As November begins, winter arrives, and we wonder what the weather will bring this season: storm, gale and flood – frost and snow and fun?! This month as part of the Explore Your Archive campaign we will be exploring the earth and the natural world through our Special Collections.
We cannot control the weather, but it rules our environment, affects our moods, safety, travel, communication, crops and health. No wonder man has tried to understand and predict it for centuries!
Here in Special Collections we can trace this fascination – both scientific and popular – for natural phenomena, through monographs and private correspondence, scientific periodicals and encyclopaedias. The latter brought observations and explanations of the natural world to a wider audience. Descriptions of events such as meteors and great storms were popular, such as Daniel Defoe’s account of the ‘Late Dreadful Tempest’ of 26th November 1703 [published in 1713, Rare Books PR 3404]. Incidental references to the weather appear in diaries and letters – there are many throughout the Wellington Papers [MS 61] and the Palmerston Papers [MS 62] – which contribute to a study of the weather over time.
Archives have also been left behind by explorers and interested amateurs whose approach was more scientific. William Mogg of Woolston, Southampton, took part in survey expeditions to the Artic in HMS Hecla, in 1821-2, and HMS Fury, in 1824-5; abstracts from the ships’ meteorological journals and notes on environmental conditions during these journeys survive in our collections [MS 45 A0187].
R.C.Hankinson’s meteorological observations, with charts, were made at Shirley Warren, Southampton from 1863-77. A Southampton banker and JP, he was born in Norfolk in 1824, and had lived in Derbyshire before coming to Hampshire by 1865. The volume includes meteorological observations for all three places. Each right-hand page records the weather for a calendar month, with daily entries for pressure, temperature, wind direction, and rainfall. From 1866, Hankinson drew temperature charts in red and black ink on the left-hand page. He often added notes on subjects that interested him: the growth of fruit and vegetables, flowers and crops, birds, the prevalence of disease locally such as scarlet fever and cholera, as well as meteorological matters: sirocco winds, gales, storms (and shipwrecks), comets, the aurora borealis, sun spots and eclipse. In September 1869 he notes:
“Equinoctial gales for 10th [September] to 19th”;
“18th [September] Storm gales. Much loss in every place. ‘Volante’ yacht wrecked off Ryde. ‘Gensa’ yacht Cherbourg.”
“20th [September] frost in grass.”
This is a fascinating record of our local environment 150 years ago.