The High Possil Meteorite Picture of the High Possil meteorite Painting by Alex Harrison of Milton School, inspired by the High Possil meteorite

From the Herald and Advertiser, Monday April 30th, 1804.

We have been favoured with the following circumstantial account of a Phenomenon in the neighbourhood which is at present the subject of much conversation and Philosophical Enquiry.

"Three men at work in a field at Possil, about three miles north from Glasgow, in the forenoon of Thursday the 5th curt. were alarmed with a singular noise, which continued, they say, for about two minutes, seeming to proceed from the south-east to the north-west. At first, it appeared to resemble four reports from the firing of cannon, afterwards, the sound of a bell, or rather of a gong, with a violently whizzing noise; and lastly they heard a sound, as if some hard body struck, with very great force the surface of the earth."

"On the same day, in the forenoon, six men were at work in the Possil quarry, thirty feet below the surface of the ground, and there too an uncommon noise was heard, which, it is said, seemed at first to proceed from the firing of some cannon; but afterwards, the sound of hard substances hurling downwards over stones, and continuing in whole, for the space of a minute."

"By others who were at the quarry, viz. the overseer of the quarry and a man who was upon a tree, to whom he was giving directions, the noise is described as continuing about two minutes, appearing as if it began in the west, and passed around by the south towards the east; .... as if three or four cannon had been fired off, about the great bridge which conducts the Forth and Clyde canal over the river Kelvin, at the distance of a mile annd a half westward from the quarry; and afterwards, as a violent rushing, whizzing noise.

Along with these last people, there were two boys, one of ten, and the other of four years old, and a dog; the dog, on hearing the noise, ran home, seemingly in a great fright. The overseer, during the continuence of the noise, on looking up to the atmosphere, observed in it a misty commotion, which occasioned in him a considerable alarm, when he called out to the man on the tree, "Come down, I think there is some judgement coming upon us," and says that the man on the tree had scarcely got upon the ground, when something struck with great force, in a drain made for turning off water in the time of, or after rain, about ninety yards distance, splashing mud and water for about twenty feet around. The elder boy, led by the noise to look upto the atmosphere, says that he observed the appearance of smoke in it, with something of a reddish colour moving rapidly through the air, from the west till it fell on the ground. The younger boy, at the instant before the stroke against the earth was heard, called out "Oh such a reek!" and says that he saw an appearance of smoke near the place where the body fell on the ground.

The overseer immediately ran up to the place where the splashing was observed, when he saw a hoel made at the bottom of the drain. In that place a small stream of water, perhaps about a quarter of an inch deep, was running over a gentle declivity, and no spring is near it. The hole was filling with water, and about six inches of it remained still empty. The overseer having made bare his arm, thrust his hand and arm into the hole, which he judges to have been almost perpendicular, the bottom being perhaps a little inclined to the east, and the upper part to the west; at the bottom of the hole, he felt something hard, which he could not move with his hand. The hole was then cleared out, with a shovel and mattock, from an expectation that a cannon ball might be found, but nothing was observed except the natural stratum of soil, and a soft sandy rock upon which it lay, and two pieces of stone that had penetrated a few inches through the rock.

The pieces of stone, he took to be whinstone, and thniks that they were eighteen inches below the bottom of the drain, and that the hole was about fifteen inches in diameter. He was not sensible of any particular heat in the water, or in the pieces of stone, nor of any uncommon smell in the latter, although he applied them to his nostrils. He says that the one piece of stone was about two inches long; that the other piece was about six inches long, four inches broad, and four inches thick, blunted at the edges and end; that the fractures of these pieces exactly coincided; that he does not know whether the fracture was caused by the violence of the fall, or by the mattock; and that he never saw any such stone about the quarry."

"Some days later, when the particulars which have been narrated, became known; a careful search was made for these pieces of stone, which had been disregarded, and the first mentioned piece was soon found; but the largest piece having been used as a block in the quarry, and having fallen among rubbish could not be discovered. Some days after, a fragment of it was detected. The two fragments recovered make the two extremes of the stone: on the surface, they are pretty smooth, and of a black colour; but internally they have a greyish appearance. The intermediate part larger than both seems, as yet, to be lost."

"At the village of High Possil which is within a quarter of a mile of the place where the stone fell, the noise gave much alarm to those who were in the open air; and there, it seems, they thought that the sound proceeded from south east to north-west, agreeably to the report of the three men first mentioned."

"Two men at work within a hundred yards of the house of Possil were alarmed by the noise; they thought it over their heads, and that it resembled the report of a cannon, six times repeated, at equal intervals, with a confused uncommon sound of ten minutes duration; the noise seemd to begin in the north, and to turn round by the west, south and east, to the north."

"The 5th curt. was cold and cloudy; a little more cloudy in the north-east than in the other quarters." "It would gratify many who have heard the above circumstances, to learn through the Glasgow Newspapers, whether any remarkable noise was observed in the neighbouring parts of the country, on the forenoon of the 5th curt. that had any resemblance to what was remarked near Possil"

April 30th 1804.

Subsequent History of the Meteorite

The two parts of the meteorite were kept by Robert Crawford, the owner of the ground on which it fell. Crawford, and several professors from Glasgow University spent some time gathering details of the fall - presumably the newspaper article is largley a result of their efforts.

It seems likely that Crawford sent one of the pieces to James Sowerby, who illustrated it in a folio edition of his British Mineralogy, and then sent it back. Following Robert Crawford's death, the pieces came into the possession of his sister. Sowerby seems to have obtained the illustrated fragment from her in exchange for a piece of the Wold Cottage (Yorkshire) meteorite. Lockhart Muirhead saw pieces of both meteorites when visiting Sowerby in 1807.

In 1810 Miss Crawford presented her pieces of the High Possil and Wold Cottage meteorites to the Hunterian museum. After Sowerby's death, his specimen fell into the hands of the sculptor and mineral collector Francis Chantrey. When he died in 1846, Henry Heuland bought his collection, and later that year it was purchased by the British Museum. Since this time, various small pieces of the High Possil meteorite have been distributed to various institutions around the world. It is unclear from which of the two original pieces these were taken, or when the offcuts were taken. 

I want to know more...

A full description of the High Possil and Strathmore meteorites is given in:

Bevan, A.W.R., Hutchison, R., Easton, A.J., Durant, G.P. and Farrow, C.M. 1985. High Possil and Strathmore - a study of two L6 chondrites. Meteoritics Vol. 20, pp 491-501.

..or, for a general introduction to meteorites:

Hutchison,R., and Graham, A. 1993[?]. Meteorites - the key to our existence. Natural History Museum, London. ISBN 0-565-01124-3

This text is by  John  Faithfull (2.6.2000) and is largely based on work by Graham Durant

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