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

Overview and Destruction at Sea

(Credit for image on preceding page: John Arthur Armstrong, Calcutta from the Strand during the cyclone of 5 October 1864
(c) The British Library Board, WD 4244.)

From the 2nd to the 7th of October, during the year 1864, a massive cyclone struck the Bay of Bengal area. Formulated about 100 miles off the Arracan Coast, this storm swept north, picking up power along the way, and ultimately wreaked havoc on everything in its path. 

The storm's potentially first encounter with people was when it was still raging over the Bay of Bengal, on its way to Calcutta. There it had catastrophic impacts on several vessels out at sea.  Numerous ships, such as the Phoenix, Hope, and Dwarkanauth, foundered, with only 3 crew members surviving from these 3 ships combined. Perhaps the most destructive loss out at sea as a result of the cyclone was with the ship Ally. This ship, carrying 335 coolies and other passengers bound for Mauritius, was struck by the cyclone and lost every passenger save for 22 coolies and 7 lascars.


However, despite these great calamities, not all was lost during this storm. In a different, and much more fortunate, scenario, our ship, the Clarence, was not only able to survive the cyclone, but also use it to its advantage. According to its log, Clarence sailed along the south-eastern edge of the storm perfectly safe and was even able to make use of the storm's tail winds to make a speedy run up the Bay of Bengal. This log, and the logs of other surviving ships, such as the Golden Horn, are what allow contemporary historians to gain a somewhat accurate understanding of the cyclone, being as there was no reliable meteorological station at that time. These logs, as exampled below, convey barometric pressure, weather conditions, location, and more, each helping to paint the inevitably incomplete picture of this cyclone. 



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

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