The tremendous eruption of Mount Tambora in April 1815 was the most powerful volcanic eruption of the 19th century.
The eruption and the tsunamis it triggered killed tens of thousands of people. And the magnitude of the explosion is difficult to fathom.
It has been estimated that Mount Tambora stood approximately 12,000 feet tall before the 1815 eruption, and the top 4,000 feet of the mountain was completely obliterated.
Adding to the disaster's massive scale, the huge amount of dust blasted into the upper atmosphere by the Tambora eruption contributed to a bizarre and highly destructive weather event the following year. And 1816 became known as The Year Without a Summer.
The disaster on the remote island of Sumbawa in the Indian Ocean has been overshadowed by the eruption of the volcano at Krakatoa decades later, partly because the news of Krakatoa traveled quickly via telegraph.
Accounts of the Tambora eruption were much more rare, however some vivid ones do exist. An administrator of the East India Company, Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, who was serving as governor of Java at the time, published a vivid account of the disaster based on written reports he had collected from English traders and military personnel.
Beginnings of the Mount Tambora Disaster
The island of Sumbawa, home to Mount Tambora, is located in present day Indonesia. When the island was first discovered by Europeans the mountain was thought to be an extinct volcano.
However, about three years before the 1815 eruption the mountain seemed to come to life. Rumblings were felt, and a dark smoky cloud appeared atop the summit.
On April 5, 1815, the volcano began to erupt. British traders and explorers in that part of the world heard the sound and at first thought it to be the firing of cannon. There was a fear that a battle of some sort, perhaps at sea, was being fought.