Last week, Facebook was alive with dramatic images of multiple waterspouts around New Providence. There were even reports of twisters on land, a rare occurrence in these parts.
This reminded me to look at a pamphlet I was given weeks ago called “Memoranda of the Bahama Tornado of 1850”.
It was written to aid "the schools at Grants-Town and Baines-Town” by the Rev William Woodcock of St Agnes Chapel and Capt R. J. Nelson of the Royal Engineers.
Saturday, March 30 1850 was a day of storms, thunder and lightening, the authors wrote. “Black-fringed clouds hung like a curtain over New Providence" and people “crowded for shelter under the market house.”
At about a quarter past one "a low roaring noise" arose towards the southwest of the town and “the storm descended in the form of a tornado” on the thatched-roof settlements over-the-hill “and proceeded with terrible velocity to the northeast, its path rarely exceeding from 20 to 100 yards in width.
“Whatever stood in this line was destroyed or desolated…and the sky seemed crowded with flying beams, roofs, furniture and clothes.” Coconut trees and orchards were ripped apart and the roof of St Agnes was damaged. And when the tornado reached the harbour it sank two vessels in its path and transformed into a waterspout before finally disappearing.
Rev Woodcock described the area around St Agnes as follows: “What a scene met the eye. Ruined houses, broken furniture, torn-up trees, crowds of confused and agitated people, and all the while the storm pitilessly raining down and deluging the roads with great pools of water.”
Eight people died and about 20 were injured. Most of those affected were “liberated Africans and coloured people occupying the cottages and little plots of garden ground in the districts of Grants Town and Baines Town.”
According to Captain Nelson, the tornado was first sighted at Andros.
“We next hear of it at Southwest Bay. In the same quarter it is stated that two clouds, each bearing a rainbow, met…Three waterspouts were seen from the southwest of the island…
"Having struck the southwest coast it proceeded through the pine barrens towards Nassau passing about two miles to the westward of the African village of Carmichael...We have no further account until it approached Nassau, where it came down on its way over the low hills above the town to (a point) very near where the tornado of 1825 also ended.”
Before transforming into a waterspout as it reached the harbour, the tornado demolished one wing of the home of the Chief Justice on Fort Fincastle hill and took off the roof of a neighbouring large house.
“The schools and the little chapel of St Agnes, in which the moral and secular education of 400 black and coloured children is carried on, were mercifully spared."
There is also a brief account of the 1825 tornado, which occurred on October 5 that year. Heralded by a large and heavy squall, it advanced rapidly on Nassau from the southeast and caused “much damage in its short but energetic course."
Waterspouts are common in the Bahamas during the rainy season, but tornados on land are rare.