This week I stumbled on the most bizarre story. I was looking for some information about the creation of the Warrego Highway. I’ve a couple of images for when Campbell Street was bitumenised in the 1940s, and so I was going to do a whole article on road works. While digging up information I discovered this strange article on the Inquest, held in December 1864, on the death of Francis Ringe. I regret to inform you that this was no bloody murder but Francis died of “Natural Causes”… if being struck by lightning can be called a natural cause.
Walking to Mr. Koch’s public house, the Prince of Wales Hotel, which was on the corner of James and Stuart Streets opposite the Federal Hotel, Francis Ringe was killed when he was struck by lightning. Henry Lindenberg, who was walking with Francis at the time, stated that “about half-past 4 yesterday afternoon, from my house to the Herries-street bridge ; we then walked alongside one another on the way to Koch’s public house ; when we arrived at a spot in Stuart-street, between Mr. Benjamin’s and Mr. Bubeck’s house, we were thrown down on the ground ; when I recovered from the shock I arose and saw deceased lying before me ; I heard no explosion ; deceased carried no axe nor other metal implement with him, but had a gold ring, and a pocket knife ; we were walking slowly at the time”.
There were several other depositions, the full article can be read here, but all witnesses state that they saw and heard nothing. Now I don’t know about you but having grown up loving the sound of rain on a tin roof, and having that same roof rocked by thunder that tears at the eardrums seconds after the lightning sears your eyes, this repeated “invisible silent lightning” got me curious.
As it turns out there really is invisible lightning, it’s called “Dark Lightning”. Dark lightning is a burst of gamma rays produced during thunderstorms by extremely fast moving electrons colliding with air molecules. Researchers refer to such a burst as a terrestrial gamma ray flash. Although a tremendous amount of energy is released in dark lightning, its powerful discharge is silent, and almost completely invisible to the unaided eye.
Dark Lightning was first discovered in 1991. Since then astronauts peering down from Earth-orbiting spacecraft have reported that these gamma-ray producing storms occur most often around the equatorial regions of the planet. Much is still unknown about this strange phenomenon.
I liked the “how to not get struck by lightning guide” that was also slipped into the article. Things like don’t stand under trees, or carry metal objects were old hat to me but the advice of “When overtaken by a thunderstorm in a plain, the safest way was to dismount and take off the saddle; and then to sit on the ground, holding the horse at the full length of the bridle and protecting the head with the saddle.” is classic. Of course the best prevention is not to be out in the storm in the first place.
As for Francis, “…the day had been very warm. The body of deceased was heated, and the ground in Stuart street, which is fully exposed to the sun, was also much heated. These formed negatives which attracted the positive electricity, and were evidently the cause of deceased being struck. Had he carried an axe or any iron implement with him that could have conducted the electricity, in all probability Mr Lindenberg would also have been killed. The Jury returned a verdict that deceased was killed by being accidentally struck by lightning.”