185th Anniversary of the Great Barbados hurricane

1853 map of Barbados
1853 map of Barbados

On August 10, 1831, an extremely severe hurricane struck the island of Barbados.  Its high winds and 17-foot (5-meter) storm surge collapsed buildings, sank ships, and killed about 1500 people.  It also caused damage to nearby Saint Vincent and Saint Lucia before visiting destruction on Puerto Rico within two days.  The following day it began a path of havoc along the entire length of Cuba, the center exiting near Havana on August 14th.  On August 17th, it made landfall in Louisiana near Last Island and brought enormous devastation to the city of New Orleans.  During its entire rampage some 2500 people died, and an estimated US$7 million in damage was done.

The Bridgetown Press wrote of the destruction in Barbados that,”The whole face of the country was laid waste; no sign of vegetation was apparent, except here and there small patches of a sickly green.  … The few remaining trees, stripped of the boughs and foliage, wore a cold and wintry aspect…”

Sir William Reid FRS as Royal Governor of Bermuda
Sir William Reid FRS as Royal Governor of Bermuda

Lt. William Reid of the Royal Engineers was dispatched to Barbados to survey the damage and rebuild the army barracks which had collapsed in the storm.  Reid began a correspondence with William Redfield after reading his paper on the 1821 hurricane.  After considering the idea of storm structure proposed by Redfield, Reid would publish his book “The Law of Storms” in 1838.  It proved an invaluable guide to ship captains on how they might avoid the worst parts of hurricanes if they should encounter them at sea.  Because of this book he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.