be- cause of some atmospheric disturbance three hundred miles off, that sequence is not visible, and it is effects from causes beyond foresight which the imagination dreads.