Monday, April 28, 2014

The Year without a summer - 1816

Otherwise known as, where is the sun?

My upcoming book (working title The Wager) is set in 1816. It wasn't until after I started researching this year that I realized what a significant year it was. Known as the year without a summer, its strange weather was caused by a volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (Now known as Indonesia) in 1815.
Mount Tambora - picture c/o

What, if any, significance would this have on the people of Europe? On the peasant as well as the aristocrat? It affected most of the Northern hemisphere mucking around with the normal summer temps and lowering them up to 7 degrees C lower than normal. Rain and cloud cover kept the sun out and the ground soggy. Not great for any living thing.

Predominately, the landed gentry relied on the rents and profits of their lands and estates to survive. The better their estates prospered the better they did. With this kind of weather anomaly it caused the crops to fail in both England and Ireland, not to mention most of Europe and as far as Canada.

Chichester canal by JMW Turner- He painted vivid sunsets that were due to the volcanic dust in the atmosphere.

The people of Wales became refugees traveling long distances to try and find work and food. In Ireland the famine was made worse by the failure of not just the potato crops, but wheat and oats as well.

The whole of Northern Europe was starving and it lasted way past the summer. It was a miserable time for everyone. When the man working the land suffers it has a flow on affect. Eventually, those that didn't have a care where their food came from suddenly can no longer purchase that food, they often blame the farmer and not the weather.

As a result of the food shortages there were riots in England and France. As if all this was not bad enough Ireland experienced a Typhus epidemic that significantly reduced its population further.

Living in Australia it is not the lack of sun that causes the most damage to our farmers but drought. I have a great admiration for those that work the land and just how much they depend on the weather to be successful.

So, next time you bite into a juicy apple or slice up some potatoes, think about those that provide us with these products and about how lucky we are to have technology that can warn us about weather anomalies. If only all this technology could make it rain where we need it.

Until next time - only use the good words.


Regan said...

Cassandra, an interesting post. The effects of this were felt in England in 1817 and contributed to the Pentrich Rebellion in the Midlands--I did similar research for my historical romance about that time, Against the Wind. The situation was made worse for the common people with the end of the war with France that took away jobs and the coming industrial revolution.

Marilyn said...

I love researching for my books. You find out the most interesting stuff. xx