1 November: On this day in history
What events happened on 1 November in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…
1 November 1611
1 November 1755: Lisbon is levelled by a deadly earthquake
Cataclysm claims up to 100,000 lives
There “never was a finer morning seen than the 1st of November,” the Reverend Charles Davy, who was staying in Lisbon, wrote afterwards. “The sun shone out in its full lustre; the whole face of the sky was perfectly serene and clear.”
Shortly after nine that morning, Davy was writing a letter when he felt the table “tremble with a gentle motion”. Then the house began to shake, which he put down to the carriages rattling down to the palace nearby. Then came a loud noise, like the “hollow distant rumbling of thunder”. And then Davy ran.
The spectacle that greeted Charles Davy might have been a scene from the end of the world. Hundreds of people were milling in the streets, screaming and shouting. Buildings were crashing to the ground; on the top of St Catherine’s Hill, Davy watched in horror as the parish church crumbled into dust. At the seafront, he saw a gigantic wave sweeping towards the city, carrying upturned boats with it. “It was at the time of which I am now speaking,” Davy wrote, “that the fine new quay, built entirely of rough marble, at an immense expense, was entirely swallowed up, with all the people on it.”
The earthquake that hit Lisbon in 1755 was one of the deadliest in history. The Portuguese capital was almost completely destroyed, and some estimates put the death toll at 100,000 people. Later, the city was rebuilt in elegant, classical style by Portugal’s chief minister, the Marquis de Pombal.
But across Europe, the disaster left a scar on the imagination of a generation. In years to come, theologians, philosophers and political theorists, from Rousseau to Kant, grappled with the existential implications of such a terrible natural catastrophe. The French writer Voltaire was one of many thinkers to be shaken by the news. If God was all- powerful and all-loving, he wondered, how could he have let it happen?