1674 Tsunami in Ambon and Seram

Summary notes of Georg Everhard RUMPHIUS


Of the Terrible Earthquake that occurred in the Islands of AMBOINA

Printed according to the copy in Batavia in 1675, publisch anew ant transcription by W. Buijze,
Translation by E.M. Beekman and F.Foss 1997

(The text below is a short summary of the notes of Georg Everhard RUMPHIUS, the complete story in three languages, Dutch, English and Indonesia can be obtain from Rhumpius Library at the St. Fransiskus Xaverius Cathedral, in Ambon)

On 17 February 1674, on a Saturday evening, at around half past seven, under a beautiful Moon and calm weather, our whole Province – that is Leytimor, Hitu, Nusatelo, Ceram, Buro, Manipa, Amblau, Kelang, Bonoa, Honimoa, Nusalaut, Oma and other adjacent places, though primarily the first two mentioned – was subjected to such terrible shocks that most people were convinced that Judgment Day had come.

The Bells in Victoria Castle on Leytimor tolled all by themselves, and the people who were standing around talking to each other, fell against one another or toppled over as the earth heaved up and down like the Sea. 75 Chinese pedaks, or small stone buildings along with a large House (also made of stone) crashed down, and were reduced to rubble, killing 79 people, among these the Wife of Merchant G.E. Rumphius, along with her youngest daughter, the Widow of Secretary Johannes Bastinck, and 4 Europeans. 35 other people were seriously wounded on their Arms, Legs, Heads, and Groins.

Water rose to a height of 4 up to 5 feet, and several deep wells filled up so quickly that one could scoop up the water with one’s hands, while the next moment that they were empty again. The eastern shore of the Waytomme River split open and water spurted through, 18 to 20 feet high, hurling up blue muddy sand that most people believed could only be found at 2 to 3 fathoms deep. Everybody ran to higher ground to save themselves, where they encountered the Governor and a large company. He led the assembly in prayer under a clear Sky. One kept on hearing bangs like distant Canon-fire, though mostly from the North and Northwest, indicating that some mountains might be exploding or, at least, that that they were falling apart. And such was revealed at dawn in Hitu, especially in the Wwani Mountains and at Ceyt. The fierce tremors continued all night long, so that no one was granted so much as half an hour of peace. Most of the shocks came up from the earth as if huge beams were hitting the soles of our feet, and for those who wanted to listen closer, one could distinctly hear water sloshing around beneath the ground.

There were wondrous rescues and signs of God’s deliverance. Three days after the quake a Chinese child, about a month old, was found in the rubble, still alive on the breast of its dead mother and was saved. On the eve of the quake various people who had been buried under this rubble, were dug up alive, among them a Papua boy who was unscathed and who ran away, as if he had done something wrong, and as if he was afraid he might be punished. The remaining stone buildings had been so badly damaged and dislocated, that their Owners no longer dared to live in them, and people fled from their homes and spent the night either under the dark clear Sky or in small huts. The badly damaged Malay Church was in complete disorder. Its most southern pillar was bent outward into the open and the partition behind the pulpit had been wrenched off, while an overhead beam was so far dislodged that the rooftree was split and flattened along its entire length. Furthermore, some tombstones had collapsed, while the churchyard’s gates had collapsed upon themselves, impeding entrance.

Several sailing-sloops and Orembay’s (local type of proa) belonging to local Burghers, and which were moored in the Mouth of that river, were thrown upstream against the bridge while one small Orembay would up inside a larger one. The bridge was also about to come loose.

As we found our later, the Earthquake was also strongly felt in the mountains of Lei-Timor. Seven houses collapsed in Nacau and several large rocks fell from high in the mountains, narrowly missing some people, but without inflicting any damage. A coconut tree fell between a man and his Wife and two Children while they were eating; it crushed only the food but did no other damage, except that the Wife was slightly injured on her hip.

On Oma two small Rock mountains fell into the Sea, leaving the ground as smooth as if it had been levelled with axes. Another boulder, so large that 7 men could hardly embrace it, had moved, leaving a hole in the shape of a well. The road between Ema and Soya had been cracked in at least 23 places, some were 2 or 3 feet wide, other places is were jagged. In Negeri Hutumuri, not far from the beach, a fountain of seawater burst unto the air, through a freshly dug hole.

The rigging of ships that lay at anchor here, banged against each other, sounding very much like a rattle. The Helmsman declared that cannons and their carriages were lifted off the deck and were set down without overturning. Others in the sloop ‘Vlissingen’ south of Lei-Timor sailing near Cape Nusanive, noticed little more than that the high sea waves were pounding against the sloop, shaking it as if it had struck a reef.

On the coast of Hitu shortly before the Earthquake hit, people saw two streaks in the sky, each half an ell wide, rising up against one another like the frame of a House, extending from Luhu to Ceyt, or from Ceyt in the South to the North.

The Quake hit there as hard as here at the Castle, shortly followed by a terrible mountain of seawater which arose with a huge roar. We heard from reliable sources that this gigantic wave originated near Old-Lebalehu. It rose up suddenly the fell towards the Sea, dividing into 3 parts, 2 of which flooded the countryside, while the third sped towards the sea, taking away all the trees, Houses, and People that were in its path.

The damage that this Coast suffered will be told place by place, though most important is the death of the more than 2243 People, which includes 31 Europeans, totaling 2322 victims. We now submit particulars for each place, starting in the most Western point of Hitu.

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