The 1855 Wairarapa, New Zealand, earthquake

Analysis of historical data

  • Rodney Grapes Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, NZ
  • Gaye Downes GNS Science, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Abstract

Nearly 200 historical accounts have been examined and analysed in order to determine the effects of the magnitude 8+ 1855 Wairarapa, New Zealand, earthquake. The documents examined include contemporary diaries, letters and journals, newspaper reports and articles, archives, memoranda and reports of the Wellington Provincial Government as well as later reminiscences, extracts from published scientific papers, books and other articles. Other than the published accounts of Sir Charles Lyell, who, in 1856, first recognised the importance of the earthquake as causing the greatest deformation and surface fault rupture then known, there has been no comprehensive account of the effects of the earthquake in the scientific literature until now.

Much or the data is presented with extensive quotations from the source material, especially where conflicting accounts on important aspects have been found. All material is analysed with an understanding of the geographical, social and political conditions at the time. The reliability of the material is taken account of so that first-hand accounts, that have been recorded no more than several years after the earthquake, and in which there are no obvious inconsistencies or confusion with other earthquakes, are valued most highly.

Using the historical accounts as the primary source of data, but also taking into account the results of more recent geological, geomorphological and seismological investigations of the deformation, many aspects of the earthquake are discussed in detail. These are mainshock magnitude and epicentre; felt intensity distribution: descriptive account of the effects of the mainshock on people (including casualties) and man-made structures by location throughout New Zealand (including a resume of contemporary building techniques): effects on the environment from strong shaking such as fissuring, liquefaction, spreading, subsidence and landslides, and from tectonically produced uplift, subsidence and faulting; biological effects; tsunami and seiche; aftershock occurrence and social response and recovery.

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Published
1997-12-31
How to Cite
Grapes, R., & Downes, G. (1997). The 1855 Wairarapa, New Zealand, earthquake. Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 30(4), 271-368. https://doi.org/10.5459/bnzsee.30.4.271-368
Section
Articles