Krakatoa - After the Disaster

On the 28th of August, the skies near Krakatoa finally began to clear.  Aboard the Gouverneur Generaal Loudon (the ship's official name), Captain Lindeman ordered his crew to raise both anchors and allowed his frightened passengers to go topside. 

By 6:30 a.m., the ship was steaming in calmer waters.  No longer did Lindeman see "squalls, storms, and seas as high as the heavens."  The situation in the Sunda Strait, however, was far from normal.  Trying to resume his original voyage plans, Lindeman - like everyone else in the area - saw near-total devastation:

As we steamed past Krakatau we noticed that the middle of the island had disappeared, and that no smoke was to be seen in any direction. However, when we got east of Krakatau, we discovered that between that island and Sebisie, a reef had formed, and that various craters planted on that reef were now and then sending columns of smoke on high. As we neared the coast of Java we observed that here, too, everything had been laid desolate. 

We also perceived that the lighthouse on Java's Fourth Point was entirely washed away; nothing remained except a stump some feet high.  (Captain T. H. Lindeman, excerpts from the G.G. Loudon ship's log, quoted in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Volume 36, page 202.)

Elsewhere, coastal-area survivors of Krakatoa's tsunamis and pyroclastic events were in shock.  Homes were wiped-out; 165 villages were completely destroyed:

The lowlands were a morass of uprooted trees and the chaotic vestiges of many thousands of modest lives - smashed furniture, broken crockery and cooking utensils, doors wrenched from their hinges, torn and tangled garments, farming implements, house adornments, knick-knacks, animal carcasses and human corpses.  (Vulcan's Fury: Man Against the Volcano, by Alwyn Scarth, pages 150-51).)

In 1883, how would survivors let the world know they needed help?  Who could quickly reach these devastated people?

Most of the survivors of the eruption were in deep shock.  Their traumatic anguish lasted many hours.  They were isolated, disorientated and uncomprehending, thirsty, homeless and bereaved, with no means of calling to the outside world for help, and no way of guessing what calamity might befall them next.  News travelled slowly before the radio, they could not see the pattern of events - and, for many hours, could not often even see a hand in front of their faces.  Krakatau had spread its shroud far more widely than most erupting volcanoes - even those of familiar violence in the Dutch East Indies.  The tsunamis were totally unexpected.  Survivors suffered immense deprivation, losing family, home, work and possessions.  The structures of their lives as well as their houses and villages had been completely destroyed.  But little seems to have been reported about their fate.  (Vulcan's Fury, page 151.)

The Dutch authorities also had another significant issue to resolve.  Thousands of human bodies, lying everywhere, needed to be cared for.  One area, where such a problem became acute, was Tjiringin:

Dr. Sollewyn Gelpke described Tjiringin a week after the catastrophe.  "Thousands of corpses ... and also carcasses ... still await burial, and make their presence apparent by an indescribable stench ... they lie in knots ... impossible to unravel ... among all that had served these thousands as dwellings." (Vulcan's Fury, page 151)

In Anjer, the newly dead were joined by the previously dead:

... the only recognizable building in the wave-swept zone was the long-ruined fort.  The waves had washed open the graves in the European cemetery and had disinterred the dead.  Their corpses joined most of those drowned at Anjer.  (Vulcan's Fury, page 151)

The island of Krakatoa itself - where three separate volcanoes had once existed - was materially effected by the gigantic explosion of August 27th.  Two-thirds of the island ceased to exist following the paroxysmal eruption:

Perboewatan [which began the series of events with its eruptions in May, 1883] and Danan foundered into a great hollow in the crust, or caldera, which was flooded by seawater 300m deep.  Rakata balanced for a moment, or an hour or so, unsupported on the edge of the hole.  Then all the northern half of the cone sliced off and avalanched into the abyss.  The southern half of Rakata is now all that remains of old Krakatau.  (Vulcan's Fury, page 154.)

In his ship's log, Captain Lindeman describes Krakatoa's remnants this way:

Also half of the island 'Right in the Fairway' had disappeared, and what is left of it has been broken into fragments with open spaces between them. (Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Volume 36, page 202.  Note the misspelling of the Captain's last name - "Linderman" instead of "Lindeman.")

On behalf of the Dutch Royal Navy, Dr. Rogier  Verbeek (who had tried, but couldn't, warn his friends at the Fourth Point Lighthouse) led a scientific investigation immediately after the disaster.  He "calculated that 132 villages had suffered damage and a further 165 had been utterly destroyed."  (Vulcan's Fury, page 154)

Verbeek's 1885 account of Krakatoa's eruption was invaluable.  For the first time in reported history, a scientist (Verbeek was a mining engineer) had recorded every cycle of a major volcanic eruption.  In his extensive study (only the French version is freely available online), he correctly predicted that Krakatoa - a mere shell of its former self - would one day rise again. 

In December of 1927, a volcano which Indonesians call Anak Krakatau ("child of Krakatoa," depicted in the linked animation) made its presence known.  That volcano continues to grow and erupt. 

And ... for those alive at the time of Krakatoa's 1883 cataclysm:

Under the impact of Krakatoa's explosion, 13 percent of the earth's surface vibrated audibly, and millions who lived there and heard it, and when told what it was, were amazed.  (Krakatoa:  The Day the World Exploded, by Simon Winchester, page 264.)

Captain Lindeman, who remained in charge of the Loudon, lived another two years.  The Beyernicks had another child - a son - whom they named after the boy they'd lost amidst the volcano's 's life-ending eruptions.

By the time Krakatoa's eruption-cycle was over, it had killed 36,417 people (mostly from tsunamis); spewed twenty million tons of sulphur into the Earth's atmosphere (causing incredible sunsets and lowering global temperatures for many years); and exploded twelve square miles of Krakatoa Island.

Clip from the BBC production, Krakatoa:  The Last Days, which dramatizes the impact of Krakatoa's astounding eruptions during August, 1883.

See, also:

Last Days of Krakatoa

Krakatoa - Ash Fall

Krakatoa - Loudest Sound in Recorded History

Krakatoa - Deadly Tsunami

Krakatoa - Loss of the Fourth Point Lighthouse

Krakatoa - Fatal Pyroclastic Surge

Media Credits

Clip from the BBC production, Krakatoa: The Last Days.  Copyright, BBC, all rights reserved.  Clip provided here as fair use for educational purposes and to acquaint new viewers with the program.  Online via BBC's Channel at YouTube.  

Written by:    

Colin Heber-Percy
Michael Olmert
Lyall B. Watson

Sam Miller


Alan Eyres
Greg Smith

Rupert Penry-Jones
Olivia Williams
Kevin McMonagle
Originally aired on BBC One - May 7, 2006


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"Krakatoa - After the Disaster" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 17, 2020.
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