[Mr. Daniel Braddock, an English gentleman attached to the British factory in Lisbon, and who resided in the Portuguese capital at the time, witnessed the whole catastrophe that occurred on the 1st of November of 1755, the Day of the Dead eve. He survived the event and wrote to a friend, Dr. Sandby, chancellor of the diocese of Norwich, the following account of it. This account was printed, long after its writer’s death, in Rev. Charles Davy’s “Letters Addressed to a Young Gentleman upon Subjects of Literature”, vol. II, London, in 1787, and also in the “European Magazine and London Review“, vol. XVI, in 1789.]
«Lisbon, Nov. 13, 1755
I flattered myself I should have been able to write to you upon a more agreeable subject than the present, and had sufficient reason to believe, I should have had the pleasure of seeing you hear this in London; but God has been pleased to order it otherwise; I shall not trouble you with a detail of the many mortifications I met with, in the prosecution of my lawsuit, since I wrote to you last; it will be sufficient to say, I had at lenght brought it to an issue, and obtained a final sentence in my favour, with costs, damages, ans interest; but whether I shall ever reap the least benefit from the determination, is now very uncertain, as the fate of things here is so changed at present, that every one is much more concerned about his personal safety, that the lots of his fortune.
As no instance of the kind has happened in these parts of the world for some ages, I herewith send you an account of one of the most dreadful catastrophes recorded in history, the veracity of which you may entirely depend on, as I shared so great a part in it myself.
There never was a finer morning seen than the first of November; the sun shone out in its full lustre; the whole face of the sky was perfectly serene and clear, and not the least signal or warning of that approaching event, which has made this once flourishing, opulent, and populous city, a scene of the utmost horror and desolation, except only such as served to alarm, but scarcely left a moment’s time to fly from the general destruction.
It was on the morning of this fatal day, between the hours of nine and ten, that I was set down in my apartment, just finishing a letter, when the papers and the table I was writing on began to tremble with a gentle motion, which rather surprised me, as I could not perceive a breath of wind stirring. Whilst I was reflecting with myself what this could be owing to, but without having the least apprehension of the real cause, the whole house began to shake from the very foundation, which at first I imputed to the rattling of several coaches in the main street, which usually passed that way, at this time, from Belem to the palace; but on hearkening more attentively, I was soon undeceived, as I found it was owing to a strange frightful kind of noise underground, resembling the hollow distant rumbling of thunder. All this passed in less than a minute, and I must confess I now began to be alarmed, as it naturally occurred to me that this noise might possibly be the forerunner of an earthquake, as one I remembered, which had happened about six or seven years ago, in the island of Madeira, commenced in the same manner, though it did little or no damage.
Upon this I threw down my pen, and started upon my feet, remaining a moment in suspense, whether I should stay in the apartment or run into the street, as the danger in both places seemed equal; and still flattering myself that this tremor might produce no other effects than such inconsiderable ones as had been felt at Madeira; but in a moment I was roused from my dream, being instantly stunned with a most horrid crash, as if every edifice in the city had tumbled down at once. The house I was in shook with such violence, that the upper stories immediately fell; and though my apartment (which was the first floor) did not then share the same fate, yet everything was thrown out of its place in such a manner that it was with no small difficulty I kept my feet, and expected nothing less than to be soon crushed to death, as the walls continued rocking to and fro in the frightfulest manner, opening in several places; large stones falling down on every side from the cracks, and the ends of most of the rafters starting out from the roof.
To add to this terrifying scene, the sky in a moment became so gloomy that I could now distinguish no particular object; it was an Egyptian darkness indeed, such as might be felt; owing, no doubt, to the prodigious clouds of dust and lime raised from so violent a concussion, and, as some reported, to sulphureous exhalations, but this I cannot affirm; however, it is certain I found myself almost choked for near ten minutes.
As soon as the gloom began to disperse and the violence of the shock seemed pretty much abated, the first object I perceived in the room was a woman sitting on the floor with an infant in her arms, all covered with dust, pale and trembling. I asked her how she got hither, but her consternation was so great that she could give me no account of her escape. I suppose that when the tremor first began, she ran out of her own house, and finding herself in such imminent danger from the falling stones, retired into the door of mine, which was almost contiguous to hers, for shelter, and when the shock increased, which filled the door with dust and rubbish, she ran upstairs into my apartment, which was then open; be it as it might, this was no time for curiosity. I remember the poor creature asked me, in the utmost agony, if I did not think the world was at an end; at the same time she complained of being choked, and begged me to procure her a little drink. Upon this I went to a closet where I kept a large jar of water (which you know is sometimes a pretty scarce commodity in Lisbon), but finding it broken into pieces, I told her she must not now think of quenching her thirst but saving her life, as the house was just falling on our heads, and if a second shock came, would certainly bury us both. I bade her take hold of my arm, and that I would endeavor to bring her into some place of security.
I shall always look upon it as a particular providence that I happened on this occasion to be undressed; for had I dressed myself as proposed when I got out of bed, in order to breakfast with a friend, I should, in all probability, have run into the street at the beginning of the shock, as the rest of the people in the house did, and, consequently, have had my brains dashed out, as every one of them had. However, the imminent danger I was in did not hinder me from considering that my present dress, only a gown and slippers, would render my getting over the ruins almost impracticable; I had, therefore, still presence of mind enough left to put on a pair of shoes and a coat, the first that came in my way, which was everything I saved, and in this dress I hurried down stairs, the woman with me, holding by my arm, and made directly to that end of the street which opens to the Tagus. Finding the passage this way entirely blocked up with the fallen houses to the height of their second stories, I turned back to the other end which led to the main street (the common thoroughfare to the palace), and there helped the woman over a vast heap of ruins, with no small hazard to my own life; just as we were going into this street, as there was one part that I could not well climb over without the assistance of my hands as well as feet, I desired her to let go her hold, which she did, remaining two or three feet behind me, at which instant there fell a vast stone from a tottering wall, and crushed both her and the child in pieces. So dismal a spectacle at any other time would have affected me in the highest degree, but the dread I was in of sharing the same fate myself, and the many instances of the same kind which presented themselves all around, were too shocking to make me dwell a moment on this single object.
I had now a long narrow street to pass, with the houses on each side four or five stories high, all very old, the greater part already thrown down, or continually falling, and threatening the passengers with inevitable death at every step, numbers of whom lay killed before me, or what I thought far more deplorable, so bruised and wounded that they could not stir to help themselves. For my own part, as destruction appeared to me unavoidable, I only wished I might be made an end of at once, and not have my limbs broken, in which case I could expect nothing else but to be left upon the spot, lingering in misery, like those poor unhappy wretches, without receiving the least succour from any person.
As self-preservation, however, is the first law of nature, these sad thoughts did not so far prevail as to make me totally despair. I proceeded on as fast as I conveniently could, though with the utmost caution, and having at length got clear of this horrid passage, I found myself safe and unhurt in the large open space before St. Paul’s church, which had been thrown down a few minutes before, and buried a great part of the congregation, that was generally pretty numerous, this being reckoned one of the most populous parishes in Lisbon. Here I stood for some time, considering what I should do, and not thinking myself safe in this situation, I came to the resolution of climbing over the ruins of the west end of the church, in order to get to the river’s side, that I might be removed as far as possible from the tottering houses, in case of a second shock.
This, with some difficulty, I accomplished; and here I found a prodigious concourse of people of both sexes, and of all ranks and conditions, among whom I observed some of the principal canons of the patriarchal church, in their purple robes and rochets, as these all go in the habit of bishops; several priests who had run from the altars in their sacerdotal vestments in the midst of their celebrating Mass; ladies half dressed, and some without shoes; all these, whom their mutual dangers had here assembled as to a place of safety, were on their knees at prayers, with the terrors of death in their countenances, every one striking his breast and crying out incessantly, Misericordia meu Dios!
Among this crowd, I could not avoid taking notice of an old venerable priest, in a stole and surplice, who, I apprehend, had escaped from St. Paul’s. He was continually rnoving to and fro among the people exhorting them to repentance, and endeavouring to comfort them. He told them, with a flood of tears, that God was grievously provoked at their sins, but that if they would call upon the Blessed Virgin, she would intercede for them. Every one now flocked around him, earnestly begging his benediction; and happy did that man think himself, who could get near enough to touch but the hem of his garment. Several I observed had little wooden crucifixes, and images of saints, in their hands, which they offered me to kiss; and one poor Irishman, I retnember, held out a St. Antonio to me for this purpose; and when I gently put his arm aside, as giving him to understand, that I desired to be excused this piece of devotion, he asked me, with some indignation, “Whether I thought there was a God?”. I very believe many of the poor bigoted creatures, who saved these useless pieces of wood, left their children to perish. However, you must not imagine, that I have now the least inclination to mock at their superstitions, I sincerely pity them; and must own, that a more affecting spectacle was never seen. Their tears, their bitter sighs and lamentations, would have touched the most flinty hearts. I knelt down among them, and prayed as fervently as the rest, though to a much properer object, the only Being who could hear my players, or afford me any succour.
Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul, after the earthquake, by Jacques-Philippe Le Bas (1707–1783), 1757.
In the midst of these devotions the second great shock came on, little less violent than the first, and completed the ruin of those buildings which had been already much shattered. The consternation now became so universal, that the shrieks and cries of Misericordia could be distinctly heard from the top of St. Catherine’s hill, a considerable distance off, whither a vast number of the populace had likewise retreated; at the same time we could hear the fall of the parish church there, whereby many persons were killed on the spot, and others mortally wounded. You may judge of the force of this shock when I inform you it was so violent that I could scarce keep on my knees, but it was attended with some circumstances still more dreadful than the former. On a sudden I heard a general outcry, ‘The sea is coming in, we shall be all lost!’. Upon this, turning my eyes toward the river, which at this place is nearly four miles broad, I could perceive it heaving and swelling in a most unaccountable manner, as no wind was stirring. In an instant there appeared, at some small distance, a large body of water, rising as it were like a mountain. It came on foaming and roaring, and rushed toward the shore with such impetuosity, that we all immediately ran for our lives, as fast as possible; many were actually swept away, and the rest were above their waist in water, at a good distance from the banks. For my own part, I had the narrowest escape, and should certainly have been lost, had I not grasped a large beam that lay on the ground, till the water returned to its channel, which it did with equal rapidity. As there now appeared at least as much danger from the sea as the land, and I scarce knew whither to retire for shelter, I took a sudden resolution of returning, with my clothes all dripping, to the area of St. Paul’s. Here I stood some time, and observed the ships tumbling and tossing about as in a violent storm; some had broken their cables and were carried to the other side of the Tagus; others were whirled around with incredible swiftness; several large boats were turned keel upward; and all this without any wind, which seemed the more astonishing. It was at the time of which I am now writing, that the fine new quay, built entirely of rough marble, at an immense expense, was entirely swallowed up, with all the people on it, who had fled thither for safety, and had reason to think themselves out of danger in such a place; at the same time a great number of boats and small vessels, anchored near it (all likewise full of people, who had retired thither for the same purpose), were all swallowed up, as in a whirlpool, and never more appeared. This last dreadful incident I did not see with my own eyes, as it passed three or four stone-throws from the spot where I then was, but I had the account as here given from several masters of ships, who were anchored within two or three hundred yards of the quay, and saw the whole catastrophe. One of them in particular informed me that when the second shock came on, he could perceive the whole city waving backwards and forwards, like the sea when the wind first begins to rise; that the agitation of the earth was so great, even under the river, that it threw up his large anchor from the mooring, which swam, as he termed it, on the surface of the water; that immediately upon this extraordinary concussion, the river rose at once nearly twenty feet, and in a moment subsided; at which instant he saw the quay, with the whole concourse of people upon it, sink down, and at the same time everyone of the boats and vessels that were near it were drawn into the cavity, which he supposes instantly closed upon them, inasmuch as not the least sign of a wreck was ever seen afterwards. This account you may give full credit to for as to the loss of the vessels, it is confirmed by everybody, and, with regard to the quay, I went myself a few days after to convince myself of the truth, and could not find even the ruins of a place, where I had taken so many agreeable walks, as this was the common rendezvous of the factory in the cool of the evening. I found it all deep water and in some parts scarcely to be fathomed. This is the only place I could learn which was swallowed up in or about Lisbon though I saw many large cracks and fissures in different parts, and one odd phenomenon I must not omit, which was communicated to me by a friend who has a house and wine-cellars on the other side of the river, viz., that the dwelling house being first terribly shaken, which made all the family run out, there presently fell down a vast high rock near it; that upon this the river rose and subsided in the manner already mentioned, and immediately a great number of small fissures appeared in several contiguous pieces of ground, from whence there spouted out, like a jet d’eau, a large quantity of fine white sand to a prodigious height. It is not to be doubted that the bowels of the earth must have been excessively agitated to cause these surprising effects; but whether the shocks were owing to any sudden explosion of various minerals mixing together, or to air pent up, and struggling for vent, or to a collection of subterraneous waters forcing a passage, God only knows. As to the fiery eruptions then talked of, I believe they are without foundation, though it is certain, I heard several complaining of a strong sulphureous smell, a dizziness in their heads, a sickness in their stomachs, and difficulty of respiration, not that I felt any such symptoms myself.
I had not been long in the area of St. Paul’s, when I felt the third shock, which though somewhat less violent than the two former, the sea rushed in again and retired with the same rapidity, and I remained up to my knees in water, though I had gotten upon a small eminence at some distance from the river, with the ruins of several intervening houses to break its force. At this time I took notice the waters retired so impetuously, that some vessels were left quite dry, which rode in seven-fathom water. The river thus continued alternately rushing on and retiring several times, in such sort that it was justly dreaded Lisbon would now meet the same fate which a few years ago had befallen the city of Lima [in 1746]; and no doubt had this place lain open to the sea, and the force of the waves not been somewhat broken by the winding of the bay, the lower parts of it at least would have been totally destroyed.
The master of a vessel which arrived here just after the first of November assured me that he felt the shock above forty leagues at sea so sensibly that he really concluded that he had struck upon a rock, till he threw out the lead and could find no bottom; nor could he possibly guess at the cause till the melancholy sight of this desolate city left him no room to doubt it. The two first shocks, in fine, were so violent that several pilots were of opinion the situation of the bar at the mouth of the Tagus was changed. Certain it is that one vessel, attempting to pass through the usual channel, foundered, and another struck on the sands, and was at first given over for lost, but at length got through. There was another great shock after this, which pretty much affected the river, but I think not so violently as the preceding; though several persons assured me that as they were riding on horseback in the great road leading to Belem, one side of which lies open to the river, the waves rushed in with so much rapidity that they were obliged to gallop as fast as possible to the upper grounds, for fear of being carried away.
I was now in such a situation, that I knew not which way to turn myself; if I remained there, I was in danger from the sea; if I retired further from the shore, the houses threatened certain destruction; and, at last, I resolved to go to the Mint, which being a low and very strong building, had received no considerable damage, except in some of the apartments towards the river. The party of soldiers, which is every day set there on guard, had all deserted the place, and the only person that remained was the commanding officer, a nobleman’s son, of about seventeen or eighteen years of age, whom I found standing at the gate. As there was still a continued tremor of the earth, and the place where we now stood (being within twenty or thirty feet of the opposite houses, which were all tottering) appeared too dangerous, the court-yard likewise, being full of water, we both retired inward to a hillock of stones and rubbish; here I entered into conversation with him, and having expressed my admiration that one so young should have the courage to keep his post when every one of his soldiers had deserted theirs, the answer he made was, “though he were sure the earth would open and swallow him up, he scorned to think of flying from his post“. In short, it was owing to the magnanimity of this young man that the mint, which at this time had upwards of two millions of money in it, was not robbed; and indeed I do him no more than justice in saying, that I never saw any one behave with equal serenity and composure, on occasions much less dreadful than the present. I believe I might remain in conversation with him near five hours, and though I was now grown faint from the constant fatigue I had undergone, and having not yet broken my fast, yet this had not so much effect upon me as the anxiety I was under for a particular friend, with whom I was to have dined that day, and who, lodging at the top of a very high house in the heart of the city, and being a stranger to the language, could not but be in the utmost danger; my concern, therefore, for his preservation, made me determine, at all events, to go and see what had become of him, upon which I took my leave of the officer.
As I thought it would be the height of rashness to venture back through the same narrow street I had so providentially escaped from, I judged it safest to return over the ruins of St. Paul’s to the river side, as the water now seemed little agitated. From hence I proceeded, with some hazard to the large space before the Irish convent of Corpo Santo, which had been thrown down, and buried a great number of people who were hearing mass, besides some of the friars; the rest of the community were standing in the area, looking, with dejected countenances, towards the ruins; from this place I took my way to the back street leading to the palace, leaving the ship-yard on one side, but found the further passage, opening into the principal street, stopped up by the ruins of the Opera House, one of the solidest and most magnificent buildings of the kind in Europe, and just finished at a prodigious expense; a vast heap of stones, each of several tons weight, had entirely blocked up the front of Mr. Bristow’s house, which was opposite to it, and Mr. Ward, his partner, told me the next day, that he was just that instant going out at the door, and had actually set one foot over the threshold, when the west end of the Opera House fell down, and had he not in the moment started back, he should have been crushed into a thousand pieces.
From hence I turned back, and attempted getting by the other way into the great square of the palace, twice as large as Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields, one side of which had been taken up by the noble quay I spoke of, now no more; but this passage was likewise obstructed by the stones fallen from the great arched gateway. I could not help taking partircular notice that all the apartments wherein the Royal Family used to reside were thrown down, and themselves, without some extraordinary miracle, must unavoidably have perished, had they been there at the time of the shock. Finding this passage impracticable, I turned to the other arched way which led to the new square of the palace, not the eighth part so large as the other, one side of which was taken up by the patriarchal church, which also served for the chapel royal, and the other by a most magnificent building of modem architecture, probably, indeed, by far the most so, not yet completely finished: as to the former, the roof and part of the front walls were thrown down; and the latter, notwithstanding their solidity, had been so shaken, that several large stones fell from the top, and every part seemed disjointed. The square was full of coaches, chariots, chaises, horses, mules, deserted by their drivers and attendants, as well as their owners.
The nobility, gentry and clergy, who were assisting at divine service when the earthquake began, fled away with the utmost precipitation, every one where his fears carried him, leaving the splendid apparatus of the numerous altars to the mercy of the first comer; but this did not so much affect me, as the distress of the poor animals, who seemed sensible of their hard fate; some few were killed, others wounded, but the greater part, which had received no hurt, were left there to starve.
From this square, the way led to my friend’s lodgings through a long, steep, and narrow street, the new scenes of horror I met with here exceed all description; nothing could be heard but sighs and groans; I did not meet with a soul in the passage who was not bewailing the death of his nearest relations and dearest friends, or the loss of all his substance; I could hardly take a single step, without treading on the dead or the dying; in some places lay coaches, with their masters, horses, .and riders, almost crushed in pieces; here mothers with infants in their arms; there ladies richly dressed, priests, friars, gentlemen, mechanics, either in the same condition or just expiring; some had their backs or thighs broken, others vast stones on their breasts; some lay almost buried in the rubbish, and, crying out in vain to the passengers for succor, were left to perish with the rest.
At length I arrived at the spot opposite to the house where my friend, for whom I was so anxious, resided; and, finding this, as well as the contiguous buildings, thrown down (which made me give him over for lost), I now thought of nothing but saving my own life in the best manner I could, and in less than an hour got to a public house, kept by one Morley, near the English burying ground, about half a mile from the city, where I still remain, with a great number of my countrymen, as well as Portuguese, in the same wretched circumstances, having almost ever since lain on the ground, and never once within doors, with scarcely any covering to defend me from the inclemency of the night air, which, at this time, is exceedingly sharp and piercing.
Perhaps you may think the present doleful subject here concluded; but alas! the horrors of the 1st of November are sufficient to fill a volume. As soon as it grew dark, another scene presented itself, little less shocking than those already described. The whole city appeared in a blaze, which was so bright that I could easily see to read by it. It may be said without exaggeration that it was on fire in at least a hundred different places at once, and thus continued burning for six days together, without intermission, or without the least attempt being made to stop its progress.
It went on consuming everything the earthquake had spared, and the people were so dejected and terrified that few or none had courage enough to venture down to save any part of their substance; every one had his eyes turned towards the flames, and stood looking on with silent grief, which was only interrupted by the cries and shrieks of women and children calling on the saints and angels for succor, whenever the earth began to tremble, which was so often this night, and indeed I may say ever since, that the tremors, more or less, did not cease for a quarter of an hour together. I could never learn that this terrible fire was owing to any subterraneous eruption, as some reported, but to three causes, which all concurring at the same time, will naturally account for the prodigious havoc it made. The first of November being All Saint’s Day, a high festival among the Portuguese, every altar in every church and chapel, some of which have more than twenty, was illuminated with a number of wax tapers and lamps, as customary; these setting fire to the curtains and timber work that fell with the shock, the conflagration soon spread to the neighboring houses, and being there joined with the fires in the kitchen chimneys, increased to such a degree, that it might easily have destroyed the whole city, though no other cause had concurred, especially as it met with no interruption.
[CREATURES – CRIME, HUNGER & DISEASE]
But what would appear incredible to you, were the fact less public and notorious, is that a gang of hardened villains, who had been confined and got out of prison when the wall fell, at the first shock, were busily employed in setting fire to those buildings which stood some chance of escaping the general destruction. I cannot conceive what could have induced them to this hellish work, except to add to the horror and confusion that they might, by this means, have the better opportunity of plundering with security. But there was no necessity for taking this trouble, as they might certainly have done their business without it, since the whole city was so deserted before night that I believe not a soul remained in it except those execrable villains and others of the same stamp. It is possible some among them might have had other motives besides robbing, as one in particular being apprehended (they say he was a Moor, condemned to the galleys – thirty-four of these wretches were executed in a few days), confessed at the gallows, that he had set fire to the King’s palace with his own hand; at the same time glorying in the action, and declaring with his last breath that he hoped to have burnt all the Royal Family. It is likewise generally believed that Mr. Bristow’s house, which was an exceedingly strong edifice, built on vast stone arches, and had stood the shocks without any great damage further than what I have mentioned, was consumed in the same manner.
The fire, in short, by some means or other, may be said to have destroyed the whole city, at least everything that was grand or valuable in it. The damage on this occasion is not to be estimated; but you may judge it must have been immense, from the few following particulars. All the fine tapestry, paintings, plate, jewels, furniture, etc. of the King’s palace, amounting to many millions, with the rich vestments and costly ornaments of the patriarchal church adjoining (where service was performed with no less pomp than that of the Pope’s own chapel); all the riches of the palace of Bragança, where the crown jewels, and plate of inestimable value, with quantities of the finest silk tapestries, interwoven with gold and silver thread, and hangings of velvet and damask, were kept; all the rich goods and spices in the India warehouses under the palace, those belonging to the merchants of different nations in the opposite custom-house, as well as those in the merchants’ own houses, and dispersed among the numerous shops, were utterly consumed or lost; even those few effects that had the luck of escaping the first flames, found no security in the open spaces they were carried to, being there either burnt with the sparks that fell on every side, or lost in the hurry and confusion the people were then in, or (which I knew to have been the case of many persons property) stolen by those abandoned villains, who made their doubly wicked advantage of this general calamity.
With regard to the buildings, it was observed that the solidest in general fell the first*, among which, besides those already mentioned, were, the Granaries of the public Corn-Market; the great Royal Hospital in the Rocieu, that called the Misericordia for the maintenance of poor orphan girls, most of whom perished; the fine church and convent of Saint Domingo, where was one of the largest and noblest libraries in Europe; the grand church of the Carmelites, supported by two rows of white marble pillars, with the miraculous image of our lady of Mount Carmel, who could not save her favourite temple from ruin; the old Cathedral, which was of an excessive thickness; the magnificent church of the regular Canons of St. Augustine, not much unlike our St. Paul’s, though not to be compared to it for bigness, and reckoned by connoisseurs the finest piece of architecture in Europe, where lay the bodies of the late King John, and several of the Royal Family, whose monuments, by the fall of the cupola were crushed in pieces: the Castle, or Citadel, wherein the ancient archives, and records were reposited; the Prison of the Inquisition, or Holy Office, as it is called, with that of the Limoeira, which was a palace of the Moorish kings, over which the supreme court of justice was held, for the trying of criminals. In short, it is impossibte to enumerate the particular damages in buildings only; to say all in one word, every parish church, convent, nunnery, palace, and public edifice, with an infinite number of private houses, were either thrown down or so miserably shattered that it was rendered dangerous to pass by them. As to the people who lost their lives on this occasion, to say nothing of those who were crushed to death in their own houses, in some of which no less than forty persons were killed (as a family lives on every fioor), either meeting with immediate death, or having had their limbs broken by the fall the stones in the streets; you may easily judge what prodigious numbers must have perished in the churches and convents, as the first shock happened at high mass, when they were assembled at their devotions. I have already given you some instances, and you may judge of the rest by what follows.
In the large convent of St. Francis, which consisted of near three hundred friars, the roof fell down as they were singing in the choir, and at the same time a high gallery over the west door fronting the great altar, and buried all, except about eighteen ot the community, with the numerous congregation below. In the monastery of Santa Clara, one hundred and fifty of the nuns, with their waiting-women; in that of the Calvario, which stands in the road leading to Belem, most of the nuns then in the choir, as well as a great part of the congregation in the body of the church, shared the same fate. The English nunnery was likewise thrown down, but whether any were killed I cannot learn. In the convent of the Trinity, I am credibly informed, above fifteen hundred were killed. Those in every other church and chapel suffered in proportion. In the prison of Limoeira, near four hundred were crushed by the sudden falling down of a wall, though the greatest villains there escaped to do further mischief.
The whole number of persons that perished, including those who were burnt or afterwards crushed to death whilst digging in the ruins, is supposed, on the lowest calculation, to amount to more than sixty thousand; and though the damage in other respects cannot be computed, yet you may form some idea of it, when I assure you that this extensive and opulent city is now nothing but a vast heap of ruins; that the rich and poor are at present upon a level; some thousands of families which but the day before had been in easy circumstances, being now scattered about in the fields, wanting every convenience of life, and finding none able to relieve them.
Amidst such scenes of universal aftlicrion, the fate of individuals may seem of too little consequence to be taken notice of; however I cannot forbear mentioning two or three instances, especially as I was acquainted with the unhappy sufferers, and believe you had some knowledge of them: the first is of Mrs. Perichon, who running out of her house in the beginning of the shock, in company with her husband, whom she followed at a small distance, was buried under the ruins of a building, which suddenly fell down before he perceived it; and when he looked back expecting to find her near him, there was not the least appearance of her, and to attempt any search in such a place, would have been only exposing his own life. The second is of a Mr. Vincent, who had been absent from Lisbon a considerable time, at a town called Martinico, eighteen leagues from Lisbon, but his ill fate prompted him to come to this city, at which he arrived upon the evening of the fatal day, in order to partake of some diversions; but he never left the house he slept in, being suddenly crushed to death before he was dressed, and buried in the ruins, which is the only tomb he is ever like to have, for though his friends after many fruitless searches, discovered, as they supposed, the remains of his body, they found them so putrid, broken, and scattered, that, it was impossible to remove them. The last case is still more, lamentable; it is of a young lad, brother to Mr. Holford of London, remarkable for his modesty and affable behaviour: he was walking through one of the streets near the front door of a parish church when the first shock happened, at which time he had both his legs broken by the fall of a large stone: in this miserable condition he lay some time, in vain beseeching the terrified passengers to take some pity; at length a tender-hearted Portuguese, moved by his cries, took him up in his arms, and carried him into the church, as imagining this a safer place than the open street; at this instant, the second shock entirely blocked up the door, and the body of the church being soon all on fire, the lad was burnt alive, with his generous assistant, and many other poor wretches, who hoped to have found there some shelter.
A few days after the first consternation was over, I ventured down into the city by the safest ways I could pick out, to see if there was a possibility of getting anything out of my lodgings; but the ruins were now so augmented by the late fire, that I was so far from being able to distinguish the individual spot where the house stood, that I could not even distinguish the street amidst such such mountains of stones and rubbish which rose on every side. Some days after, I ventured down again with several porters, who, having long plied in these parts of the town, were well acquainted with the situation of particular houses; by their assistance, I at last discovered the spot, but was soon convinced that to dig for anything here, besides the danger of such an attempt, would never answer the expense; and what further induced me to lay aside all thoughta of the matter, was the sight of the ruins still smoking, from whence I knew, for certain, that those things I set the greatest value on must have been irrecoverably lost in the fire.
On both the times when I attempted to make this fruitless search, especially the first, there came such an intolerable stench from the dead bodies, that I was ready to faint away; and though it did not seem so great this last time, yet it had like to have been more fatal to me, as I contracted a fever by it; but of which, God be praised, I soon got the better. However, this made me so cautious for the future, that I avoided passing near certain places, where the stench was so excessive that people began to dread an infection. A gentleman told me, that going into the town a few days after the earthquake, he saw several bodies lying in the streets, some horribly mangled, as he supposed, by the dogs; others half burnt; some quite roasted; and that in certain places, particularly near the doors of churches, they lay in vast heaps, piled one upon another. You may guess at the prodigious havock which must have been made, by the single instance I am going to mention: there was a high arched passage, like one of our old city gates, fronting the west door of the ancient cathedral; on the left hand was the famous church of St. Antonio, and on the right, some private houses several stories high. The whole area surrounded by all these buildings did not much exceed one of our small courts in London. At the first shock, numbers of people who were then passing under the arch, fled into the middle of this area for shelter; those in the two churches, as many as could possibly get out, did the same. At this instant, the arched gateway, with the fronts of the two churches and contiguous buildings, all inclined one toward another with the sudden violence of the shock, fell down and buried every soul as they were standing here crowded together.
They have been employed now for several days past in taking up the dead bodies, which are carried out into the neighbouring fields; but the greater part still remain under the rubbish, nor do I think it would be safe to remove them, even though it were practicable, on account of the stench; the King, they say, talks of building a new city at Belem, but be this as it will, it is certain he will have no thoughts of rebuilding the old, until those bodies have lain long enough to be consumed.
I shall mention only one circumstance more, relating to this dreadful affair, as there appeared something very extraordinary in it. One Mr. Burmaster, a Hamburgh merchant of this place, had received a letter from his partner at Hamburgh, advising him to remove a large quantity of flax, and other valuable effects, from the house he then resided in, to several distant warehouses in different parts of the city, giving as a reason for his desiring him to use this precaution, that he had dreamed, for fourteen nights together, the city of Lisbon was all on fire. You may depend on the veracity of the fact, as here related, since Mr. Burmaster publicly shewed this letter to every body. But whether the advice was owing to any supernatural warning, or merely accidental, it was of no manner of signification, as he did not pay the least regard to it; so that his goods shared the same fate with the rest of his neighbours.
Thus, my dear friend, have I given you a genuine, though imperfect account of this terrible judgment, which has left so deep an impression on my mind, that I shall never wear it off, I have lost all the money I had by me, and have saved no other clothes than what I have on my back; but what I regret most, is tht irreparable loss of my books and papers. To add to my present distress, those friends to whom I could have applied on any other occasion, are now in the same wretched circumstances with myself. However, notwithstanding all that I have suffered, I do not think I have reason to despair, but rather to return my gratefullest acknowledgments to the Almighty, who hath so visibly preserved my life amidst such dangers, where so many thousands perished; and the same good Providence, I trust, will still continue to protect me, and point out some means to extricate myself out of these difficulties.
As the place is in such disorder and confusion, that the administration of justice is put a stop to, and it is not likely that any business will be carried on for some time, I intend to take my passage for England as soon as a convenient opportunity offers.
I am, &c.»
(*) «This circumstance seems to favour Dr. Stukeley’s opinion, that earthquakes are, in a great measure, owing to electrical shocks; and I remember, when the earthquakes were felt in London, that the greatest force was reported to have been perceived by those persons who were placed with their backs near the south wall of the Courts of Chancery and the King’s Bench, in Westminster Hall, where its thickness was said to be not less than seven or eight feet.»