The History of Long and Brier Islands

1816 “The Year With Out a Summer”

by | Nov 11, 2021 | Brier Island, Long Island | 1 comment

In 1816 there were two newspapers that came to our Islands. Rev. Walter Greenwood wrote in the “History of Freeport” the two papers that the Islanders were able to subscribe to at that time were the” Portland News” from the United States, and the “Christian Messenger”. The later only started in 1826 so neither of these papers are available for information of 1816. I have found the following information in our local newspaper “The Nova Scotia Acadian Recorder” of Halifax. Rev. Greenwood reported that the men would gather around in Haines Store and have this newspaper read to them on mail day.

This was at a time when the early settlers were first settling and working hard at clearing land and building homes on our Islands. They would not have known why there was such a change in our weather. It must have been a real worry.

Mount Tambora

Mount Tambora is on the other side of the world from us.

The story starts in April, 1815 at a large volcanic rise known as Mount Tambora, which is situated on the Northern end of Sumbawa Island in the Indonesian island chain. For years, the 4,000-meter-tall Mount Tambora slept, looming over the villages gathered around its flanks. On 5 of April 1815, the mountain awoke, sending a rumble down its slopes and a brief ash cloud into the sky. The sound was heard kilometres away. However, over the next few days, even as the ash fell over the surrounding lands, the volcano seemed to settle. It was a deceptive peace. On 10th April 1815, Mount Tambora exploded. 

It’s hard to envision the scale of the event, but it was considered the largest recorded in modern history. Explosions were heard 2,000 – 3,000 kilometres away while an ash column rose 43 kilometres into the air. Pumice stones 20 centimetres in diameter began to fall. To give context, volcanic explosions are rated by the Volcanic Explosivity Index, which is a logarithmic scale, each step going up by the power of ten. Currently, the VEI scale goes up to VEI-8; accounting from some of the prehistoric volcanic events that reshaped our world. Tambora was rated as a VEI-7, producing 100 km3 of material into the atmosphere. The famed Mt Vesuvius, which buried the Roman town of Pompeii in AD 79, was a comparatively paltry VE-5.

The volcanic eruption changed the climate around the world in different ways. As the planet’s surface cooled, eastern Canada was treated with a summer-like none other.

Right after Mount Tambora erupted, nearly 12,000 people living near the volcano died. The most common way of immediate death for the victims was getting hit by falling rocks and fast-moving gas currents. However, in the span of a few months, an estimated 80,000 more would perish from starvation, contaminated drinking water, or respiratory infections due to the ash that still remained in the atmosphere.

The range of shockwaves of the eruption was wide, it took a full year for the shockwaves to reach Canada. The first accounts of the ripple effect were recorded in April 1816 in Quebec City, where it started to snow continuously.   By June of that year, the average day temperature in central Ontario was below zero. In Quebec, newly-shorn sheep started to die from the untimely cold conditions. 

As July came near cold fronts continued to sweep through, at this point in time the growing season was three weeks behind. To avoid famine, the export of goods such as wheat, flour, beans and barley was banned until September.

However, efforts of avoiding famine turned out to be in vain. By September, parts of eastern Canada were destitute as more than half of the region’s hay crops were ruined. Once the frost left the province, the people in the region ended up with a small wheat harvest and an even smaller supply of oats. Several farmers were forced to sell their dairy cows to buy bread, while others survived on a diet of wild herbs.

From the Nova Scotia Acadian Recorder Feb. 1 1817 Showing the Weather of 1816

SUMMARY of the WEATHER for 1816, taken from a Diary, kept in the Town of Halifax. …

The months of January and February were very mild. – March chilly with a few severe days; on the whole an unfavourable month for the Farmer, and unpleasant to all. –April proved as bad until the 25th when there were a few fair days. –May was, on the whole, the most distressing month we have experienced these many years by rains, high winds and flights of snow. – June would have been a tolerable month of March, a great deal of wet, much cold weather and frequent frosts: the 21st and five following days were real summer weather. – July, but a cold month, yet contained a large proportion of clear days. – August was so favourable that it brought forward every species of vegetation rapidly; and, had it not been for a frost which proved universal throughout the province on the morning of the 22d, the crops would have turned out an average. A few farmers, on dry soils, profited by their early seeding; this season has eminently proved the advantage of that practice. – September a pleasant month, and secured the lingering hay season, which was a month beyond the usual period. – October a very fine month, and did much good to the country, but still the potatoes suffered much by the frequent frosts and late season, the frosts destroying the tops before the roots were ripe. – November a good month until the 22d, and then the winter sat in more than two weeks sooner than usual. – In December there was more changeable weather, and some very severe days for the season. On the whole this Province is said to have escaped (this year) better than its neighbours.

Nova Scotia Acadian Recorder, 8 June 1816

The last week has been the most barren of intelligence we have ever experienced. From the States, we see deplorable accounts of suffering from want of rain – in many parts the Wheat has perished, and the ground been again ploughed and sown with other seeds. Nothing can be more unpromising than our prospects; perhaps there never was a year so backward, such a succession of unfavorable weather, or so scanty a shew of vegetation on the beginning of June.

Nova Scotia Acadian Recorder, 3 August 1816

…THE SEASON. – We have great pleasure in assuring our neighbors, that the Season never bid fairer to reward the husbandman in Nova-Scotia, than it does at this period. Wheat, Oats, and Potatoes look well throughout the country; and the season promises a good crop of grass.

Nova Scotia Acadian Recorder, 10 August 1816

… At a time like the present when our streets are crowded with numbers of our countrymen, who for want of employment have been forced from their native country, and with others, who after having gloriously fought its battles in the late wars have been disbanded and left without any other means of support than their labour. It may not be thought improper to offer some observations on the practice of many of the farmers of this country in the employment of labourers, – …the inhabitants of this country in general, are in the habit of employing the above description of persons by the month, at the enormous wages of from four to five pounds per month, during three or four months of the summer season, and discharging them at the expiration of that time, in consequence of which that very useful class of men are thrown out of employment, in the inclement season of winter, to leave this country and seek employment in the milder climate of the Unite States, or to resort for a precarious and wretched support to our seaport towns where they fall a prey to every kind of vice, and become from intemperance unfit to pursue the healthful and beneficial employment of Agriculture in either case; they are totally lost to our country and in the ensuing season our farmers are at a loss for labour to aid in the cultivation of their estates. …I would seriously recommend to our farmers instead of employing men in the manner above stated, to engage them by the year, which they will be able to do at less wages….

Nova Scotia Acadian Recorder, 10 August 1816

… The inhabitants of Antigonish, desire through me, to express their gratitude to the late worthy Governor of this Province, Sir JOHN COAPE SHERBROOKE, for his very liberal Donation to them, and timely relieving the distress Inhabitants of this place, with Flour and Bread to the amount of £100 – Whereby upwards of five hundred souls (by estimation) were in some measure relieved by it, many of whom had nothing to subsist upon but the very scanty allowance of Milk their Cows afforded them, being brought into this distressed situation, by the injury done to their Crops last season by the Mice.
Antigonish, July 31, 1816.

Nova Scotia Acadian Recorder, 14 September 1816

Oats of this year’s growth, made their first appearance in our market this morning. They were raised by Mr. E. Dawson, on a farm near the North-West arm; and are of an excellent quality.

Prince Edward Island in Nova Scotia Acadian Recorder, 9 November 1816

We learn from Prince Edward Island, by a gentleman who left it on Tuesday, the 29th ult. That he Governor had prohibited the Exportation of Grain, and all kinds of Provision for the space of three months. A number of vessels were partly ladened for Newfoundland and this place.

Beneficus, letter to the editor, 19 December 1816 in Nova Scotia Acadian Recorder, 21 December 1816

I had the satisfaction to observe in the Recorder of Saturday last, a letter addressed to you on the subject of giving charity, by employing the laboring part of the community during the winter, who may be destitute of the means of support. I agree with the writer in his remarks …and will add one or two of my own.

… I must say with regard to throwing the heaps of snow (caused by drifts or shoveling) into the centre of the street, I am much pleased, as it would make the sleighing safer; not only for those riding, but also for pedestrians….

I will now mention what occurs to me, respecting the rate and mode of payment to be given. …I would recommend that some building be hired, in which these unfortunate persons can be accommodated. …As Bread is extremely high and scarce at present, perhaps a loan of Biscuit might be had by application, from the Government Stores….

With respect to their going into the country at present, without any immediate prospect in view, I think they ought not to be encouraged by any person resident in town. No doubt in the course of the winter many applications for laboring men, may be made from the country, but generally it will be found, that the Farmers have engaged such labour as they will require for the winter. … Therefore humanity and justice should prevent our recommending to those unfortunate strangers lately arrived, a cold and dreary journey, at this inclement and perilous season, which will in all probability add to their misfortunes, by disappointing their only hope.

The arrival and situation of these much-to-be-pitied fugitives, will have reached all parts of the Province, before the meeting of the Legislature, when the Members of the Assembly will come to the Capital prepared either to legislate discreetly and I hope liberally on this vitally important matter ….

In a climate like ours a very considerable number of laboring men in town, must be without employment, the greater part of the winter; otherwise the community must be very deficient of the quantity of labour required in summer. On that account, I should not only like to see a provision for the present, but for future winters. …

In September 1916, the one hundred’s anniversary year of “a year with out summer”, the Digby Courier ran an article that had ran in the Boston Post (a newspaper of eastern United states). This clipping would of have been similar to what our Island residents would have read in 1816.

Digby Courier; Sept. 1st 1916

“Eighteen Hundred and Starve to Death”

The aftermath

While Mount Tambora’s toxic aerosol cloud had its most catastrophic impact in the summer of 1816, weather patterns around the world continued to be affected for at least another two years.

The stratovolcano erupted again 1819—this time, it registered only a two on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. It erupted twice more between 1847 and 1913, and again in 1967. A string of earthquakes on Sumbawa in 2011 led the Indonesian government to fear another eruption, but experts believe no explosion from Mount Tambora would again approach the magnitude of 1815-16.

1 Comment

  1. Belinda Blackford

    Amazing history!


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