1725 MIXBURY, Oxfordshire, Stone (doubtful)
1779 PETTISWOOD, Westmeath, Stone (type?)
1780 BEESTON, Nottinghamshire, Stones (doubtful)
1795 WOLD COTTAGE, Yorkshire, Stone (L6)
Fleet-street, Aug. 1.
May it not be a reasonable conjecture, that all the various substances which have fallen from the atmosphere, in latter as well as in former time, are nothing more than the sands, and other contents, found at the bottom of lakes and large rivers, and from the shores of the sea, naturally produced by the powerful influence or the attraction of the clouds? It is but a trite observation to say, that the clouds make frequent visits to the waters of the earth, from which they usually carry away large quantities of that element, and with it, no doubt, the substances (even with some of the fish[*]) which from the beds, in proportion to the heat of the weather, and the depth of those waters which the clouds, when they fall, happen to attach upon. It is as self-evident, that the streams which ascend with the clouds are sometimes clear as crystal, at other times thick and middy. When the latter is the case, then it is that these substances may be concseted; and, by some extradinary concussion in the atmosphere, return to the earth. But one fact is worth fifty opinions. Two pieces, belonging to a concretion of this sort, have been in my possession since the year 1779, which actually descended, in a loud-peal of thunder, upon a meadow, situate at Pettiswood, co. Westmeath, in the kingdom of Ireland[*]. The size and form of this cake, as nearly as any thing I can compare it to, is that of a twopenny heart-cake, supposing all the parts were together. The two pieces of the cake I am describing weigh three ounces and a half, and, I suppose, form two thirds of the whole. Be the composition of this stone what else it may, it has been adjudged to be neither fossil, pyrite, nor petrifaction; and, I doubt nor, were it put into water, it would dissolve, and spread to the bottom of its own proper natural element; in short, it is not any mineral substance, nor is it similar to any stone known in the country; it is, as before stated, nothing more than a cake of concreted sand, containing small particles of white sparkling shells, the same as is to be found on the shores and beds of the lakes near which it descended[*]. I was not a moment at a loss to guess whence came this phaenomenon, from observations previously made of the working of the clouds, which to me and my family was a frequent topic of contemplative and conversable amusement. The sports of the clouds are scenes, the first, in my mind, among the sublime and beautiful. Like the wary seafowl, they gradually descend, hover over the water, rise and descend again and again, until duly prepared; then dart, and seize upon their prey. Having quenched their thirst from the lakes, their reascension is marked, between wind and water, with a most brilliant transparency. I never beheld in nature an object sufficiently grand (except the comet of 1769) with which to compare this scene, produced by the occasional visits, the wanton and playful festivities of the clouds upon the lakes.
At the instant this rude lump descended, our little village was enveloped with the fumes of sulphur, which continued about six minutes. To its descent five witnesses are now living; three of whom reside in London. It lighted upon the wooden part of a harness, called a stradle, belonging to a filly drawing manure to a meadow, and broke into three pieces. At the same instant the affrighted beast fell to the earth, under her load; as did the two equally affrighted gassoons (boys), the drivers, who, in good Irish, came crying to me, with two pieces of the stone, declaring that themselves and the filly were all murdered by this thunderbolt; none of whom, however, received the least injury. The two pieces, when I received them, after the resurrection of the boys, were warm as milk just from the cow; whence it may be naturally be concluded, that the cake came from a scorching atmosphere, and pretty well accounts for the outside of it, in its formation, and during its stay there, having been tinged to a whitish brown, whereas internally it is of a silver white, exactly like the materials whence it originated, supposing my conjecture a fact.
I am the more inclined to think I am not very far from the truth, and that my conjecture may make a favourable impression; first, because I never related this narrative and shewed the concreted substance to any persons (which I should not have done but that the subject was now agitating) however unbelieving before, and who have ever treated this subject with the utmost ridicule that can be imagined, but such persons have been brought to acknowledge, that, at least, they had formed too badly an opinion.
...(more follows, discussing the causes, quoting Professor Soldani, and Mr. King's pamphlet "On Stones falling from the Clouds", followed by a short description of the Yorkshire, Wold Cottage stone, and its differences to that owned by the author, finishing with...)
I am not without hope, that, upon a farther investigation by the learned, my cake and Captain Topham's loaf will be found to have both been baked in the same stupendous oven, according to the due course of nature.
Footnotes to the letter
[*] Should fish, or other marine substances, be discovered, petrified in quarries, etc. it would be no very hard matter to account for such petrifactions upon my idea of their rise and fall into and from the atmosphere. Should they fall upon the earth, and remain unbedded, no doubt but they would entirely waste away; on the contrary, should they be immersed within rocks, quarries, or hardened sand, they might remain perfect in shape and substance for ages.
[*] See Gent. Mag. vol. LXV. p201, Pettitswood is so called from John Pettis, who, by an old-map of Ireland, appears to have been a proscribed proprietor of lands of 40 miles extent, in a strait line, viz. from Pettiswood, through Westmeath and Longford, and part of the county of Rosecommon. Upon this hill of Pettiswood, and one opposite, called Rathconel, was fought a very famous battle, immediately previous to that of Clontarf, 1014, which terminated the contest between the Irish and the Danes, the latter of whom were here also defeated. See Sir Henry Piers's History of Westmeath, published by Vallancey, 8vo.
[*] The extensive lakes Ennel and Sewell, near Mullingar, whose shores are inhabited by families of the first rank in the kingdom, viz. earl Belvidere, and the whole family of the Rochforts; Mr. Lyons; Sir john Blaquire; Sir Richard Levinge; Mr. Judge; Mr. Reynolds; and a numerour gentry; who could all testify to the similarity of he substances here insisted on, were they to view that which I am describing. For a curious and interesting description of these lakes, see Vallancey's work, before quoted.
203. Remarks concerning Stones said to have fallen from the Clouds, Both in these Days and in ancient Times. By Edward King, Esq. F.R.S. and F.A.S
"Several persons at Wold Cottage, in Yorkshire, Dec. 13, 1795, heard various noises in the air, like pistols, or distant guns at sea, felt two distinct concussions of the earth, and heard a hissing noise passing through the air; and a labouring man plainly saw (as we are told) that something was so passing, and beheld a stone, as it seemed at last, (about 10 yards, or 30 feet, distant from the ground), descending, and striking into the ground, which flew up all about him, and, in falling, sparks of fire seemed to fly from it. Afterwards he went to the place, in common with others who had witnessed part of the phaenomenon, and dug the stone up from the place where it was buried about 21 inches deep. it smelled, as is said, very strongly of sulphur when it was dug up, and was even warm, and smoked. It was said to be 30 inches in length, and 28 ½ in breadth, and it weighed 56lb. Such is the account*. I affirm nothing; neither do I pretend either absolutely to believe or to disbelieve. I have not an opportunity to examine the whole of the evidence. But it may be examined; so I leave it to be" (p. 22).
* In a printed paper, drawn up by a well-known writer (Captain Topham), on a half-sheet, at the head of which is a representation of the stone, given to those who have the curiosity to examine the stone itself, now exhibiting in London.