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Early sighting of a Fire-Ball?

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This is an article published in the annual report of the Royal Institution of Cornwall in 1843

Account of an unusual Electrical appearance in Helford Creek, by the Rev. Edward Budge, Vicar of Manaccan.

(Read November 10, 1843.)

The following particulars relating to a meteorological appearance in the neighbourhood of my residence, will, I think, possess some degree of interest for the members of this Institution; and may, perhaps, not be unworthy of a place in its records. I therefore send them, at the same time premising that I was not an eye-witness of the facts here detailed, but that I entertain no doubt of the veracity of the individuals from whom I received them.

On the night of the 2nd of August last, an American vessel laden with timber was lying in the middle of Helford harbour, just opposite Bosahan. About nine o’clock at night some persons who were stationed on deck, observed, a a short distance up the river, a strange looking light which was approaching towards them, and which excited their surprise, and became the subject of their conversation.  Not leaving them, however, much time in suspense, the light rapidly drew nearer, and seemed to be coming with the wind, which was then blowing fresh down the river attended by misty rain.

In a very short interval after it was first observed, it passed by the vessel, at the distance of about 200 yards, presenting the appearance of a luminous body, moving swiftly along over the surface of the water.  On a nearer view, it had something of the aspect and size of a burning tar-barrel, but seemed at one time to be almost double, or nearly divided into two parts. After passing the ship, it continued apparently to move on in a similar manner, and in just the same direction towards the open sea, continuing visible for several minutes, and appearing in the distant horizon somewhat like the light of a steamer in the offing, or, as one of the spectators observed, it bore much resemblance to the beacon light at St.  Anthony point. From the whole account we may, I think, gather, that the rate of its progress could not have been less than thirty miles per hour, and the distance over which this meteor travelled and was visible to the eye must have been at least five miles.

The weather, it should be observed, during the previous day was of a very unsettled kind. At early morning there had been heavy rain ; the afternoon was rather windy with showers, but no lightning or thunder was observed.

Having communicated the above particulars to Mr. Snow Harris, who has lately published an exceedingly interesting work on “Thunder Storms,” he has favored me with a reply in which he says, “ I consider the explanation of this phenomenon easy, and a confirmation of my views of electrical action from the clouds given in pages 36, 37, 38, under the head Fire Balls, and I have no doubt that the ball of light perceived, progressed with the clouds, and did somewhere terminate in violent disruptive discharge upon the principles explained and illustrated at page 56.”

Snow Harris is of course not without interest


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