How Island lamp post helped plot ‘quakes’

Scientist John Milne, who moved to the Island with his Japanese wife Tone in 1895, actually used an iron lamp post to help build a home-made seismograph to pick up signs of tiny ground tremors.

Although Milne’s experiments were revolutionary, his name in this country is now little known outside scientific circles. However, he is still revered in Japan where he laid the foundations to help that country cope with the ever-present danger of earthquakes.

From his observatory at Blackwater Road in Shide, he collated and analysed earthquake information sent from around the world. Based on his studies of tremor data he plotted the Pacific fault line known as the ‘Ring of Fire’. He acquired a full size lamp-post from a local ironmongers to make the horizontal seismograph.

As a result of his ground-breaking research many scientists and dignitaries from around the world came to the Island to visit him, including the then Prince of Wales.

Records reveal that Milne, known as the  ‘father of seismology’, became a familiar figure around the Island with some locals mistaking his instruments for ghostly activity. Slight movements in his instruments’ lights at night were enough to convince drinkers at one pub that the Island was tipping up and down. Others thought it was the sign of ghosts in the fields.

Another piece of monitoring equipment installed at a sailing club showed increased readings at the same time each evening – which was eventually put down to a regular liaison between a butler and a chambermaid in an adjoining room!

Earthquakes are caused when movements within the Earth’s crust cause stress to build up at points of weakness.

Seismology is the study of earthquakes and seismic waves which are generated following a sudden movement when pent up energy is released.

Seismographs allow experts to determine where, and how deep, a particular earthquake is, and is vital to the well-being of millions of people, bearing in mind there are about 100 earthquakes each year of a size that could cause serious damage. Milne lived and worked in Japan for 20 years before moving to the Island.

Milne died in Shide on July 31, 1913,  and is buried in St. Paul’s Church, Newport. Before his death he also helped establish Newport Golf Club, and the John Milne Vase is still played for by members in his honour.