A LEAGUE FROM THE LAST OF THE SUN - Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 - Simon Winchester

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 - Simon Winchester (2003)



... it could not tell why the telegraph company caused it to be sent a full account of a flood in Shanghai, a massacre in Calcutta, a sailor fight in Bombay, hard frosts in Siberia, a missionary banquet in Madagascar, the price of kangaroo leather from Borneo and a lot of nice cheerful news from the Archipelagos - and not a line about the Muskegon fire.

- a contemporary account of the vexed mood of Michigan's Alpena Evening Echo, quoted as an example of information overload in The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage, 1998

The first that the outside, Western world knew of the extraordinary events that were starting to unfold in the distant and exotic East was a nineteen-word entry close to the bottom of the second column of page twelve of The Times, in London, on the morning of Thursday, 24 May 1883.

It appeared just below a story about a police raid on a suspected betting-ring in a pub in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and just above an announcement by the London police that the number of paupers known to be in town (‘exclusive of lunatics in asylums’) was 52,032 indoors and 37,898 on the streets. There were advertisements in columns beside the entry: readers were invited to buy Negro Head Gin for thirteen shillings and sixpence a gallon, John Brinsmead's Pianos for thirty-five guineas, Moir's Mulligatawny Soup, Epps's Cocoa or, a brand still familiar today, Rose's Lime Juice Cordial.

Slipped in among the two gripping sagas and all the intimations of the prosperity and epicureanism of the Victorian readership, but with a journalistic economy that verged on the terse, was the following announcement:

Volcanic Eruption. Lloyd's Agent in Batavia under date of May 23rd, telegraphs: ‘Strong Volcanic Eruption, Krakatowa Island, Sunda Straits.’

It was perhaps appropriate that the first news of the explosion of an island in the middle of the sea came through the agency, in both senses, of the Society of Lloyd's. This was an organization that by now was quite venerable, it having been more than two centuries since London merchants met in Lloyd's coffee-house to discuss the coverage of risks to their far-flung fleet of cargo ships and set up a mutual-aid arrangement to cover themselves in the event of any losses. Lloyd's had become formally incorporated by parliament in 1871, and was by the latter half of the century respected as the world's oldest and premier society of insurance underwriters for ships. In that capacity the body employed or retained scores of agents or sub-agents, as they were formally known, at almost every port and capital city in the world.

The Lloyd's agency system, which still exists, had been set up in 1811. In port-cities around the world, most often in the little streets close to the docks, there will still be an office with a brass plaque outside, or perhaps the enamelled crest with its cross-and-anchor badge and the words Lloyd's Agent picked out in scarlet. Filling the posts of agents of the Committee of Lloyd's has long been, from the Lloyd's point of view, quite simple: men have invariably been selected for being no more than ‘resident and well-established at the place concerned, and of high commercial status and integrity’. From the applicants' point of view, it was less easy. The privilege of appointment was considerable: many applied, and only a few could be chosen.

The task of an agent was in good times one of great simplicity, in bad times one of formidable complexity. Agents were initially bound by their contract to do no more than ‘to collect and to transmit to the Corporation information of likely interest to the Lloyd's Market, and insurers worldwide’. But in those times, more frequent then than now, when ships went down, or where there were collisions or strandings or piracy or arguments over cargo, it turned out they were also there to settle suits, to adjudicate disputes and to pay just claims on the policies of insurance that were underwritten by the syndicates of Lloyd's.

Although that first message about ‘Krakatowa’ reportedly came from the Lloyd's agent in Batavia, the colonial capital, it did so purely because of reasons of protocol. It was thought more appropriate to have the formal report of a major event like this come from the agent - in this case a Scotsman, a Mr McColl - who was based in the nation's heart, even if he were only transmitting second-hand information about an event he himself did not see. He may not have done; one of his deputies, however, most certainly did.

For Lloyd's, which had (and still has) a truly worldwide presence, also had as agent a man on the spot, someone with a bird's eye view of Krakatoa and all that was going on there - too much of a bird's eye view, as it would later turn out. He was the already encountered Mr Schuit, the Dutch owner of the sea-front Anjer Hotel that he had conveniently set down close to the docks in the small Javanese port of the same name.

The nature of Lloyd's business demanded that they have a presence in Anjer. Not only was it a bustling little coastal port in its own right, but it was the place where the northbound vessels, on passage for Batavia, would take on their pilot, and where southbound vessels would drop him. Anjer, principal pilot station of west Java, was the first port that newcomers would see in the island, their first landmark after passing the light on Java Head. It was a natural and necessary place for Lloyd's to have a man.

And Mr Schuit had been chosen to fulfil the task - for which Lloyd's paid him a modest retainer - because of his view. His inn possessed a large wooden veranda overlooking the sea, and he and his guests would come of an evening to sit in lounge chairs there. A remarkably lovely spectacle was spread out before them: the island-filled, mountain-ringed, sunset-spectacular Sunda Strait, with the seemingly endless passage of ships sailing (or steaming: this was 1883, after all) along it, on their various ways between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. This last was what convinced the Lloyd's Committee that Schuit was the ideal man for them in the town where they particularly needed to employ one of the best.

He was fascinated by the passing trade, and so were his guests. He bought and mounted a large brass telescope under his porch, so that he could identify the more distant vessels. With this he could see well enough to read the signal flags (there would be no marine radios for almost another thirty years) and could pass on messages to owners and agents as asked. He would look out especially for the distinctive arrangement of three flags that read ‘ZD2’ - this shorthand was known by all agents to mean ‘Please Report My Passing to Lloyd's, London’.

He knew the Anjer harbour-master, who kept him fully up to date about all the vessels that docked to load or unload cargoes, or that simply stopped by to bunker, victual or de-rat. Schuit would thus send to London almost every day the names of ships that stopped, copies of the signals he had received, and statistics about the number of quintals of pepper, or piculs of coffee, maunds of this and catties of that, which had passed across the Anjer quays. And as well as all the shipping and commercial information, he would also from time to time send to London entirely unrelated ‘information of likely interest’ - of which the entirely unexpected burst of activity on Krakatoa was certainly a prime example.

It was of interest to the underwriters back home not merely because of the fascination provided by the explosion of any big volcano but because this particular volcano lay almost directly athwart the main navigational passage of the Strait, and so would be bound to interest any master whose vessel might soon be making passage in those waters.

In many ways the mechanics of Mr Schuit's job were, in the closing years of the nineteenth century, changing fast. The ships themselves were altering their appearance, drastically. Sail as a means of moving them across the oceans was steadily giving way to steam. Wooden hulls were being replaced by steel, copper nails by iron rivets. The Suez Canal had opened for business, making passages to and from Europe more rapid and less risky. There was a steady growth in traffic, with more cargoes as world trade increased, and with ships from more nations. Congestion in the shipping lanes reflected the ebb and flow of global business and global politics; and it also reflected (as with the warship Elisabeth, on her way home from a posting off China) the rise and fall of distant empires.

And the ways in which Mr Schuit and his like were transmitting their reports was changing too. For most of the previous seventy years he and his predecessors would have sent their signals to Lloyd's by hand of messenger, the packages of bundled slips going back to London on the very homebound ships about which men like Schuit were reporting. But now, ever since mid century, technology was beginning to make the lives of all kinds of far-flung intelligence-gatherers - Lloyd's agents, diplomats, traders and foreign correspondents among them - a good deal easier and much more efficient.

For the previous ten years Schuit had been sending all of his messages from Anjer - including the information about the first explosion of Krakatoa, which the still extant records show was transmitted at precisely 3.47 a.m. on 23 May - by way of two related and newly invented devices. The first was the electric telegraph, which, as we have already seen, came to the East Indies in 1856; the second was the submarine telegraph cable, which was to play a highly significant role in the unfolding of the Krakatoa story. This underwater cable arrived in Java after many fits and starts - the first one failed after sitting on the ocean bottom for only a month. But by 1870, thirteen years before Mr Schuit needed to get his story out to London as quickly as possible, the international cable connecting Batavia was working well, and his message was received only a short while after he sent it.

It took an event like Krakatoa's eruption - which astonished and mystified an entire educated world - to underline the real revolution that this new technology was visiting upon the planet. True, other events had already been recounted by means of the new machinery; and its utility - to commerce, diplomacy and news-gathering in particular - was in no doubt. But with the explosion of Krakatoa came a phenomenon that in time would come to be seen as more profound. This eruption was so enormous an event, and had so many worldwide implications and effects, that for humankind to be able to learn and know about it, in detail, within days or even hours of its very happening entirely changed the world's view of itself. It would not be stretching a point to suggest that the Global Village - the phrase is modern, and was coined by Marshall McLuhan in 1960, referring to the world-shrinking effects of television, even pre-satellite* - was essentially born with the worldwide apprehension of, and fascination with, the events in Java that began in the summer of 1883. And Agent Schuit's first telegram to London was one small indication of that revolution's beginnings.

Although what The Times published was brief in the extreme, what Agent Schuit actually wrote by hand was considerably longer and more discursive, and started:

On Sunday morning last, from six to ten o'clock, there was a tremendous eruption, with continuous earthquakes and heavy rain of ashes. On Sunday evening and Monday morning it was continued. The eruption was distinctly seen here until nine o'clock this morning, and smoke was seen until twelve o'clock; afterwards it cleared up a little, and at this moment the air is clouded again. Capt. Ross reports from Anjer that on May 22 he was sailing near Java's First Point and tried to get Prinsen Island in sight, but found that it was surrounded by clouds. Then he steered from Krakatan,* but found it to be the same there. The captain observed that the lower island or mountain situated on the north side of Krakatan was totally surrounded by smoke, and from time to time flames arose with loud reports. Fire had broken out in several places, and it is very likely that the trees in the neighbourhood have caught fire. The mountain of Krakatan has been covered all over on the north side with ashes…

Schuit wrote this dispatch in English, since that was the language in which Lloyd's conducted its business, and he marked it to be sent to London and copied to the Lloyd's agent in Batavia. He was evidently a night owl, because it appears that he wrote his message - in longhand, and on the prescribed telegraph form - long after his dinner, and in fact very early in the morning on Wednesday, 23 May. He then took the completed sheets down to the small white stucco building that housed the continually open office of the Dutch East Indies Post and Telegraph Office and handed them to the clerk.

Since the message was marked URGENT, the duty officer sat down at his wood-and-brass Morse tapper and register, and, with the lightning speed (and near-total accuracy, aside from reading Schuit's handwritten Krakatau as Krakatan) for which good operators were renowned, dispatched the signal to his opposite number in Batavia. From the Batavia telegraph office,* at the corner of Post Weg and Kerk Weg (or what is now Cathedral Street), the message then underwent a form of mitosis, with one copy of the signal going to the Lloyd's office and agent just down the street in central Batavia, the other going straight on to London. The version sent on to London was dispatched from Batavia (or possibly originated at Anjer - of this we cannot be sure) at 3.47 a.m. on the Wednesday - in London, late on the evening of the Tuesday.

The message took some long while to reach London - one reason why the first published report of the eruption appeared in The Times not of the Wednesday morning, as might be expected, but in the paper of Thursday, 24 May. It took its time to make its way from the East Indies capital to its British equivalent because of the mechanics of early-nineteenth-century communication: it began its long journey by first going north of Java up to Singapore, and doing so by way of the newly made and wholly revolutionary invention, the submarine telegraph cable.

There is a nice coincidence of geography and botany in the story of the building of submarine telegraph cables - a business that had only begun in 1850, when the first cable was laid between Dover and Calais. What allowed the industry to flourish - something that really only happened when cables ceased their infuriating habit of breaking in mid ocean, and they could then be relied upon to work and carry their signals without interruption - was the discovery of a handsome evergreen tree called Isonandra gutta, from which oozed a rubbery, workable and waterproof substance that was soon to be called gutta-percha.

A London firm called S. W. Silver & Company discovered that gutta-percha could be extruded like rubber, and could be made to cover copper wires that would then be proof against water. The firm's directors promptly changed the company name to the magnificently sonorous India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Company - and under that rubric established factories that began to spin hundreds upon hundreds of miles of armoured, waterproof telegraph cables for ships to lay deep down on the ocean floor. (‘The moment the electric telegraph was invented,’ said a manual of the day, ‘so gutta-percha, the very substance it demanded, was discovered.’)

By 1865 the India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Company was producing submarine cables as fast as the world was able to connect itself, and they were happily transmitting


The converted warship Agamemnon laying the first transatlantic telegraph cable off the west coast of Ireland in 1857.

electronic messages hither and yon at great speed and with near-total security. It was this guarantee of security and privacy that was their real value: the disruption of wars that kept breaking out like wildfires all over Europe was making the cables that passed overland risky means indeed of sending messages anywhere.

And the coincidence? It so happened that the handsome evergreen tree with its rubbery sap was found in abundance in just one corner of the planet: in Borneo, Sumatra and Java. Gutta-percha, so critical for communication, became in the 1860s a major East Indian export, just like pepper, quinine and coffee. Though unseen in day-to-day life, it was an export that was to have an enormous impact on the technological development of the outside world. And further: though this substance that made cables work so well just happened to be found in Java, it was twenty years after the technology was first used that it was employed to connect Java with a rest of the world that was already using it. The former may have been pure coincidence; the latter was pure irony.

Mr Schuit's signal thus passed along the 557-mile-long gutta-percha-covered cable that had been laid by the converted cargo ship Hibernia in 1870. A cable had first been laid along the route eleven years earlier, by the Dutch government - but the technology of 1859 was primitive, the demand slight, and when it broke, as it did after some four weeks, no one from the government bothered to order its repair.

On the second occasion the combination of commercial demand, market forces and new technology succeeded where the pioneering had failed: a brand-new private cable was laid on the orders of the British-Australian Telegraph Company, designed not so much to connect Java with the outside world, as to allow the vastly powerful Eastern Telegraph Company to connect its trans-India lines to the burgeoning populations in Australia and New Zealand.

And so the Hibernia laid the connecting cable to Batavia. Together with her sister-ship the Edinburgh, she then laid another from Banjoewangie in eastern Java to Port Darwin in northern Australia; engineers connected the two by a landline that ran the length of Java itself; and when finally in 1872 the Australian government completed its own landline across the continent, then London and Sydney could exchange messages with one another with consummate ease and near-total commercial security.

Mr Schuit's Morse coded message reached Singapore by way of the British-Australian Telegraph Company's gutta-percha-and-jute-twice-covered four-strand copper cable, the fastest and most secure thus far designed. The signal was then amplified and sent on its way towards London. It had two choices: it could either go, slowly and insecurely, via the long chain of landlines that had been established mid century, when telegraphy had first begun to expand; or it could go ‘Via Eastern’. A customer could in those days specify on the telegram forms which cable should be used, and pay the costs which that particular cable company charged. Specify Via Eastern, and it made most of its long journey by sea. Leave the cable-routing box blank, and the message went the long and slow way and, for most of its length, by land.

But the land journey had a fine romance about it, even so. From Singapore it went up the Malay coast to Penang and then by a short sea journey to Madras. Thence ever westwards it progressed, by way of cities still known, or by towns obscure, long forgotten or with names no longer used.

The lines of creosoted pitch-pine telegraph poles took the cable to Bombay, then to a switching centre, from which it emerged as an armoured cable and dipped beneath the Arabian Sea to reach Karachi, then rose back on pole-supported lines to the village of Hermak in Baluchistan, to Kerman, Teheran and Tabriz in Persia, to Tiflis in Georgia, on to Sukhumi on the Black Sea coast, along the corniche to Kertsch* in the Crimea, to Odessa, up across steppes and coalfields to the Polish city of Berdichew (with a population of 52,000, which in those days before Hitler were almost all Jews), through Warsaw, Berlin and the North Sea port of Emden, beneath the sea for one last time, before making landfall in East Anglia, and thence by telegraph pole for the final fifty miles to London. A telegram sent thus could take a week to reach its destination.

But if the operator marked the message Via Eastern, then it went swiftly and securely, beneath the sea. Thirty-five years before, the first insulated cable had been dropped from a ship called the Princess Clementine moored in Folkestone Harbour and connected to a boat two miles away, with a message successfully sent between the two. Since that time the undersea cable had become fixed in the public consciousness. Alfred, Lord Tennyson had written a hymn to the romance of the idea of coded voices hurrying along the ocean floor; and so had Rudyard Kipling, whose brief poem ‘The Deep-Sea Cables’ remains among his best loved:

The wrecks dissolve above us; their dust drops down from afar -

Down to the dark, to the utter dark, where the blind white sea-snakes are.

There is no sound, no echo of sound, in the deserts of the deep,

Or the great grey level plains of ooze where the shell-burred cables creep.

Here in the womb of the world - here on the tie-ribs of earth Words, and the words of men, flicker and flutter and beat -

Warning, sorrow, and gain, salutation and mirth - For a Power troubles the Still that has neither voice nor feet.

They have wakened the timeless Things; they have killed their father Time;
Joining hands in the gloom, a league from the last of the sun.

Hush! Men talk to-day o'er the waste of the ultimate slime, And a new Word runs between: whispering, ‘Let us be one!’

The undersea cable connecting Singapore with London, after passing first by land in those days to Penang, crossed the Bay of Bengal to Madras, hopscotched across India and then plunged into the Arabian Sea on the long passage from Bombay to Aden. It was then put ashore briefly at Port Sudan, nosed up to its receiving stations at Suez and Alexandria, crossed the southern Mediterranean to the island of Malta, travelled through the northern part of the Mediterranean to Gibraltar, between the Pillars of Hercules to Carcavelos on an Atlantic headland ten miles west of Lisbon, up to windswept Vigo on Spain's western


The worldwide network of telegraph connections used by Reuter's agency for collecting and disseminating this most valuable commodity - news.

Galician coast, and finally it headed north, sheltered deep below the storms of the Bay of Biscay and the Western Approaches, and arrived at its landing place at Porthcurno, on the southern tip of Cornwall, in England.

After this the messages did their final 200 miles by land, along conventional wires that were carefully tended, since they carried


Samuel Morse.

the international and imperial traffic of the hallowed and respected Eastern Telegraph Company. The signals would arrive at the Receiving Room of what was called London Station around three hours after they had been sent from the Morse tapper in the faraway East. In the case of Schuit's Anjer message reporting the eruption of ‘Krakatan’, sent from Batavia at 3.47 a.m. local time on the Wednesday, the signals would have arrived at Lloyd's (subtracting the eight-hour time difference between London and Batavia, and adding the approximate three hours of transmission time) at about 10 p.m. on the night of Tuesday, 22 May. They had been marked Urgent; they were decoded from their Morse and sent immediately to the delivery address - the Foreign Intelligence Office at Lloyd's.

And then, as it turned out, to The Times. This paper, which was then quite intimately involved with the British establishment, had none the less a cosy arrangement with Lloyd's: any signal deemed to be of likely interest would be passed promptly across to the paper's foreign news editor. News of the eruption arrived too late to be of any use to that night's paper; but once Schuit's excited cable about explosions and ash falls and eruptions of fire had been read on the next day, Wednesday, 23 May, its worth as hot news was immediately apparent. The message was read in full by the duty editor; it was edited - heavily, since only seven words of it were actually published in the paper - and for some inexplicable reason the word Krakatan - itself an error, more probably the telegraph operator's than Schuit's - was changed, as mentioned, to the similarly eccentric Krakatowa.

The cable was received early enough to be published in all editions of the paper of Thursday, 24 May - including the Scottish edition, which was printed first, as well as the Final London Edition, which was printed last on the best-quality paper at around 3.30 a.m. and delivered to all the embassies and palaces and government offices of the capital.*

By mid morning all the loyal readers of what was then known as The Thunderer came to learn of the event, and slowly but surely - since the volcano was to figure in the news dozens more times before the year was out - began to incorporate the name of this distant island, hitherto quite unknown, into their daily lexicon. And as it was incorporated into the lexicon, so it became, in short order, a prominent feature of received culture, all over the world.

Krakatoa achieved this happy status thanks in part to another of the great creations of the era: the news agency. Based in London, the first agency was founded by a German-Jewish businessman who, with great prescience, saw news and its fast delivery as a saleable commodity. He gave it the name to which his immigrant parents had changed theirs:* Reuter.

In 1815 it had taken the news of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo four days to reach readers in London; when Napoleon died on the Atlantic island of St Helena six years later, most Britons remained in ignorance of the fact for the following two months. But twenty years later the telegraph had been invented, and by the 1840s its lines were spreading across Europe like the tentacles of kudzu; it was not long before entrepreneurs - like Julius Reuter, then a small-time newspaper publisher in Paris - decided that this new medium could allow news to be sped from place to place electrically and then sold to those in need of it, like any other commodity.

Speed - being first with the news, getting the scoop, beating the competition - was the most important thing to Julius Reuter. In those early days he was often too far ahead of the technology and had to come up with inventive solutions. To get news from Paris to Brussels before the telegraph link had been fully completed, for example, he used pigeons: the French news would be telegraphed to the border town of Aix-la-Chapelle; the messages would then be transcribed and taped to the legs of forty-five specially trained Reuter pigeons; two hours later the news would arrive in Brussels city-centre. It was a series of stunts like this - as well as his agency's reputation for factual reliability - that enabled Reuter to win contract after contract to supply news, from all the world and to all the world. From 8 October 1858, when his service properly began, the list of successes and scoops under the Reuter byline is legendary indeed.

Reuter was, for example, four days ahead of the London papers with his account of - important then, at least - the king of Sardinia's address to the opening of his parliament. He beat everyone with the news of the Austrian defeat at the battle of Solferino in 1859. By 1861 he had a hundred correspondents, working worldwide. During the American Civil War - with the Atlantic still not connected by cable - he arranged for telegraphed news to be rowed out to boats at remote ports on the Americas' eastern shores, places like Halifax and St John's and Cape Race, and collected a week later by rowing boats sent out from Ireland. (When President Lincoln was shot on 14 April 1865, the news was carried aboard the SS Nova Scotia, taken off by whaling-boat when the liner closed on Londonderry and telegraphed to London by Reuter in time to be published in the subscribing newspapers of 26 April, twelve days after the event.)

By the time of Krakatoa's eruption, the entire East was fairly well connected with the newspaper-reading West, as Reuter had already so amply displayed by writing in timely fashion about the arrival of Admiral Perry and his American warships off Tokyo, and the subsequent restoration to the Chrysanthemum Throne of the Japanese Emperor in 1868. Timely - but not instantly, since Japan was not to be connected fully with the worldwide telegraph system until the Danes laid a cable between Tokyo and Shanghai in 1872, and connected the re-emergent state with the Great Northern Telegraph Company line that went between St Petersburg, Copenhagen and Paris, and on to London. From the time the Danes had completed this cable, all of the major Eastern cities - Shanghai and Peking, Manila and Tokyo, Saigon and Rangoon - were hooked into the system. They had become a part of the fast-growing network of international cables; and, because of this network, they had become beneficiaries of, as well as contributors to, the worldwide news-gathering operations of Reuter.

And Batavia was connected as well: it had a Reuter office and, in 1883, a stringer - a retained freelance who fed such news as he found into the agency wires. His name was W. Brewer, and he would turn out to be the point man who would send most of the properly factual reports of the eruption for distribution around the world.

In May, though, the first that Reuter heard of the eruption came not from their Mr Brewer but from London, and via the Lloyd's telegram. The agency got it right, but it got it late - a full day late. When the rest of the world was given the story under the Reuter byline, it was already 25 May. The largest Dutch newspaper of the day, the Rotterdam-based Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, published it that Friday morning - having to be content with the undignified reality that a British newspaper had managed on the Thursday to scoop a Dutch paper with a story about an event in a Dutch colony.

Reuter, however, peddled its story hard. The paragraphs about the first eruptive event that had appeared in The Times of 25 May were fleshed out by Mr Brewer in Batavia, and could be found, translated into the vernacular where necessary, in that Friday's major newspapers in America and Southern Africa, in India and France and Germany.*

It was thanks to the combined agencies of all those involved - to Samuel Morse, to the directors of the India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Company, to the Eastern Telegraph Company, to the Committee of Lloyd's, to Reuter and to the small network of eager correspondents in Anjer, Batavia and London - that this first remarkable story started to be told.

It was the first-ever story about a truly enormous natural event that was both about the world and was told to the world. Part of the planet's fabric had been ripped asunder: and part of that same planet, the part connected by cables and telegraphs and with access to newspapers, was now being informed of the event. And the very process of relating the dramatic happenings, especially in the weeks and months that followed, would enable all who heard and read and understood it to share in the cruel intimacy of the moment. Millions of people hitherto unknown to each other began to involve themselves, for the first time ever, in looking beyond their hitherto limited horizons of self; they started to inhabit a new and outward-gazing world that these story-telling agencies, and this event they were relating, were unwittingly helping to create.

The story of Krakatoa had a small beginning - seven newsworthy words, buried well down in the pages of a single London newspaper. As the summer of 1883 wore on, it was to become a very much greater story indeed. And when it was over, three months later, it was to have implications for society - for the laying of the foundations of McLuhan's Global Village - that have reverberated in a far more important way, and for far, far longer, than anyone at the time of the event could ever have supposed.