- Class 3. Metals.
- Order 1. Homogeneous.
- Gen. 7. Iron.
- Spec. 1. Native Iron.
- Spec. Char. Malleable, and nearly uncombined.
- Ferrum retractorium, granulis nitentibus, matrici virescenti immixtis, (Ferrum virens Linn.) cujus framenta, ab unius ad viginti usque librarum pondus, cortice nigro scoriaceo circumdata, ad Plann, prope Tabor, circuli Bechinensis Bohemiæ passim reperiuntur. Lithoph. Born. pars 1. 125.
- Stones said to have fallen from the Clouds. E. King’s Remarks on, &c. 21.
- Certain Stony and Metalline Substances which have fallen from the Atmosphere. Phil. Trans. 1802. part 1. 174. 183.
To introduce a substance, however curious, as having fallen like a meteor from the skies, or as Phaëton from the heavens, might seem absurd in a work on British Mineralogy. But, whatever may be the extent of this term in mineralogy, it is pretty universally understood to include the knowledge of stones and metals; among the latter of which we place this production, and feel much gratified in adding so great a rarity to the British catalogue. But we ought, in charity, do wish sch may still continue to be rare, as otherwise the consequences might be dreadful. It is particularly to be noted that the same substances are only found under similar circumstances. Many of these stones haves fallen abroad in different places, but only two are known to have fallen in Great Britain; the first in Yorkshire, part of which is here figured; and the other in Scotland.
They have been found to contain
- Iron in a malleable state.
- Martial Pyrites.
The silex is lightish grey, in some parts rather than vitreous, with rectangular yellowish fragments:—see the left hand figure. It is in very numerous but minute particles, which require the aid of a magnifier to be distinguished.—The iron is grey, much dispersed in particles of different sizes, mostly very small, often in rows, and sometimes in veins.—The magnesia seems combined with the silex, and the nickel chiefly with the iron.—The pyrites are dispersed in particles among the whole, some enclosing malleable iron, and some looking, when magnified, like particles of quicksilver; other are more distance, and tarnished like common pyrites. They emit a blue blaze if projected on red-hot charcoal, and are easily fusible, becoming magnetic. The coating appears to be fused together, is very thin, and somewhat less magnetic than the rest; in some parts entering and forming veins within the stone. The whole is in texture like a compact sandstone, and may be crumbled into little pieces by the nail. The fracture is irregularly conchoidal, sandy or earthy. There are dispersed through the whole several spherules of a laminated texture, which were first observed by Mr. Howard.
The upper figure is a fragment showing the coat and the indentations common to most of these stones, also the little reticulated cracks sometimes filled up with the whiter parts of the stone.
The right hand middle figure shows the other side of the same fragment, with a vein of iron, somewhat oxidated, since being broken; also little knots of iron, of a metallic lustre, which are irregularly scattered among the more minute particles of the same, with pyrites in the mass of the whitish earthy substance, composed of silex and magnesia.
The left hand figure shows the vitreous substance found in some parts of the stone, highly magnified. Count Bournon has found the same in the Sienna one. It is to be scratched with the nail, else we should have compared it with the peridot of Bournon, or chrysolite of Werner, which is found in the Siberian iron. It is remarkable, that besides this substance I have some crystallized pyrites adhering to a piece of Siberian iron in my possession.
The lower right hand fragment is magnified. It shows the granular formation of the stone, with somewhat tarnished pyritse, and the particles of iron in circular rows.
The two bottom left hand figures represent the earthy shperules†.
The following account of the Yorkshire stone was communicated by Major Topham:
The man who, by some fortuitous circumstance, happens to possess any extraordinary curiosity, has a very troublesome companion. He is liable to have his time occupied in answering letters from any stranger that may choose to ask questions, his house searched, his grounds ransacked; and, if the circumstances be very singular, he has the additional pleasure of having every word he says disbelieved on the subject. It was my good fortune to tumble into this predicament by a stone falling near my house in the country: and though I have been called upon, both publicly and privately, for a thousand accounts, and have answered innumerable inquiries from the ingenious, and those who had no ingenuity whatever; yet, as curiosity is a stream that never ceases, I found that this said stream might flow on for ever. I made one resolution, therefore, once and for all. I was resolved to consign the stone in question to some public museum, where public curiosity might be amply gratified, and to deliver with it the most accurate account I was able to take from living witnesses on the spot, as I was at that time engaged on business in London. Mr. Sowerby, the publisher of a very ingenious work on mineralogy, has now the stone in his possession; and I doubt not the delineation of it, which accompanies this account, is extremely accurate and faithful.
The stone, therefore, coming from where it may, or bringing with it, in the words of Hamlet,
“Airs from heaven, or blasts from hell,”
will no longer “blush unseen,” but be subject to be examined, disputed, and commented upon by every philosopher in the United Kingdom, who may choose to visit the Museum of Mr. Sowerby; where they may, if possible, settle those points which I could never settle, though many of my inquirers seemed to think it mighty easy—viz: What projectile force could throw a stone of 56 pounds in weight from any volcano upon earth to the spot near my house where the stone fell? Whether it might not come from some volcano on the Moon? an idea to which French Sçavans much incline: or, Whether a flash of lightning striking into the ground might not have power to conglomerate, to form at once, and, as it were, to knead together that heterogeneous mass of sulphureous and mineral matter of which this tone, and all others that are supposed to have so fallen, seem to be composed?
Having premised this much, lest there should be found a person who might suppose I had the smallest wish or inclination to impose upon the world a wonderful story, I shall proceed to state what circumstances attended the falling of the stone in question, which was witnessed by many people who could have no interest in fabricating a false account, and were far too simple to have done so. What is most singular is, that it should have been so well attested, because on the high wolds of Yorkshire thousands of stones might have fallen, and there might not have been even a solitary shepherd, or his more solitary dog, to have witnessed the occurrence.
It was on Sunday about three o’clock, the thirteenth of December, in the year 1795, that the stone in question fell within two fields of my house. The weather was misty, and, at times, inclining to rain; and though there was some thunder and lightning at a distance, it was not till the falling of the stone that the explosion took place, which alarmed the surrounding country, and which created so distinctly the sensation that something very singular had happened.
When the stone fell, a shepherd of mine, who was returning from his sheep, was about 150 yards from the spot; George Sawden, a carpenter, was passing within 60 yards; and John Shipley, one of my farming servants, was so near the spot where it fell, that he was struck very forcibly by some of the mud and earth raised by the stone dashing into the earth, which it penetrated to the depth of twelve inches, and seven afterwards into the chalk rock,—making in all a depth of nineteen inches from the surface.
While the stone was passing through the air—which it did in a north-east direction from the sea-coast—numbers of persons distinguished a body passing through the clouds, though not able to ascertain what it was: and two sons of the clergyman of Wold Newton (a village near me) saw it pass so distinctly by them, that they ran up immediately to my house, to know if any thing extraordinary happened.
In the different villages over which the stone took its direction, various were the people who heard the noise of something passing through the air, accurately and distinctly, though they could not imagine what was the cause of it: and in many of the provincial newspapers these accounts were published at the time from different persons.
In fact, no circumstance of the kind had ever more concurrent testimonies: and the appearance of the stone itself, while it resembles in composition those which are supposed to have fallen in various other parts of the world, has no counterpart or resemblance in the natural stones of the country.
The stone in its fall excavated a place of the depth before mentioned, and of something more than a yard in diameter. It had fixed itself so strongly in the chalk rock, that it required some labour to dig it out.
On being brought home, it was weighed; and the exact weight, at that time, was 56 pounds; which has been diminished in a small degree at present, by different pieces being taken from it as presents to different literati of the country. Mr. King, the antiquarian, in his account of Sky-fallen Stones, has published an account of this, with many curious and learned remarks on those which have fallen at different periods.
All the three witnesses who saw it fall agree perfectly in their account of the manner of its fall, and that they saw a dark body passing through the air, and ultimately strike into the ground: and though, from their situation and characters in life, they could have no possible object in detailing a false account of this transaction, I felt so desirous of giving this matter every degree of authenticity, that as a magistrate, I took their accounts upon oath, immediately on my return to the country. I saw no reason do doubt any of their evidence, after the most minute investigation of it.
While Mr. Sowerby delivers in the work he is editing a very accurate delineation of the stone itself; at his request, I have transmitted to him this account of the circumstances attendant on it, to accompany the publication. But I mean not to enter into any literary warfare with those sceptics, who think it much easier to doubt every word of this account than to believe such an event could take place. Hume held the same language on miracles of a more sacred nature. There is no shorter way of disposing of any thin than to deny or disbelieve it: but sometimes
“They who come to scoff, remain to pray.”
To perpetuate the spot where the stone fell, I have erected a pillar, with a plantation around it. The pillar is built over the exact place which the stone excavated, and has this inscription on a tablet:
On this Spot,
December 13th 1795, fell from the Atmosphere
An extraordinary Stone!
In Breadth 28 Inches,
In Length 30 Inches,
Whose Weight was 56 Pounds!
In Memory of it was erected by
Through the kind interference of my friend, G. Laing, Esq., Mr. Craufurd was so good as to send part of the stone which fell in Scotland to compare with the Yorkshire one. It appears to consist of similar substances, and has the same sort of coating, though the pyritaceous particles are perhaps somewhat less conspicuous.
This stone was seen to fell into a drain of water, at Possil Quarry, by two men, two boys and a dog, April 5, 1804. Among these was the overseer of the quarry, who was talking to a man in a tree near the place. At the time of its fall a noise was heard, which continued about two minutes, beginning in the west, and passing by the south, round towards the east, with as much noise as the first as if three or four cannon had been fired near the bridge, which conducts the canal of Clyde and Forth over the river Kelvin, a mile and half westward of the quarry; and afterwards a violent rushing whizzing noise ensued‡.
The overseer, upon observing the atmosphere, was alarmed at seeing a misty commotion, and called to the man in the tree, desiring him to come down, saying, “I think there is some judgement coming upon us.” The man was scarcely got down, when something fell into the drain, splashing the water about 20 feet round. The eldest boy observed the appearance of smoke, and something reddish moving rapidly through the air from the westward. The younger boy, at the instant before the stroke against the ground, was heard to call out, “O such a reek!” He says he saw the appearance of smoke near the place where the substance fell. The overseer, when he observed a hole in the drain where the substance appeared to them to have fallen, made his arm bare, and thrust it into the cavity, which was not yet filled up, the water being very shallow. It was very nearly perpendicular, or rather inclining from the west downwards to the east, at the bottom about 18 inches deep. The overseer felt something hard, but was not able to move it with his hand: he therefore caused it to be dug out; and it proved to be the same substance as that sent from other parts of the world, and said to have been observed under similar circumstances.
Sir Joseph Banks first observe the similarity of these substances to one another when he went to see the Yorkshire one exhibited in Piccadilly, and compared it with a fragment of what he had got from Benares; and he was so good as to indulge me with the loan of a very perfect one from L’Aigle to compare with the British one: it was nearly black all over; but a small fragment had been detached, probably to see how it agreed with the others, which it does in all respects with the Yorkshire and Possil stones, except that the outside is of purer black, perhaps from its falling in more favourable circumstances. The Yorkshire one fell against a damp chalk rock, and was partly discoloured by it. The Scottish one seems a little more rusty, and lighter, in the outer coat, the inside somewhat oxidated in spots; the natural effect of its falling through water. I have been favoured by Robert Ferguson, Esq., a friend of Mr. Laing, with another bit from L’Aigle, which is greyer than any others, as it has more iron in it, a largish vein of which forms a sort of reticulation, with a somewhat circular elliptical appearance, like some kind of marble, or irregular meshes.
The stone which fell December 13, 1803, in Bavaria, on a cottage is somewhat remarkable for the day and month, agreeing with those of the Yorkshire one; and it is said that the pyrites were of a cubical form.
It may be a satisfaction to many of our readers to subjoin some account of other stones said to have fallen from the clouds, formerly and in our times, in foreign countries, from Mr. King’s ingenious account, especially as they detail particulars that may develop some circumstances that ought to be known, and show more of the nature of these substances than are to be understood from the two which have fallen in our own country.
“Tradition has handed down to us the fall of stones in antient times. The learned Grævius leads us to conclude that the image of Diana was a stone which fell from the clouds. He tells us, on unquestionable authorities, that many other images of Heathen deities were merely such.
“Herodianus says that the Phœnicians had no statue of the Sun but a great stone which they reported to have fallen from heaven.
“Clemens Alexandrinus concludes the worship of stones to have been the first and earliest idolatry in the world.
“Plutarch mentions a stone which formerly fell from the clouds; and the old writer from whom he took his account says: ‘It hovered about for a long time; seemed to throw out splinters, which flew around like wandering stars, before they fell, and at last it came down to the earth a stone of extraordinary size.’ Pliny tells us of its being preserved in his days, and that it was of a dark burnt colour. He mentions one also fell at Abydos, and was worshipped at that place; and of another at Pontidæa.
“Livy (whose credulity has been centured for preserving traditions of an extraordinary kind, which have been proved in ages of more enlarged information to be founded in truth,) describes a fall of stones on Mount Alba, during the reign of Tullus Hostilius, about 650 years before the birth of Christ.”
Mr. King very properly quotes the Royal Psalmist: “The Lord also thundered out of heaven, and the highest gave his Thunder, Hailstones and Coals of Fire§.”
And if we read from verse 7 to 15, we seem to have in the language of the Psalms a tolerable account of the manner of their falling. “At the brightness which was before him, thick Clouds passed, Hailstones and Coals of Fire.”
There are many opinions concerning the origin of these stones, and the Abbé Stutz remarks (vide Mr. King’s account), “There is a great step from the disbelief of tales, to the finding out the true cause of a phænomenon which appears wonderful to us. And probably, ” says he, “I should have committed the fault into which we are so naturally led, respecting things we cannot explain; and have rather denied the whole history, than have determined to believe anything so incredible, if various new writings on electricity and thunder had not fortunately, at that time, come into my hands, concerning remarkable experiments of reviving metallic calces by the electric spark. Lightning is an electrical stroke on a large scale. If then the reduction of iron can be obtained by the discharge of an electrical machine, why should not this be accomplished as well, and with much greater effect, by the very powerful discharge of the lighting from the clouds?”
Thus, some consider that these stones may have been formed or generated in the air, by a combination of the mineral substances which had risen in exhalations from the earth; and the learned Mr. King gives us a very ingenious detail how it might naturally happen—“That the ashes from volcanos, after being thrown to an immense height, may consolidate by help of the particles of iron and pyritical dust, take fire either spontaneously or by means of the electric fluid within them, producing many explosions, and, by a sudden crystallization and consolidation taking place, form stones of various sizes, which fall to the ground; but the clayey ashes not hardening so rapidly as the metallic particles crystallize, an opportunity was given for impressions to be made on the surface of some of the stones, by means of others.”
These dents, I think, look more truly like pieces having burst from the mass, which always appears more like an irregular fragment of a rock than a conglomerated body that had gathered in the air, which most likely would have been spherical. The Yorkshire stone, which has many of these hollows, fell alone.
We can say but little about the probability of their falling through our atmosphere from any of the planets: their coming hot to the earth, with so little velocity and force, after falling from so immense a distance, and their angular form, make it more astonishing. Mr. Howard observes that the concordance of facts seems to render it most indisputable that certain stony and metallic substances have, at different periods, fallen to the earth. Whence they came, he thinks is involved in complete obscurity.
In the account of the explosion of the meteor near Benares, int eh East-Indies, by John Lloyd Williams, Esq. and the falling of stones at the same time, we find a good history of the nature and manner of their fall, which happened on the 19th of December 1798, at eight o’clock in the evening; and we conclude the effect must have been very conspicuous. A meteor is said to have appeared in the western part of the hemisphere, and was but a short time visible. It was observed by several Europeans, as well as natives, in different parts of the country, who described it as a large ball of fire, accompanied by a loud rumbling noise, not unlike an ill-discharged platoon of musketry. The light came into Mr. Davis’s room, projecting the shadow of the frames of the window as in the brightest moonlight. A number of stones were said to have fallen from it near Krakhut, a village about 14 miles from Benares, many of which were picked up from the fields. They penetrated about six inches into the ground, and were spread about 100 yards from each other; one, which weighed about two pounds, had fallen through the top of a watchman’s hut. At the time the meteor appeared the sky was perfectly serene, and not the least vestige of a cloud had been seen since the 11th of the month, nor were any observed for many days after. These stones accord with those described by Mr. Howard, who observes there are no volcanoes on the continent of India.
If we suppose that these stones originate in the sphere of our globe, it must follow that the substances are within our atmosphere; and no doubt they are, or we should not have been acquainted with them. It has been thought that they may arise with vapours, smoke, &c., and by the attractive power of electricity become conglomerated; and that the inflammable part may have undergone combustion in a high region; and that, as it cools, the gravity being augmented, they are no longer driven by the currents which sometimes reign in the atmosphere, but, losing part of their velocity, drop to the earth again‖. It may not be amiss to consider whether any other means may not be as natural, and this by degrees may perhaps lead to the truth.
That our travelling geologists have not found any thing concordant with thsi substance may be, because it would not be sufficiently remarkable to claim their attention; and so it may seem, when the appearance of this substance before ignition would not be new or uncommon. The rocks of which I have got fragments, that I think most likely to produce such a combination of substances, are found in Wales; and as Scotland, and other places even abroad, much resemble Wales in some particulars, they may do so in this; and, as they contain most of the substances which these do, and in the proper proportions, combined with other (perhaps fortuitous) circumstances (which happily do not very commonly combine to overwhelm us in a shower of stones), may be detached by the electric fluid attracted by the iron, which is known to be pure among pyrites. Thus, if we consider a part of the atmosphere surcharged with electric fluid coming in contact with such a rock, a discharge would take place; the iron would be heated to a certain depth; the opposition of damp, within the rock, would produce a rarefaction of sufficient violence¶ to cause a great report, and detach a fragment or fragments; and the iron becoming so suddenly heated must set the sulphur on fire; which, while the stone was projected by the violent force necessary for detaching it, would be vivified as if blown by the bellows of a forge; till the sulphur being exhausted, and the iron cooled, it would fall to the ground, with the scent of sulphur remaining, and sometimes a portion of heat. As it passed, a rushing noise (like the wind of forge-bellows) would be heard; the stone would emit sparks; and the irregularities would, more or less, cause pieces to fly from it, with a crackling or gun-shot noise; and it might sometimes have a comet-like form. The parts projected foremost would be of a white heat, as the force would augment it; and the sulphur would cause flame and smoke in clouds; the sparks and detached pieces would be left behind, as it passed, and appear something like the fiery tail of a comet. Thus far for conjecture: time may bring the truth to light; and if our travelling geologists will attend to this, I see no great improbability attached to the chance of finding rocks holding these substances in due proportion; and perhaps experiments may verify the truth of this or some other conjecture, and any natural rationale will be more or less confided in, as it agrees with the circumstances proved. Pyrites, we know, are always in action, or ready to act, under an infinite variety of circumstances. Thus, changes of weather, even without thunder or Lightning, or atmospheric electricity, may produce by uniting occurrences, similar phænomena.
Dr. E. Clarke, of Jesus College, Cambridge, entertains a different opinion respecting the origin of those substances; and is now employed in preparing a dissertation upon this subject for the Royal Society. The result of this opinion he has communicated, referring to his Memorial for the proofs necessary to establish its truth; as the work at large is too long for insertion here. He considers all the substances of the mineral kingdom as capable of existing in a solid, fluid, or aëriform state; according to the predominance of the active or passive principle: that is to say, of the principle of repulsion, or the principle of attraction. These two powers always counteracting each other, have been variously denominated; but their most recent appellations have been caloric, or the fluid matter of each, and the law of gravity. The last of these was completely developed by Sir Isaac Newton; who determined the agency of the passive principle, or the law of gravity, to vary inversely as the square of the distance from the centre. The first, and perhaps the most important principle, whose agency prevents the particles of the most solid bodies from coming in contact with each other, remains to be developed by the discoveries of future science. One fact respecting it is generally admitted; that the power of attraction, dependent of its agency, would be infinite. Admitting this truth, we can form no idea of the degree of solidity to which matter so circumstanced might be liable.
In regions remote from the earth’s surface, where light enters into the least combination with matter, and generates the lowest degree of that modification of it, to which the term caloric has been applied, the particles of bodies, resulting from the decomposition of aëriform fluids, will be brought very near each other; and the consequence must necessarily be a degree of solidity equal to that of any known substance of the mineral kingdom. The mass of iron which fell in Sclavonia of 68lb. in weight**, Dr. Clarke considers as the result of such an agency in the passive principle. If this were really true, the iron so formed would be entirely destitute of carbon; which is found to be the case. There is no body more solid than water: yet water is brought by a similar process from the atmosphere, and it becomes fluid at the temperature to which the earth’s surface is exposed. Iron may result from the combination of many aëriform fluids. Like water, it is capable of combustion; and there is not more reason for supposing it a simple substance, than there was for believing water an elementary principle, before it was discovered to result from the synthesis of hydrogen and oxygen.
We now give the analyses from the ingenious account by E. Howard, Esq. in Phil. Trans. 1802, part i. page 168 and following:
Of the stone which fell in Portugal, by the Royal French Academicians,
Stone of Ensisheim, by Mons. Barthold, gave in 100 gr.
Stone from Benares, the outside coating of which was found by Mr. Howard to contain iron and nickel. The pyritaceous part in 16 grains contained,
The globular particles in 100 gr. contained,
|Oxide of iron||34|
|Oxide of nickel||21/2|
The earthy cement in 100 gr. contained,
|Oxide of iron||34|
|Oxide of nickel||21/2|
150 gr. of the Sienna stone.
|Oxide of iron||52|
|Oxide of nickel||3|
150 gr. of earthy part of the
|Oxide of iron||48|
|Oxide of nickel||2|
|Oxide of iron||371/2|
55 g. Bohemian stone.
|Oxide of iron||231/2|
|Oxide of nickel||11/2|
|Oxide of iron||171/2|
The specific gravity of the Yorkshire stone is 3508. That of the others is from 3352 to 4281.
Extracts from the hand-bill, which was given away at the time the Yorkshire stone was exhibited in London, and which is now preserved by Lady Wilson. Part is extracted from the Oracle of February 9, 1796, in a letter to Jas. Boaden, Esq.
The exact weight of the stone which fell, was weight on being dug up. It was by Merlin’s balance 3 stone 13 pounds: when takein up it was warm, and smoked. A labourer saw it coming down at the distance of about 10 yards from the ground; and, as it fell, a number of explosions were heard by three men in short intervals, about as loud as a pistol. At Bidlington, and at different villages, sounds were heard in the air, which the inhabitants took to be the noise of guns at sea. When the labourer recovered from an extreme alarm into which the descent of such a stone had thrown him, his first description was, “that the clouds opened as it fell, and he thought heaven and earth were coming together.”
The following is the account given by Mr. L. Wilson: “I hereby certify to the public, that while I was in Yorkshire, near Capt. Topham’s grounds, I heard noises in the air like the report of a cannon at a distance, and at the same time I felt two distinct concussions of the earth, which shook the buildings and the church near the spot where I was at the time. I was very much surprised, not knowing from what such circumstances could arise: within a very short space of time afterwards, I was informed that a stone had fallen within 200 yards of me; and a servant, belonging to my uncle, Mr. Wm. Parke, who resides near to Capt. Topham, was one of the people who saw it fall.”
“Charles Prestin, son of the Rev. Mr. Prestin, eleven years of age, being in the church-yard at play, on Sunday, Dec. 13, 1795, at half-past three in the afternoon, after hearing a noise as of firing of cannon, heard the above time a hissing in the air, and was sure something fell near the cottage belonging to Capt. Topham.
Given under my hand, this 29th day of Apri, 1796,
Curate of Wold Newton, Yorkshire.”
- * We have arranged this as native Iron, which is its great characteristic ingredient. It must come near the Iron of Siberia, Bohemia, &c. and be followed by the suboxides.
- † These agree partly with those found by the Count de Bournon in the Bohemian stone.
- ‡ The dog ran home as if frightened. The noise was heart by many people at different places, within 20 miles, and 30 feet under ground in the Possil Quarry.
- § Psalm v. at the same page he speaks of the large hailstones observed by my friend P. Rashleigh, Esq. of Menabilly, giving figures of them between 5 and 6 inches in circumference, and of which he has been so obliging as to send me a model.
- ‖ Their force when falling is not very considerable.
- ¶ The force of steam is sufficiently known.
- ** It is now in the Imperial cabinet at Vienna.
- †† When there is an overplus, it is from the metallic parts absorbing oxygen from the acids in the progress of analysation.