The 1863 Earthquake near Hawke’s Bay

Nearly 90 years after the first earthquake was reported by a European in New Zealand, the residents of Hawke’s Bay experienced their first officially recorded major earthquake on this day in 1863.

The earthquake occurred about 60-odd km from the town of Napier, being centred near Waipawa in southern Hawke’s Bay. The quake is estimated to have been about magnitude 7.0 and caused numerous landslides. Residents also reported soil liquefaction and the opening of fissures in the ground.

The shake startled people out of their beds shortly after 1 a.m. on Monday 23rd February 1863, as it swept crockery from shelves, overturned furniture and snapped chimneys, according to The Hawke’s Bay Herald. There was considerable damage to stock in stores and hotels and although some chimney bricks fell through rooves, no major injuries were reported. Aftershocks continued at short intervals for the rest of the morning.

Further afield from Hawkes Bay, some houses were shaken from their piles, and the quake woke many Wellingtonians as it rattled crockery and fittings in their houses. The Wellington Independent noted that the initial earthquake at a quarter past one in the morning lasted 30 to 40 seconds and was followed by several smaller tremors.

In Wanganui, the event was described as the sharpest shock in both duration and severity since the magnitude 8.1 Wairarapa earthquake was felt there in 1855. However, no damage was sustained.

In Nelson the earthquake was felt as three sharp shocks in quick succession at about 1:20 a.m.

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