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November 5th 1789

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The Earthquake centre of Scotland

It is strange that though Comrie is known as the earthquake centre of Scotland, there is little evidence of any activity there before 1789.

The initial manifestations were no more than sudden rumbling noises assumed by the inhabitants to be thunder. But as they were also heard when the sky was quite clear it was suggested that they were perhaps caused by the firing of cannonades at, Dunira. However this explanation had to be drastically revised when the first real quakes occured on the evening of November 5th . There was much alarm in the village, and at Lawers, a small village about a mile away the ice on the pond was completely shattered. According to the Statistical Account, shocks were “very frequent and at times pretty violent”  for the next year after this.

There was a period of relative calm until 1801 when shocks were felt all over Scotland but particularly at Comrie. Again in 1821 and 1822 there were further shocks, but it was at 10:15pm on the night of September 23rd 1839 that the most violent quakes were registered. A powerful low rumbling noise was recorded and then there was a sudden upheaval. Ornaments and furniture were thrown over, chimneys thrown down and the church bells set ringing.

There were a further twenty-seven lesser shocks during the night and most people fled their houses and assembled in one of the churches where services and prayers were held all night. Many believed that the end of the world had arrived and were a little surprised, and perhaps dissappointed, to discover the next day that there had been little external damage.

There was much local argument as to the causes of the quakes. A favourite explanation being that it was due to the opening of a quarry near Comrie in 1778 and the fact that the quakes generally occured after a period of wet weather. It was suggested that the water from the quarry penetrated the earth until it came into contact with the “subterranean fire”  resulting in “subterranean thunder.”  Others held to the even more mysterious view that it was all due to electricity.

In the 19th century, a special building was constructed at Comrie to house a seismometer provided by the British Assosciation for their investigations into the causes of the earthquakes. This building, Earthquake House, has now been restored by Perth and Kinross District Council and modern seismological equipment installed within it by the British Geological Survey. The building is open to the public and has proved to be a popular attraction.

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