New Lands

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X





THERE have been published several observations upon a signal-like regularity of the Barisal Guns, which, because unaccompanied by phenomena that could be considered seismic, may have been detonations in the sky, and which, because, according to some hearers, they seemed to come from the sky, may have come from some region stationary in the local sky of Barisal. In Nature, 61-127, appears a report by Henry S. Schurr, who investigated the sounds in the years 1890-91:(1)

"These Guns are always heard in triplets, ie. three guns are always heard, one after the other, at regular intervals, and, though several guns may be heard the number is always three or a multiple of three. Then the interval between the three is always constant, ie. the interval between the first and the second is the same as the interval between the second and the third, and this interval is usually three seconds, though I have heard it up to ten seconds. The interval, however, between the triplets varies, and varies largely, from a few seconds up to hours and days. Sometimes only one series of triplets is heard in a day; at others the triplets follow with great regularity, and I have counted as many as forty-five of them, one after the other, without pause."

In vols. 16 and 17, Ciel et Terre, M. Van den Broeck published a series of papers upon the mysterious sounds that had been heard in Belgium.(2)

July, 1892 — heard near Brée, by Dr. Raemaekers, of Antwerp — detonations at regular intervals of about 12 seconds, repeated about 20 times.

Aug. 5, 1892 — near Dunkirk, by Prof. Gérard, of Brussels — four reports like sounds of cannons.

Aug. 17, 1893 — between Ostend and Ramsgate, by Prof. Gérard — a series of distinct explosions — state of the sky giving no reason to think that they were meteorological manifestations.


Sept. 5, 1893 — at Middelkirke — loud sounds of remarkable intensity.

Sept. 8, 1893 — English Channel near Dover — by Prof. Gérard — an explosive sound.

In Ciel et Terre, 16-485, M. Van den Broeck records an experience of his own.(3) Upon June 25, 1894, at Louvain, he had heard detonations like discharges of artillery: he tabulates the intervals in a series of sounds. If there is signalling from some unknown region over Belgium, and not far from the surface of this earth, or from extra-mundane vessels, and if there were something of the code-like, resembling the Morse alphabet, perhaps, in this series of sounds, there can be small hope of interpreting such limited material, but there may be suggestion to someone to record all sounds and their intervals and modulations, if, with greater duration, such phenomena should ever occur again. The intervals were four minutes and twenty-three minutes; then three minutes, four, three quarters, three and three quarters, three quarters.

Sept. 16, 1895 — a triplet of detonations, heard by M. de Schryvere, of Brussels.

There were attempts to explain. Some of M. Van den Broeck's correspondents thought that there had been firing from forts on the coast of England, and somebody thought that the phenomena should be attributed to gravitational effects of the moon. Upon Sept. 13, 1895, four shocks were felt and sounds heard at Southampton: a series of three and then another, (Nature, 52-552); but I have no other notes upon sounds that were heard in England at this time, except the two explosions that were explained by the police of London.(4) However, M. Van den Broeck says that Mr. Harmer, of Alderburgh, Suffolk, had, about the first of November, heard booming sounds that had been attributed to cannonading at Harwich. Mr. Harmer had heard other sounds that had been attributed to cannonading somewhere else. He could not offer a definite opinion upon the first sounds, but had investigated the others, learning that the attribution was a mistake.(5)

It was M. de Schryvere's opinion that the triplet of detonations that he had heard was from vessels in the North Sea.(6) But now, [180/181] according to developments, the sounds of Belgium cannot very well be attributed to terrestrial cannonading in or near Belgium: in Ciel et Terre, 16-614, are quoted two artillery officers who had heard the sounds, but could not so trace them: one of these officers had heard a series of detonations with intervals of about two minutes.(7) A variety of explanations was attempted, but in conventional terms, and if these localized, repeating sounds did come from the sky, there's nothing to it but a new variety of attempted explanations, and in most unconventional terms. There are recorded definite impressions that the sounds were in the sky: Prof. Peleseneer's positivement aérien.(8) In Ciel et Terre, 17-14, M. Van den Broeck announced that General Hennequin, of Brussels, had co-operated with him, and had sent enquiries to army officers and other persons, receiving thirty replies.(9) Some of these correspondents had heard detonations at regular intervals. It is said that the sounds were like cannonading, but not in one instance were the sounds traced to terrestrial gunfire.

January 24, 1896 — a triplet of triplets — between 2.30 and 3.30, P.M. — by M. Overloop, of Middelkirke, Belgium — three series of detonations, each of three sounds.(10)

The sounds went on, but, after this occurrence, there seems to me to be little inducement to continue upon this subject. This is indication that from somewhere there has been signalling: from extra-mundane vessels to one another, or from some unknown region to this earth, as nearly final as we can hope to find. There are persons who will see nothing but a susceptibility to the mysticism of numbers in a feeling that there is significance in threes of threes. But, if there be attempt in some other world to attract attention upon this earth, it would have to be addressed to some state of mind that would feel significances. Let our three threes be as mystic as the eleven horns on Daniel's fourth animal; if throughout nature like human nature there be only superstition as to such serialization, that superstition, for want of something more nearly intelligent, would be a susceptibility to which to appeal, and from which response might be expected. I think that a sense of mystic significance in the number three may be universal, because upon this earth it is general, appearing in [181/182] theologies, in the balanced composition of all the arts, in logical demonstrations, and in the indefinite feelings that are supposed to be superstitious.

The sounds went on, as if there were experiments, or attempts to communicate by means of other regularizations and repetitions. Feb. 18, 1896 — a series of more than 20 detonations, at intervals of 2 or 3 minutes, heard at Ostend, by M. Pulzeys, an engineer of Brussels.(11) Four or five sounds were heard at Ostend by someone else: repeated upon the 21st of February.(12) Heard by M. Overloop, at Ostend, April 6: detonations at 11.57.30 A.M., and at 12.1.32 P.M. Heard the next day, by M. Overloop, at Blankenberghe, at 2.35 and 2.51 P.M.(13)

The last occurrence recorded by M. Van den Broeck was upon the English Channel.(14) May 23, 1896: detonations at 3.20 and 3.40 P.M., I have no more data, as to this period, myself, but I have notes upon similar sounds, by no means so widely reported and commented upon, in France and Belgium about 15 years later. One notices that the old earthquake-explanation as to these sounds has not appeared.

But there were other phenomena in England, in this period, and to considerable degree they were conventionally explained. They were not of the type of the Belgian phenomena, and, because manifestations were seen and felt, as well as heard, they were explained in terms of meteors and earthquakes. But in this double explanation, we meet a divided opposition, and no longer are we held back by the uncompromising attempt by exclusionist science to attribute all disturbances of this earth's surface to subterranean origin. The admission by Symons and Fordham that we have recorded, as to occurrences of 1887-89, has survived.

The earliest of accounts that I have read of the quakes in the general region of Worcester and Hereford (London Triangle) that associated with appearances in the sky, was published by two church wardens in the years 1661, as to occurrences of October, 1661, and is entitled, A True and Perfect Relation of the Terrible Earthquake.(15) It is said that monstrous flaming things were seen in the sky, and that phenomena below were interesting. We are told, "truly and perfectly," that Mrs. Margaret Petmore fell in labor and brought forth three male offspring all of whom [183/184] had teeth and spoke at birth. Inasmuch as it is not recorded what the infants said, and whether in plain English or not, it is not so much an extraordinary birth such as, in one way or another, occurs from time to time, that affronts our conventional notions, as it is the idea that there could be relation between the abnormal in obstetrics and the unusual in terrestrics. The conventional scientist has just this reluctance towards considering shocks of this earth and phenomena in the sky at the same time. If he could accept with us that there often has been relation, the seeming discord would turn into commonplace, but with us he would never again want to hear of extraordinary detonating meteors exploding only by coincidence over a part of this earth where an earthquake was occurring, or of concussions of this earth, time after time, in one small region, from meteors that, only by coincidence, happened to explode in one little local sky, time after time. Give up the idea that this earth moves, however, and coincidences many times repeated do not have to be lugged in.

Our subject now is the supposed earthquake centering around Worcester and Hereford, Dec. 17, 1896; but there may have been related events, leading up to this climax, signifying long duration of something in the sky that occasionally manifested relatively to this corner of the London Triangle. Mrs. Margaret Petmore was too sensational a person for our liking, at least in our colder and more nearly scientific moments, so we shall not date so far back as the time of her performance; but the so-called earthquakes of Oct. 6, 1863, and of Oct. 30, 1868, were in this region, and we had data for thinking that they were said to be earthquakes only because they could not be traced to terrestrial explosions.

At 5.45 P.M., Nov. 2, 1893, a loud sound was heard at a place ten miles northeast of Worcester, and no shock was felt (Nature, 49-245); however at Worcester and in various parts of the west of England and in Wales a shock was felt.(16)

According to James G. Wood, writing in Symons' Met. Mag., 29-8, at 9.30 P.M., January 25, 1894, at Llanthomas and Clifford, towns less than 20 miles west of Hereford, a brilliant light was seen in the sky, an explosion was heard, and a quake was felt.(17) Half an hour later, something else occurred: according to Denning (Nature, 49-325), it was in several places, near Hereford and Wor- [183/184] cester, supposed to be an earthquake.(18) But, at Stokesay Vicarage, Shropshire (Symons' Met. Mag., 29-8), was seen the same kind of an appearance as that which had been seen at Llanthomas and Clifford, half an hour before: an illumination so brilliant that for half a minute everything was almost as visible as by daylight.(19)

In English Mechanic, 74-155, David Packer calls attention to "a strange meteoric light" that was seen in the sky, at Worcester, during the quake of Dec. 17, 1896, I should say that this was the severest shock felt in the British Isles, in the 19th century, with the exception of the shock of April 22, 1884, in the eastern point of the London Triangle.(20) There was something in the sky. In Nature, 55-179, J. Lloyd Bozward writes that, at Worcester, a great light was seen in the sky, at the time of the shock, and that, in another town, "a great blaze" had been seen in the sky.(21) In Symons' Met. Mag., 31-180, are recorded many observations upon lights that were seen in the sky.(22) In an appendix to his book, The Hereford Earthquake of 1896, Dr. Charles Davison says that at the time of the quake (5.30 A.M.) there was a luminous object in the sky, and that it "traversed a large part of the disturbed area."(23) He says that it was a meteor, and an extraordinary meteor that lighted up the ground so that one could have picked up a pin. With the data so far considered, almost anyone would think that of course an object had exploded in the sky, shaking the earth underneath. Dr. Davison does not say this. He says that the meteor only happened to appear over a part of this earth where an earthquake was occurring "by a strange coincidence."

Suppose that, with ordinary common sense, he had not lugged in his "strange coincidence," and had written that of course the shock was concussion from an explosion in the sky --

Shocks that had been felt before midnight, Dec. 17, and at 1.30 or 1.45, 2, 3, 3.30, 4, 5, and 5.20, and then others at 5.40 or 5.45 and at 6.15 o'clock — and were they, too, concussions, but fainter and from remoter explosions in the sky — and why not, if of course the great shock at 5.30 o'clock was from a great explosion in the sky — and by what multiplication of strangeness of co- [184/185] incidence could detonating meteors, or explosions of any other kind, so localize in the one little sky of Worcester, if this earth be a moving earth — and how could their origin be otherwise than a fixed region nearby?

In some minds it may be questionable that the earth could be so affected as it was at 5.30 A.M., Dec. 17, 1896, by an explosion in the sky.(24) Upon Feb. 10, 1896, a tremendous explosion occurred in the sky of Madrid: throughout the city windows were smashed; a wall in the building occupied by the American Legation was thrown down. The people of Madrid rushed to the streets, and there was a panic in which many were injured. For five hours and a half, a luminous cloud of débris hung over Madrid, and stones fell from the sky.

Suppose, just at present, we disregard all the Worcester-Hereford phenomena except those of Dec. 17, 1896. Draw a diagram, illustrating a stream of meteors pursuing this earth, now supposed to be rotating and revolving, for more than 400,000 miles in its orbit, and curving around gracefully and unerringly after the rotating earth, so as to explode precisely in this little local sky and nowhere else. But we can't think very reasonably even of a flock of birds flying after and so precisely pecking one spot on an apple thrown in the air by somebody. Another diagram — stationary earth — bombardment of any kind one chooses to think of — same point hit every time — thinkable.

The phenomena associate with an opposition of Mars. Dec. 10, 1896 — opposition of Mars.(25)

But we have gone on rather elaborately with perhaps an insufficiency to base upon. We cannot say, directly, that all the phenomena of the night Dec. 16-17, 1896, were shocks from explosions in the sky: only during the greatest of the concussions was something seen, or was something near enough to be seen.

We apply the idea of diagrams to another series of occurrences in this period. Now draw a diagram relatively to the sky of Florida, and see just what the explanation of coincidence demands or exacts. But then consider the diagram as one of the earth that does not move and of something that is fixed over a point upon its surface. Things can be thought of as coming down [185/186] from somewhere else to one special sky of this earth, as logically as precariously placed objects on one special window sill sometimes come down to a special neighbor.

In the Monthly Weather Review, 23-57, is a report, by the Director of the Florida Weather Service, upon "mysterious sounds" and luminous effects in the sky of Florida.(26) According to investigation, these phenomena did occur in the sky of Florida, about noon, Feb. 7, 1895, again at 5 o'clock in the morning of the 8th, and again between 6 and 10 o'clock, night of the 8th. The Editor of the Review thinks that three meteors may have exploded so in succession in the sky of Florida, and nowhere else, "by coincidence."


1. Henry S. Schurr. "Barisal guns." Nature, 61 (December 7, 1899): 127-8, at 128. Correct quotes: "...I have timed up to ten seconds...," and, " after the other, without a pause."

2. E. Van Den Broeck. "Un phénomène mystérieux de la physique du globe." Ciel et Terre, 16: 447-74, 479-501, 516-30, 535-46, 601-16; and, 17: 4-15, 37-43, 99-109, 148-57, 183-91, 208-19, 348-53, 399-407; at 16, 608-13; and, at 17, 210. The observer, near Brée, was D. Raeymaekers, (not Raemaekers), of Anvers.

3. Ibid, at 16: 484-5, 538. The first intervals were four minutes, then twenty (not twenty-three), then three, then four, etc.

4. "Notes." Nature, 52 (October 3, 1895): 551-3, at 552.

5. E. Van Den Broeck. "Un phénomène mystérieux de la physique du globe." Ciel et Terre, 16: 447-74, 479-501, 516-30, 535-46, 601-16; and, 17: 4-15, 37-43, 99-109, 148-57, 183-91, 208-19, 348-53, 399-407; at 17, 213-4.

6. Ibid, at 16, 538.

7. Ibid, at 16, 614.

8. Ibid, at 16, 540. The statement is by Prof. Pelseneer, (not Peleseneer).

9. Ibid, at 17, 14.

10. Ibid, at 17, 99.

11. Ibid, at 17, 218. The name of the engineer was Putzeys, (not Pulzeys).

12. Ibid, at 17, 217. The sounds were heard at Ostend on February 20, 1896, and repeated on the next day.

13. Ibid, at 17, 185-6.

14. Ibid, 17, 217-8.

15. A Strange and True Relation of a Wonderful...Earthquake that Hapned at Hereford...the first of...October, 1661.... London, 1661. A ballad in another broadside, the News From Hereford, tells:

Amongst the rest and strangest too of all,

Unto one Margret Pellmore did befall,

The Clerks wife of the Town as I am told,

Who bore 3 children the like was nere unfold.

These children they had teeth, and spake as soon

As ever they into the world did come,

These words as follows did from them proceed

The same is verify'd for truth indeed.

The first did say this day no man can shun,

Which is appointed and not yet begun:

Where will be found the second child it said

Sufficient men alive to bury the dead?

These words did then from the 3d. child proceed

Where will be corn enough to satisfy your need?

These were the words they said at that same tyd

And presently all these three children dy'd.

Similar stories have appeared as early as 1580, in other broadsides, concerning tempests, earthquakes, aerial apparitions, and the births of talking triplets, at Praga, Bohemia, (Prague, Czech Republic), on January 25, 1579, and, at Carlstadt, (Karlovac, Croatia), on June 12, 1605. Hyder Edward Rollins, ed. The Pack of Autolycus, or, Strange and Terrible News of Ghosts, Monstrous Births, Showers of Wheat, Judgment of God, and other Prodigious and Fearful Happenings as Told in Broadside Ballads of the Years 1624-1693. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927, 81-6. Hyder Edwards Rollins, comp. An Analytical Index to the Ballad-Entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London. Hatboro, PA: Tradition Press, 1967, 50-1; c.v. "517. declaringe the fearfull and true prodegie which happened the Second of June laste being sunday at Carlstadt in Germanie in the Kingdome of Croetiæ, A ballet."

16. "Notes." Nature, 49 (November 9, 1893): 33-8, at 34-5.

17. James G. Wood. "The meteoric phenomena of January 25th." Symons' Meteorological Magazine, 29, 8-11, at 8-9.

18. "The large fireball of January 25." Nature, 49 (February 1, 1894): 324-5.

19. James G. Wood. "The meteoric phenomena of January 25th." Symons' Meteorological Magazine, 29, 8-11, at 9.

20. David E. Packer. "Earthquakes and meteors." English Mechanic, 74 (September 27, 1901): 155-6.

21. "The earthquake of December 17." Nature, 55 (December 24, 1896): 178-9. The "great blaze of light low in the northern horizon, continuing for two or three seconds," was observed by Russell Dirrell, of North Piddle.

22. "The earthquake of December 17th, 1896." Symons' Meteorological Magazine, 31 (January 1897): 177-85, at 183.

23. Charles Davison. Hereford Earthquake of December 17, 1896. Birmingham: Cornish Bros., 1899.

24. Nicholas Camille Flammarion. Astronomy for Amateurs. 212-213. At 9:30 A.M., a meteor fell in front of the National Museum. This is now identified as the Madrid meteorite.

25. The American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac for the Year 1896. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Equipment, 1895, 491.

26. "The noise made by a meteor." Monthly Weather Review, 23 (February 1895): 57-8. The editor does not speculate upon the localization in Florida, even as coincidence. "It is perfectly possible that three meteors occurred: (1) at 11.30 a.m. of the 7th, (2) at 5.30 a.m. of the 8th, and (3) between 6 and 10 p.m. of the 8th."

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