Ludicrous effects of the appearance of a COMET in 1712
In the year 1712, Mr. Whiston having calculated the return of a Comet, which was to make its appearance on Wednesday, the 14th of October at 5 minutes after 5 in the morning, gave notice to the public accordingly, with this terrifying addition, that a total dissolution of the world by fire, was to take place on the Friday following. The reputation Mr. Whiston had long maintained in England, both as a divine and a philosopher, left little or no doubt with the populace of the truth of his prediction. Several ludicrous events now took place. A number of persons in and about London, seizing all the barges and boats they could lay hands on in the Thames, very rationally concluding that when the conflagration took place, there would be the most safety on the water. A gentleman who had neglected family prayer for better than five years, informed his wife, that it was his determination to resume that laudable practice the same evening; but his wife having engaged a ball at her house, persuaded her husband to put it off till they saw whether the comet appeared or not. The South Sea Stock immediately fell to 5 percent and the India to 11; and the captain of a Dutch ship threw all his powder into the river, that the ship might not be endangered.
The next morning, however, the comet appeared, according to the prediction, and before noon the belief was universal, that the day of judgment was at hand.
About this time 123 clergymen were ferried over to Lambeth, it was said to petition that a short prayer might be penned and ordered, there being none in the church service on that occasion.
Three maids of honor burnt their collections of novels and plays, and sent to a bookseller’s to buy each of them a Bible, and Bishop Taylor’s Holy Living & Dying. The run upon the bank was so prodigious, that all hands were employed from morning till night in discounting notes, and handing out specie. On Thursday, considerably more than 7000 kept mistresses were legally married, in the face of several congregations. And to crown the whole farce, Sir Gilbert Heathcote, at that time head director of the bank, issued orders to all the fire officers in London, requiring them to keep a good look out, and have a particular eye upon the Bank of England.