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From Abraham Castres Esq.: his Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary to the King of Portugal, to the Secretary of State, Whitehall, London.
LISBON, November 6th, 1755.
You will in all likelihood have heard before this of the inexpressible Calamity befallen the whole Maritime Coast, and in particular this opulent City, now reduced to a heap of Rubbish and Ruin, by a most tremendous Earthquake on the first of this Month, followed by a Conflagration which has done ten times more Mischief than the Earthquake itself. I gave a short account of our Misfortune to Sir Benjamin Keene, by a Spaniard, who promised (as all intercourse by Post was at a stand) to carry my Letter as far as Badajoz and see it safe put into the Post House. It was merely to acquaint His Excellency that, God be praised, my House stood out the Shocks, though greatly damaged; and that, happening to be out of the reach of the Flames, several of my Friends, burnt out of their Houses, had taken refuge with me, where I have accommodated them as well as I could, under Tents in my large Garden; no Body but Lord Charles Dowglass, who is actually on board the Packet, besides my Chaplain and myself having dared hitherto to sleep in my House since the Day of our Disaster. The Consul and his Family have been saved, and are all well, in a Country House near this City. Those with me at present are the Dutch Minister, his Lady, and their three Children, with seven or eight of their Servants. The rest of my Company of the better Sort consists of several Merchants of this Factory, who, for the most part have lost all they had; though some indeed, as Messrs. Parry and Mellish's House, and Mr. Raymond, and Burrell, have had the good Fortune to save their Cash, either in whole or in part. The number of the Dead and Wounded I can give no certain Account of as yet; in that respect our Poor Factory has escaped pretty well, considering the number of Houses we have here. I have lost my Good and Worthy Friend the Spanish Ambassador, who was crushed under the Door, as he attempted to make his Escape into the Street. This with the Anguish I have been in for these five Days past, occasioned by the dismal Accounts brought to us every instant of the Accidents befallen to one or other of our Acquaintance among the Nobility, who for the most part are quite Undone, has greatly affected me; but in particular the miserable Objects among the lower sort of His Majesty's Subjects, who fly also to me for Bread, and lie scattered up and down in my Garden, with their Wives and Children. I have helped them all hitherto, and shall continue to do so, as long as Provisions do not fail Us, which I hope will not be the Case, by the Orders which M. de Carvalho has issued in that respect. One of our great Misfortunes is, that we have neither an English or Dutch Man of War in the Harbour. Some of their Carpenters and Sailors would have been of great use to me on this occasion, in helping to prop up my House; for as the Weather, which has hitherto been remarkably fair, seems to threaten us with heavy Rains, it will be impossible for the Refugees in my Garden to hold out much longer; and how to find Rooms in my House for them all I am at a loss to devise; the Floors of most of them shaking under our Feet; and must consequently be too weak to bear any fresh number of Inhabitants. The Roads for the first Days having been impracticable, it was but yesterday I had the Honour in Company with M. de la Calmette, of waiting on the King of Portugal, and all the Royal Family at Belem, whom we found encamped; none of the Royal Palaces being fit to harbour Them.
Though the loss His Most Faithful Majesty has sustained on this occasion is immense, and that His Capital-City is utterly Destroyed; He received us with more Serenity than we expected, and among other things told us, that He owed Thanks to Providence for saving His and His Family's Lives: and that He was extremely glad to see us both safe. The Queen in her own Name, and all the young Princesses, sent us word that they were obliged to us for our attention; but that being under their Tents, and in a Dress not fit to appear in, They desired that for the present we would excuse their admitting our Compliments in Person. Most of the considerable Families in our Factory have already secured to themselves a passage to England, by three or four of our London Traders, that are preparing for their departure. As soon as the fatigue and great trouble of Mind I have endured for these first Days are a little over, I shall be considering of some proper method for sheltering the poorer Sort, either by hiring a Portuguese Hulk, or if that is not to be had, some English Vessel till they can be sent to England; and there are many who desire to remain, in hopes of finding among the Ruins some of the little Cash they may have lost in their Habitations. The best orders have been given for preventing Rapine, and Murders, frequent instances of which we have had within these three Days, there being swarms of Spanish Deserters in Town, who take hold of this opportunity of doing their business. As I have large sums deposited in my House, belonging to such of my Countrymen as have been happy enough to save some of their Cash, and that my House was surrounded all last Night with Ruffians; I have wrote this Morning to M. de Carvalho, to desire a Guard, which I hope will not be refused. We are to have in a Day or two a Meeting of our scattered Factory at my House, to consider of what is best to be done in our present wretched Circumstances. I am determined to stay within call of the Distressed, as long as I can remain on Shore with the least Appearance of Security: and the same Mr. Hay (the Consul) seemed resolved to do, the last time I conferred with him about it. I most humbly beg your Pardon, Sir, for the Disorder of this Letter, surrounded as I am by many in Distress, who from one instant to the other are applying to me either for Advice or Shelter. The Packet has been detained at the Desire of the Factory, till another appears from England, or some Man of War drops in here from the Streights. This will go by the first of several of our Merchant Ships bound to England. I must not forget to acquaint you, that Sir Oliver Vyell and Lady are safe and well, and have the Honour to be, &c."
From the Same to the Same.
'BELEM, November 7th, 1755.
. . . The present Scene of Misery and Distress is not to be described; the Kingdom of Portugal is ruined and undone, and Lisbon, one of the finest Cities that ever was seen, is now no more. The Escape of the forementioned Sir. O. Vyell is one of the most providential Things that ever was heard of; for whilst he was riding about the middle of the City in his Chaise, on the first instant, he observed the Driver to look behind him, and immediately to make the Mules gallop as fast as possible, but both he and they were very soon killed and buried in the Ruins of a House which fell on them; whereupon Sir Oliver jumped out of the Chaise, and ran into a House that instantly fell also to the Ground, and buried him in the Ruins for a considerable Time; but it pleased God that he was taken out alive, and not much bruised. His Lady likewise was providentially in the Garden when their House fell, and so escaped. About half an Hour after the first Shock, the City was on fire in five different Parts, and has been burning ever since, so that the English Merchants here are entirely ruined. There have been three Shocks every Day since the first, but none so violent as the first. The King has ordered all the Soldiers to assist in burying the Dead, to prevent a Plague; and indeed upon that Account the Fire was of Service in consuming the Carcasses both of Men and Beasts. The English have miraculously escaped, for notwithstanding the Factory was so numerous, not more than a Dozen are known to have been killed; amongst whom was poor Mrs. Hake, Sister to Governor Hardy of New York, who suffered as she was driving her Children before her; and the Spanish Ambassador was killed also, with his young Child in his Arms. Every person, from the King to the Beggar, is at present obliged to lie in the Fields, and some are apprehensive that a Famine may ensue."
An Extract of a Letter from on board a Ship in Lisbon Harbour, Nov: 19, to the same Purport.
"Mine will not bring you the first News of the most dreadful Calamity befallen this City and whole Kingdom. On Saturday the first instant, about half an Hour past nine o'clock, I was retired to my Room after Breakfast, when I perceived the House began to shake, but did not apprehend the Cause; however, as I saw the Neighbours about me all running down Stairs, I also made the best of my Way; and by the time I had cross'd the Street, and got under the Piazzas of some low House, it was darker than the darkest Night I ever was out in, and continued so for about a Minute, occasioned by the Clouds of Dust from the falling of Houses on all sides. After it cleared up, I ran into a large Square adjoining; but being soon alarmed with a Cry that the Sea was coming in, all the People crowded foreward to run to the Hills, I among the rest, with Mr. Wood and Family. We went near two Miles thro' the Streets, climbing over the Ruins of Churches, Houses, &c., and stepping over hundreds of dead and dying People, Carriages, Chaises and Mules, lying all crushed to Pieces; and that Day being a great Festival in their Churches, and happening just at the time of celebrating the first Mass, thousands were assembled in the Churches, the major part of whom were killed; for the great Buildings, particularly those which stood on any Eminence, suffered the most Damage. Very few of the Churches or Convents have escaped. We staid near two Hours in an open Campo; and a dismal scene it was, the People howling and crying, and the Sacrament going about to dying persons: so I advised, as the best, to return to the Square near our own House and there wait the event, which we did immediately; but by the Time we got there the City was in Flames in several distant Parts, being set on fire by some Villains, who confessed it before Execution. This completed the Destruction of the greatest Part of the City; for in the Terror all Persons were, no Attempt was made to stop it; and the Wind was very high, so that it was communicated from one Street to another by the Flakes of Fire drove by the Winds. It raged with great Violence for eight Days, and this in the principal and most thronged Parts of the City; People being fled into the Fields half naked, the Fire consumed all sorts of Merchandise, Household Goods, and Wearing Apparel, so that hardly anything is left to cover People, and they live in Tents in the Fields. If the Fire had not happened, People would have recovered their Effects out of the Ruins; but this has made such a Scene of Desolation and Misery as Words cannot describe."
"The King's Palace in the City is totally destroyed, with all the Jewels, Furniture, &c. The India Warehouses adjoining, full of rich Goods, are all consumed. The Custom-house, piled up with Bales upon Bales, is all destroyed; and the Tobacco and other Warehouses, with the Cargoes of three Brazil Fleets, shared the same Fate. In short, there are few Goods left in the whole City."
From a Ship's Captain writing home under the same date.
". . . On Saturday the first instant, I arose at Five, in order to remove my Ship from the Custom-house, agreeable to my Order; by Nine we sailed down and anchored off the upper end of the Terceras. Wind at N.E. a small Breeze, and a fine clear morning. Ten Minutes before Ten, I felt the Ship have an uncommon Motion, and could not help thinking she was aground, although sure of the Depth of Water. As the Motion increased, my Amazement increased also; and as I was looking round to find out the Meaning of this uncommon Motion, I was immediately acquainted with the direful Cause; when at that Instant looking towards the City, I beheld the tall and stately Buildings tumbling down, with great Cracks and Noise, and particularly that part of the City from St. Paul's in a direct Line to Bairroalto; as also, at the same Time, that Part from the said Church along the River-side Eastward as far as the Gallows, and so in a curve Line Northward again; and the Buildings as far as St. Joze and the Rofcio, were laid in the three following Shocks, which were so violent as I heard many say they could with great Difficulty stand on their Legs. There is scarce one House of this great City left habitable. The Earth opened, and rent in several Places, and many expected to be swallowed up.--As it happened at a Time when the Kitchens were furnished with Fires, they communicated their Heat to the Timber with which their Houses were built or adorned, and in which the Natives are very curious and expensive, both in Furniture and Ceilings; and by this means the City was in a Blaze in different Parts at once. The Conflagration lasted a whole Week.--What chiefly contributed to the Destruction of the City, was the Narrowness of the Streets. It is not to be expressed by Human Tongue, how dreadful and how awful it was to enter the City after the Fire was abated: when looking upwards one was struck with Terror at beholding frightful Pyramids of ruined Fronts, some inclining one Way, some another; then on the other hand with Horror, in viewing Heaps of Bodies crushed to death, half-buried and half-burnt; and if one went through the broad Places or Squares, there was nothing to be met with but People bewailing their Misfortunes, wringing their Hands, and crying The World is at an End. In short, it was the most lamentable Scene that Eyes could behold. As the Shocks, though Small, are frequent, the People keep building Wooden Houses in the Fields; but the King has ordered no Houses to be built to the Eastward of Alcantara Gate.--Just now four English Sailors have been condemned for stealing Goods, and hiding them in the Ballast, with Intent to make a Property of them."
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