Source: American Journal of Science and Arts (1st Series); volume 40, No 1

Oct – Dec 1840, pp 199 et seq


African Meteorite of Cold Bokkeveld

Cold Bokkeveld, South Africa, *1838


A notice of this meteorite was given in this Journal, Vol XXXVII, p 190. By the kindness of the Rev G Champion, late missionary in South Africa, we have recently received the South African Commercial Advertiser of Dec 11, and another of Nov 27, (of themselves interesting curiosities,) from which we extract the following particulars.

It is stated in the paper of Nov 27 that the event occurred on the morning of Oct 12, 1838. There was a cloudless sky without wind, when, say the Hottentots Kievet and Rattray, both under oath before a magistrate, about 9 o’clock we heard a strange noise in the air, resembling the loudest thunder we had ever heard; and on looking up we perceived a stream passing over our head, issuing a noise which petrified us with terror: a burst took place close to the wagon [with which they were getting wood], when something fell and a smoke arose from the grass. My master sent me to look what it was that had fallen; when I found a stone quite warm, so much so that I could not hold it in my hands. It might have been the weight of seven or eight pounds. In the paper of Dec 11th, is a detailed statement signed Thos. Maclear, at the Royal Observatory, Dec 7, 1839, a principal object of which is to correct the date of the fall of the stones, making it the 13th instead of the 12th of October, 1838. From this statement we select the following particulars.

The Cold Bokkeveld is an irregular valley or basin, bounded by high rugged mountains, as is also the case with the basons of Worcester and Tullogh. The report was heard fifty miles from the Bokkeveld: of the two reports head at Worcester, it is probably that the second was an echo from the mountains, as only one report was heard in the Bokkeveld. [A very fine series of echoes is heard from the door of the Mountain House among the White Mountains of New Hampshire, when at the hour of retiring for the repose of night a horn is vigorously sounded or a piece of artillery discharged; the reverberations are very distinct, and prolonged until they die away insensibly in the distance ]

To Judge Menzies and Mr George Thompson, who were travelling ninety miles east of Cold Bokkeveld, the meteor appeared to explode nearly over their heads – a decisive proof that it was much elevated at the time.  Mr Maclear visited the Bokkeveld on purpose to examine the eye-witness in person. Mr Thompson states that at about 9 o’clock AM, October 13, the meteor appeared to approach from the west with great velocity and precisely similar to a large Congreve rocket; it expanded (exploded?) nearly over head, apparently not more than three hundred to four hundred feet high, dispersing in large globes, the size of forty two pound shot, of quicksilvery appearance, then fell for a few seconds towards the north and vanished. No report was heard by Mr Menzies and Mr Thompson, (a sufficient proof of the great distance,) for on reaching the Bokkeveld, almost one hundred miles, they ascertained that the meteor had exploded and stones fallen there about the time they witnessed the phenomenon.

The Rev Mr Zahn, of Tubogh, sent in to Mr Watermeyer a stone broken by the fall into two pieces, the same stone that was analyzed by Mr Faraday; it weighted twenty seven ounces – another weighed four pounds two ounces avoirdupois.

Several stones fell on the place of Rudolph Van Heerden, one of which was broken to pieces by falling on the hard road; another sunk a few inches into the ground on a ploughed field, and a third penetrated several feet in a moist place near the water. The first stone named above, fell at an hour’s distance (five to six miles) from the others; and in the same direction in which the agitation was perceptible, ie from northwest to southeast, more stones were found. Mr Zahn states that he had one piece too large to be carried on horseback.

Dr Truter, civil commissioner of Worcester, at the time of the fall observed he windows of his office shake as if by an earthquake, and the mercury in his barometer was found to be depressed to the lowest point of its range throughout the year. Dr Truter sent in several specimens of the meteorite seen to fall by the Hottentot Kieviet.

Attention was first excited by a violent explosion, followed by a rumbling noise, like that from a heavy wagon passing over stony ground; when, on looking up, they saw a blue stream of smoke, as if from fired gunpowder, passing over from SW to NE; at the same instant the son of Van Heerden saw something fall, which he picked up; and another stone, which plunged into a marsh about a mile off, was afterwards discovered.

A servant of Priter du Tort, saw a stone fall in the brush-wood, a mile below the garden; he ran to the place and brought it to his master. All assert that the sky was clear and calm, and that the stones were so hot that they could not be taken up.

All the instances cited above, are those of stones that were seen to fall.

The people being excited, farther search was made, and many other pieces were discovered within a zone of one mile broad and sixteen miles long, only a small portion of which is cultivated, and the remainder is covered with brush-wood as on waste land, and therefore it is highly probably that many other pieces have escaped observation; especially as only six persons chanced to be within this tract at the time – two of them within a mile of each other – three close together, but about six miles from the first named, and one eight miles further on.

All that was obtained amounted to about twenty pounds avoirdupois, and the analysis has already been given in this Journal (Vol XXXVII, p 190). We are much impressed with the similarity of this occurrence to the famous Weston case, of Dec 1807, of which the full account was published by Profs Kingsley and Silliman, and which may perhaps be republished in this Journal, as the facts were exceedingly remarkable.

We are so fortunate to possess a good specimen of the African meteorite, through the kindness of a friend in Boston. It corresponds with Sir M. Faraday’s description, and is very different in appearance from any meteorite which we have seen.

Mr Maclear concludes his account by saying that he has seen a fine meteorite in the hands of a farmer in the country; it was picked up nearly sixty years ago, by a Hottentot, who saw it fall, and by him it was given to his master, the grandfather of the present possessor. This man has refused fifty dollars for it, as the captain of a ship said it would secure the possessor against the effects of a thunder storm.