An October 1902 Witnessed Fall: Crumlin, Northern Ireland

An October 1902 Witnessed Fall: Crumlin, Northern Ireland

Crumlin: Fame Through a Satirical Cartoon

Crumlin Meteorite
 

Like many collectors, I was first introduced to the Crumlin meteorite through the cartoon that appeared in John Burke’s must-read book Cosmic Debris.

The caption of the cartoon reads:

The British Museum has “Collared” another Irish Treasure…the remarkable meteorite that fell near Belfast during the period of the British Association’s visit to the city in September last. Dublin “Daily Express,” November 13, 1902.

L. Fletcher representing the History Museum in South Kensington wrote in Nature (Volume 66):

The particulars of the fall, as given orally to me by Mr. and Mrs. Walker, are as follows :—At 10.30 a.m. on Saturday, September 13, which was a cloudy morning, VV. John Adams, who is in the employment of Mr. Walker at Crosshill farm, was gathering apples from a tree on the edge of the cornfield and near the house; he was startled by a noise of such a character that he thought it was due to the bursting of the boiler at the mill, which is a mile to the south and is situated near to Crumlin railway-station.

Another loud noise, like that of escaping steam, was followed by the sound as of an object striking the ground near by, and a cloud of dust immediately arose above the standing corn at a spot only twenty yards away from where he was at work. Adams ran through the corn towards the cloud of dust and found a hole in the soil ; thereupon he hurried to the farmyard for a spade, and within a quarter of an hour of the fall had extracted a black, dense stone, which had penetrated the soil to a depth of iA feet and had then been stopped by impact against a much larger terrestrial

The black stone was hot and, according to Mr. Walker, was still warm to the touch even an hour later. There was a sulphurous odour. Two other men were working at a haystack twenty yards further away from the hole made by the stone and also heard the sounds.Mr. Walker, who is seventy-two years of age, had himself just gone into the house, which is close by, and heard nothing of the explosion. Mrs. Walker told me that she was in the lane on the far side of the house and heard a sound comparable for character with that made by a swarm of bees, though much more intense, or with the rattling noise made by a reaping machine; she said that others who had heard it had likened the same sound to that of a reaping machine which had run away.

It may be mentioned that the sound of a reaping machine is at present very familiar to the observers, for the harvest is in progress. Mr. Walker had heard that the detonation was remarked at Antrim, five miles to the north of Crosshill; at Legoniel, nine miles to the east ; at Lisburn, eleven miles to the south-east ; and also at Lurgan, thirteen miles south-south-west by south. Mrs. Walker said that some of the hearers had taken the sound to herald the arrival of the Day of Judgment. As yet there is nocertain information as to the direction of the line of flight of the meteorite. As for the stone itself, it weighs 9 lb. 5 1/2 oz.; it is 7 1/2 inches long, 6 1/2 inches wide and 3 1/2inches thick.

Its form is irregular and distinctly fragmental; there are nine or ten faces, each of them slightly concave or convex; the edges are rounded. Five of the faces are similar to each other in character, and, except for minute pittings and projecting points, are smooth; they show those large concavities which are common on meteoric stones, and have been l;kened in shape to “thumb-marks”; the remaining faces are different in aspect and have a low ridge-and-furrow development; they are doubtless due to fractures during the passage of the stone through the earth’s atmosphere, possibly to the break-up at the moment of detonation. A crack going nearly half-way through the meteorite at a distance of an inch from an outer face was probably caused by impact on the larger stone met with in the soil.

The meteorite is virtually completely covered with the characteristic crust which is formed during the passage of such bodies through the air; the crust is in parts black, in parts brown perhaps owing to the influence of the soil it is inferred that the meteorite broke up in the earth’s atmosphere at an early part of its course, when the speed was still so enormous that the heat produced by compression of the air in front of the quickly moving stone was sufficient to scorch the newly broken surface, for a fresh fracture of the stone is quite light in colour. In one part the crust is iridescent in purple, blue and pink colours. Here and there bright particles of a metallic alloy of iron and nickel interrupt the continuity of the dark crust.

On one of the smaller surfaces of latest fracture there is visible a section of a large flat nodule of the bronze-coloured protosulphide of iron, troilite, which is a characteristic mineral constituent of meteorites and is not found as a native terrestrial product. Owing to the presence of particles of nickel-iron dispersed through the stony matter, the meteorite affects the magnetic needle, though not to a great extent.A mould of the meteorite has been made from which models will be prepared; a detailed mineralogical and chemical examination of the material of the stone will be at once begun.

Crosshill is a mile to the north of Crumlin, a small village on the line of railway between Lisburn and Antrim; it is twelve miles west of Belfast and 3 1/2miles east of Lough Neagh, a sheet of water thirteen miles long and seven miles wide; it is thus possible that the remaining fragments of the mass which entered the earth’s atmosphere may have fallen into the water. The distance of separation of stones belonging to a single meteoritic fall has not yet been observed to exceed sixteen miles; it has on several occasions been found to reach ten miles.

The Crumlin meteorite is the largest stone which has been seen to fall from the sky to the British Isles for eighty-nine years, and is larger than any which has fallen in England itself since the year 1795.


Crumlin Meteorite
 
Although a small slice, this piece has a nice trolite inclusion, a defined metal bleb, obvious chondrules, and the always-important rind of crust.Troilite is a iron sulfide compound named after Domenico Troili who first observed it in a Albareto, Modena (Italy) meteorite that fell in 1766.

 

W. H. Milligan wrote in the October 6th issue of the Stonyhurst College newspaper:

FALL OF A METEORIC STONE NEAR CRUMLIN {CO. ANTRIM) SEPTEMBER 13.

The writer of this note visited the scene of the fall of this meteorite yesterday evening, September 20, and learned that it occurred at about 10.30 a.m. (local time) on the date in question. The body is almost ‘0 lb. [sic] in weight and of a more or less irregular outline, and of the usual meteoric appearance. It bears strong evidence of fusion, shines with a metallic lustre on one side and is apparently truncated, a fragment—say about a third—having fractured off in its descent through the atmosphere.

There is also a well-marked line or two of fracture still visible.The evidence at present is that it fell quite perpendicularly, there being no trace of s’ope or inclination in the hole, about 13-15 inches deep, which it made on striking the soil. Mr. Walker, of Crosshill, on whose holding it fell, says it was quite hot at first, and felt warm for almost an hour afterwards.

Of course, a good deal of interest and local curiosity is naturally aroused, the usual query being ” Where did it come from?” Possibly the data given above may help to furnish an answer to this question, although hardly yet sufficient to enable an orbit or trajectory to be computed for this—the third meteorite which has fallen in the British Isles within recent years. The occurrence was accompanied by the usual rumblings or detonations, but the estimations of the duration are here, as is usual in other similar instances, untrustworthy.Crumlin is almost due west from Belfast, distance about 10 miles, lat. 540 36′ N., long. 6° 12’ W.

 


 

Crumlin Meteorite

 
Crust on historic pieces is as close to a physically visible fingerprint as possible.

In the January 25, 1903 newspaper called the Davenport (Iowa) Daily Republican City ran the following story that came from the London Chronicle:

A MONSTROUS METEOR

None Larger Has Fallen in England for Near a Century. Meteoric stones are by no means unfamiliar things in the history of astronomical and physical science. They form a source of information regarding the constitution of other worlds than ours, and their chemical analysis affords a basis for the belief that a community of composition characterizes all the members of the solar system. Described in Nature by Mr. L. Fletcher, F.A.S., we have the account of the meteoric stone which fell at Crosshill, Crumlim, situated about ten miles west of Belfast, on Sept. 13, at 1:30 p.m., Irish time. It would seem that the Crumlin meteorite exceeds in size any stone which has fallen from the sky in Britain for 89 years. It is also larger than any stone which has fallen in England since 1795.

A lapse of 21 years also represents the time since any meteorite had descended on the soil of Britian., and in Ireland itself no such visitant has been recorded for 37 years. A Mr. Waller on, whose farm the meteorite fell, says that the stone was hot when it landed, and felt hot for at least an hour there-after. The fall occurred about 10:30 a.m. It was accompanied by a noise compared to the bursting of a boiler. A cloud of dust showed where the stone had entered the ground, and by aid of a spade the meteorite was extracted from a depth of a foot and a half. A sulphurous odor was perceived in the near vicinity of the stone, and the noise made by the detonation, is is assorted, as heard at Lurgan, Antrim, Lisburn and Legoniel.

The greatest distance was that of Lurgan, which is situated 13 miles from Crosshill. These fragments from the sky which reach our earth represent only a remnent of the many such visitants that career through the heavens, especially at certain periods of the year. Everyone knows the “shooting stars,” as they are called. They shoot athwart the heavens glowing with light engendered by the heat which results from the friction caused by their rapid passage through the air. Most of them are burned out long before they have a chance of reaching the earth’s surface. When the mass of meteorite lasts out the friction, so to speak, it reaches the earth. We have many specimens of such stones in our museums.

Some of them are of large size. It measures seven and one-half inches in width, and three and one-half inches in thickness. It is covered with what Mr. Fletcher calls the characteristic crust that forms on such bodies during their passage through the air. The likeness of chemical composition of meteorite with our own worldly substances is close, but it is noted that in the Irish stone there exists troilite, a photosulphide of iron which is not included in the products of our planets.

Astronomical science postulates the evolution of all planets from a common origin and the composition of meteorites support this view. If the sun’s heat is the product of blazing hydrogen gas – the gas used to inflate balloons, and formed one of the two gases whereof water is composed – and if other common chemican elements (iron included) are found to form part of the celestial orbs, the idea that all the planets have been developed from a common basis must certainly receive at least respectful consideration.


Crumlin Meteorite
 
The reverse side of my slice shows the depth of the troilite nodule, or at least that it continued right on through will little change in size.Interesting is the iron within the troilite region. If you compare the position of the nickel-iron inclusion in reference the trolite boundaries with the other side of this slice pictured above, it appears as if the troilite is consuming the iron.

An article titled The Crumlin Meteorite and written by H. Palin Gurney and published in The Mining engineer, Volume 24, 1902, vol. xxiii., pages 85 and 229, the following was written:

The writer is indebted for a cast of the Crumlin meteorite to the kindness of Mr. Lazarus Fletcher, E.R.S., the keeper of the Mineralogical Department, at the Xatural History Museum, South Kensington. It represents all that has been found of a sky-stone, which fell at 1030 a.m. on September 18th, 1902, at Crumlin, about 12 miles west of Belfast.

A loud noise was heard at the time, which may be attributed to the breaking of the meteorite, and the detonation was observed at places 30 miles apart. The fragment weighs 9’34 pounds (4,237’5 grammes). It is 74 inches long, 6A inches wide, and 3A inches thick. The edges are rounded, and five of its faces are nearly smooth, and show clearly the characteristic pittings. The remaining four or five surfaces are apparently due to fracture, and they exhibit distinct ridge-and-furrow markings. As Crumlin is only 3 1/2miles east of Lough Neagh, a lake extending over 13 miles by 7 miles, possibly the remaining pieces may be buried beneath its waters. The crack, represented on the model, was probably caused by impact on a larger stone in the earth, in which it buried itself to a depth of about 18 inches.The meteorite is covered with the usual peculiar external layer.

This crust or varnish is thinner on what are probably the surfaces produced by the breaking. It is mostly black or brown, the latter colour being possibly attributable to its contact with the soil, but on one part there is an iridescence, in which we may trace purple, pink and blue. On one of these surfaces, a flatfish bronze-coloured nodule of troilite is distinctly visible.

The meteorite belongs to the variety known as “aerolites.” It consists mainly of stony matter, but it contains sufficient nickel iron to affect a magnetized needle. Its exact composition is at the present time the subject of investigation by Mr. L. Fletcher.This fragment is larger than any meteorite which has reached British soil since the fall at “Wold Cottage, Scarborough, on December 13th, 1795, which weighed 4434 pounds (20,111 grammes).

It is the first sky-stone observed to fall in these islands since the Middlesborough meteorite, which was found on March 14th, 1881, and weighed only 3-52 pounds (1,5944 grammes).Principal H. Palin Gurnet exhibited models of the Crumlin meteorite, together with an iron model prepared by Prof. A. S. Herschel to test the speed of fall of the original, and by which he had ascertained that the Middlesbrough meteorite struck the earth with a velocity of 412 feet per second.


Crumlin is a classic staple of any collection of historic meteorites. If not just for its age, place of fall, and importance in culture and meteorite history, but also for its role in a political cartoon that carried with it much greater implications beyond its humor.

Until next time….


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About the Author

Martin Horejsi
Dr. Martin Horejsi is a Professor of Instructional Technology and Science Education at The University of Montana. A long-time meteorite collector and writer, before publishing his column The Accretion Desk in The Meteorite Times, he contributed often and wrote the column From The Strewnfields in Meteorite Magazine. Horejsi is currently a monthly columnist in The Science Teacher, a journal by the National Science Teachers Association. Horejsi specializes in the collection and study of historic witnessed fall meteorites with the older, smaller, and rarer the better. Although his meteorite collection once numbered over a thousand pieces with near that many different locations, several large trades and sales have streamlined the collection to about 250 locations with all but 10 being important witnessed falls. Many of the significant specimens in Horejsi's collection are historic witnessed falls that once occupied prominence in the meteorite collections of Robert A. Haag, James Schwade, and Michael Farmer. Other important specimens were acquired through institutional trades including those from The Smithsonian Institution, Arizona State University, and other universities.
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