The Earthquake of 1843

By Lennox Honychurch

While there is great concern at the experiences and damage caused by the earthquake on the morning of Sunday 21 November 2004, we should not see this, as so many radio callers seemed to think, as an isolated incident designed as some form of divine retribution on Dominica. It is part of the nature of the place where we live. A similar earthquake, believed to be of about the same magnitude, also caused wide scale damage in Dominica one hundred and sixty one years ago. It was described at the time as "The longest and strongest quake yet felt in the island".

On 8 February 1843, the earthquake, centred in the Guadeloupe channel, totally destroyed the town of Point a Pitre on Guadeloupe. On Dominica it severely affected the north and northeast. In Roseau it damaged the Roman Catholic Church, which had not yet been designated as a Cathedral as the diocese was not created until seven years later. At Portsmouth the Methodist Chapel, situated on the same spot at Mount Wallace, Zicak, as it is today, was totally destroyed. The Roman Catholic Churches at Portsmouth and Vieille Case had not yet been built.

The biggest structures at the time were the sugar mills and distilleries on the various estates. Many of these were affected and the works at Melville Hall and Londonderry were completely destroyed. We must remember that we live on top of one of the most volatile “subduction zones” on the edge of an active tectonic plate, the Caribbean Plate, which makes up the crust of the earth. Earthquakes and volcanoes have been occurring here for millions of years and in fact these are what created our islands. We human beings just happen to be in the way while Nature is going about her business.