Saturday, December 19, 2015

A "meteor" - Morpeth, New South Wales - November 1862

Hi readers,

I am in the process of re-reading the new book "Return to Magonia" (2015. Anomalistic Books, San Antonio, Texas) and taking particular notice of observations from Australia which are mentioned in the text. One such incident, which was reported to have occurred in November 1862, was noted in a letter to the editor of the "Sydney Morning Herald" newspaper dated 20 November 1866, four years after the observation. It read:

Image courtesy of TROVE digitised newspapers collection.

The account

"Sir - the subject of meteoric visitation, past, present and future, being at present invested with more than the usual amount of interest, induces me to mention, this publicly, the circumstances of my attention having been arrested early one morning in  November 1862, by a very peculiar rushing  noise, which increased rapidly in volume without my discovering the cause until looking immediately overhead I saw  distinctly a large meteor travelling with amazing rapidity in a southeasterly direction.

Its apparent size was that of a large cask of a dark colour, the surface irregular, and from the variations discovered in the angularities I was led to conjecture it was revolving on its axis. I may add that the morning was very calm, and the atmosphere beautifully clear. The Sun was just about to rise."

O E Middleton, Inwallewah, near Morpeth November 15 1866."

An 1849 map of Morpeth, NSW source

Return to Magonia notes

In "Return to Magonia", authors Chris Aubeck and Martin Shough, located an historic figure named Osmond Edward Middleton who appeared to be the author of the letter to the editor.

In analysing the details provided, the authors considered and rejected the possibility of a large meteor; a fireball meteor; any other astronomical explanation; a dust whirl; a tornado funnel; a dense flock of birds; a swarm of insects and an early powered airship.

Aubeck and Shough were unable to find a location named Inwallewah, and speculate that it was the name of an estate or house.

My research notes

1. The modern location of Morpeth is now a suburb of the city of Maitland. Maitland is located at latitude 32 degrees 43 minutes south and longitude 151 degrees 37 minutes east.

Maitland in relation to Sydney, NSW. Image courtesy of Google maps.

Modern Morpeth in relation to Maitland. Image courtesy of Google maps.
2. I looked up the "Geoscience Australia" website and used it to search through the Gazetteer of Australia 2012 for the name Inwallewah, and found no entry within the 370,00 place names in their database.

3. I also used the same website to determine the time of Sunrise for Mid November 1862 (UTC plus 10 hours) for Morpeth,  which was given as 0445hrs.

4. I used the TROVE digitised newspapers collection to search for any newspaper article mentioning the name Inwallewah but found nothing.

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