Sailing the British Empire : The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

Destruction on Land

Perhaps the greatest destruction of this terrible storm came on land, specifically Calcutta and its neighboring districts. The storm, with a width of 100 miles and a speed of 10 miles per hour, swept the Calcutta area with great ferocity, leading to great losses of life and property alike. 


While this storm is undoubtedly one of the most destructive in history, this occurrence is not due to its strength or speed of wind, at least on land. Instead, the most devastating aspect of the storm for the people not at sea was the storm wave and consequential flooding that it produced. It is reported that this wave of water reached heights of 15 feet above the land level. Below is a map that shows just how far the destruction of this storm wave reached (click the page to zoom in).

This massive force of water swept through the city, leveled anything in its path, and ultimately caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people.  This chart here shows a rough estimation of the officially reported deaths of the various districts surrounding Calcutta. 

However, as if this number did not seem high enough, it is widely believed that the death toll does not stop there. Not only do these figures only represent the reported deaths, but they also only take into account the deaths that occurred as a direct result of the cyclone. After the cyclone hit, however, there was a large period of time during the aftermath in which famine and disease, namely cholera and smallpox, ran rampant throughout the city and various districts. Taking these aspects into account, it is believed that the lowest estimate for the death toll is at about 70-80,000 people. 


Unfortunately, the destruction of this storm did not stop there. With the killing of several thousands of people came the inevitable destruction of homes, buildings, trees, and virtually every aspect of a city or town. To begin with, the cyclone had a devastating effect on the economy of Calcutta and these neighboring towns. Agriculture and shipping, two crucial sectors of the economy, were critically crippled as a result of the storm.



There is no reliable estimate for the value of how much was lost, both with cargo and the actual ships themselves, although some believe the value to be within 1 to 2 million sterling. Below is a list of the ships that were actually or constructively wrecked as a result of the storm.

While the crippled economy is certainly very unfortunate, perhaps the most devastating aspect of the cyclone regarding property damage is the complete destruction of people's homes and lifestyle as a whole. Hundreds of thousands of native huts were either blown down or easily swept away by the flooding waters, and multiple, though not as many, European pucka (or brick) houses were destroyed as well. For example, in Calcutta alone, 102 pucka houses were destroyed, with 563 severely damaged. On top of that, 40,698 native huts were completely leveled. 

Also, using the log of the Clarence, we can get an idea of what the towns and streets of Calcutta looked like after the destruction. According to an article from the Calcutta Englishmen that was copied down in the log, "wherever there were trees, they were either uprooted and fell, carrying with them in many cases walls, railings and buildings, or their branches were snapped off like reeds and buried away with the wind." In addition, it notes the considerable damage on several buildings, including the St. James Theatre and Free Church of Scotland, and the interruption of the telegraph lines in every direction. Below is a photograph of an image published in the Illustrated London News following the cyclone. 

1.  Gastrell, J. E., and Henry F. Blanford. Report on the Calcutta Cyclone of the 5th October 1864. Calcutta: O.T. Cutter Military Orphan, 1866. 
2. A Brief History of the Cyclone at Calcutta and Vicinity, 5th October 1864. Calcutta: Military Orphan, 1865. 

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