The Wold Cottage Meteorite October 15, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
Beachcombing has, over the months, given some publicity to meteorite history, the intrusion of bolides into human affairs, and today he thought he would do tribute to a rock that came hurtling from the sky in 1795. Though not in itself a particularly remarkable example of the shooting star the Wold Cottage Meteorite changed scientific history. Before it came crashing into a Yorkshire field, nine yards from a labourer, no intelligent person believed in ‘stones falling from the sky’. After it had come crashing down and the evidence had been properly examined it became unfashionable not to believe in the same.
We might start with a simple account of events, not from a witness but as described by the owner of the land on which the meteorite fell: Edward Topham.
The very singular phenomenon which took place near my house in Yorkshire on Sunday, Dec. 13, 1795 has excited general curiosity. Being in London at the time, it was impossible for me to know more of it than from some vague accounts in provincial and London papers; and to be certain, from private letters that such an event had happened, on my return here I found that, for a space of nearly three weeks, 30 or 40 person on each day had come to see the STONE which had fallen; and I found likewise a number of letters from all parts of the kingdom, requesting to me to give an account of the circumstance.
Topham, goes on to record that the stone weighed 56 pounds and that it had plunged nineteen inches into the soil and then through six odd inches of solid chalk rock. ‘When taken up it was warm, and smoked’.
It is thanks to Topham that the discovery was taken so seriously for though he put the stone on public display in a penny-a-time coffee shop, he also went to great pains to document the fall talking to and swearing many witnesses.
At Bridlington, and at different villages, sounds were heard in the air, which the inhabitants took to be the noise of guns at sea; but at two adjoining villages, the noise was so distinct of something singular passing through the air toward my habitation, that five or six people came up, to see if anything extraordinary had happened to my house or grounds.
These are generalities, but there were also the affidavits again organised by the careful Topham. Take, for example, that of John Shipley who was almost struck by this messenger from the outer reaches of the Solar System, ‘the clouds opened as he it fell, and he thought HEAVEN and EARTH were coming together’!
‘John Shipley, husbandman, deposes, that he was within eight or nine yards of the stone when it fell, saw it distinctly seven or eight yards from the ground, and then strike into the earth, which flew up all about him, and which alarmed him very much. In falling, sparks of fire seemed to fly from it. On recovering from his confusion, he went up to the place in company with George Sawdon, carpenter, and James Watson, groom to Capt. Topham, and helped to dig the stone from the rock of lime-stone where it was stuck.’
Topham, who was, by any standards, a remarkable man, a magistrate, a newspaper editor and later a dog racer and trainer just happened to be the right man in the right place (or at least the right property) at the right time. Science dithered and dallied before the strength of the evidence that he had amassed and then surrendered another bit of their obscurantism. There were would be no more mocking those stones that fell from the heavens…
Beach is always on the look out for meteorite stories: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
28 Oct 2011: Several of you (Invisible, EdM, Southern Man, SY) have sent in this great report from the Telegraph describing a recent meteorite attack on a French home. Thanks to all!
30 Oct 2011: KMH (who also noted the report above) has kindly boiled down the Wikipedia article on historic ‘interventions’ of meteorites: ‘There is a Chinese record describing the death of 10,000 people in 1490 from ‘falling stones’. The Wabar craters in Arabia may be just a few hundred years old. There is the Tunguska blast in 1908. ‘The only reported fatality from meteorite impacts is an Egyptian dog that was killed in 1911 by the Nakhla meteorite, although this report is disputed. The meteorites that struck this area were identified in the 1980s as Martian in origin. The first known modern case of a human hit by a space rock occurred on November 30, 1954, in Sylacauga, Alabama. There a 4 kg (8.8 lb) stone chondrite crashed through a roof and hit Ann Hodges in her living room after it bounced off her radio. She was badly bruised. Several persons have since claimed to have been struck by ‘meteorites’ but no verifiable meteorites have resulted.’ Thanks KMH