Worcester Newspapers, 1840

Jabez Allies (1840), Ignes fatui. In the "Worcester papers of January 1840", reprinted as "Ignes fatui, as seen in December, 1839, and January, 1840, in Powick" in pp.409-411 of On the Ancient British, Roman and Saxon Antiquities and Folklore of Worcestershire (1852).

In the year 1835, I gave an account of a great many facts which I collected, and which are published in my pamphlet on the 'Old Red Sandstone of Worcestershire and Herefordshire,' relative to that remarkable and interesting phenomenon called the ignis fatuus or Will-o'-the-Wisp, but I never had the pleasure of seeing it myself until the night of the 31st of December, 1839, in two meadows and a stubble field on the south side of Brook House, situated about a mile from Powick village, near the Upton road. I had for several nights before been on the look out there for it, but was told by the inhabitants of the house that previously to that night it was too cold. I noticed it from one of the upper windows intermittingly for about half an hour, between ten and eleven o'clock, at the distance of from one to two hundred yards off me. Sometimes it was only like a flash in the pan on the ground; at other times it rose up several feet and fell to the earth, and became extinguished; and many times it proceeded horizontally from fifty to one hundred yards with an undulating motion, like the flight of the green woodpecker, and about as rapid; and once or twice it proceeded with considerable rapidity, in a straight line upon or close to the ground.

The light of this ignis fatuus, or rather of these ignes fatui, was very clear and strong, much bluer than that of a candle, and very like that of an electric spark, and some of them looked larger and as bright as the star Sirius; of course, they look dim when seen in ground fogs, but there was not any fog on the night in question; there was, however, a muggy closeness in the atmosphere, and at the same time a considerable breeze from the south-west. Those Will-o'-the-Wisps which shot horizontally invariably proceeded before the wind towards the north-east.

On the day before, namely, the 30th of December, there was a white frost in the morning; but as the sun rose behind a mantle of very red and beautifully stratified clouds, it rained heavily (as we anticipated) in the evening; and from that circumstance I conjectured that I should see the phenomenon in question on the next night, agreeably to all the evidence I had before collected upon the subject.

On the night of the 1st of January, 1840, I saw only a few flashes on the ground at the same place; but on the next night (the wind still blowing from the south-west), I not only saw several ignes fatui rise up occasionally in the same locality many feet high, and fall again to the ground, but at about eight o'clock two very beautiful ones rose together a little more than one hundred yards from me, and about fifty yards apart from each other. The one ascended several yards high, and then fell in a curve to the ground and vanished. The other proceeded in an horizontal direction for about fifty yards towards the north-east, in the same undulating and rapid manner as I have before described. I and others immediately ran to the spot, but did not see any light during our stay there. Both these nights were star-light, with detached clouds, and rather warm, but no fog. On the night of the 3rd of January the atmosphere was occasionally thick but there was not any wind or fog, nor the slightest appearance of the phenomenon.

There was a very considerable quantity of rain on the 4th of January, but it ceased at five o'clock in the evening; and from about seven till eight the meteors again appeared several times at the spot in question; but as there was not any wind they went in various directions.

On the night of the 5th of January (which was star-light), I observed a few flashes on the ground at the turn of the evening, but it soon after became cold and frosty, and I saw no more of them either on that or the two succeeding nights. I did not see any lightning during the whole of those observations, which were made by others of the house as well as myself.—The soil of the locality is clay, with considerable beds of gravel interspersed thereon.

From all the circumstances stated, it appears probable that these meteors rise in exhalations of electric, and, perhaps, other matter, out of the earth, particularly in or near the winter season; and that they generally occur a day or two after considerable rain, and on a change from a cold to a warmer atmosphere.

Sean B. Palmer