Just over two hundred years ago, a little-known mountain on a relatively obscure Indonesian island became the epicentre of the ‘mother’ of all volcanic eruptions. It was the most powerful eruption in recorded history; more ferocious than Krakatoa with its 18-metre tidal wave, and more violent than Vesuvius, which buried alive the city of Pompeii. Mt Tambora, located 200 nautical miles east of Bali on the island of Sumbawa, was once the highest mountain in Asia, but in April 2015, in a paroxysm of fire and lava, it blew 36 cubic miles of itself (more than the entire island of Singapore) into the atmosphere. The mountain decapitated itself in the explosion, and all that is left of this former 4500-metre-high giant is a 2851-metre-high torso.
On that night of tremendous destruction, the whole mountain resembled a body of liquid fire, expanding in every direction before finally discharging its lethal cargo of death and destruction. Upon hearing “the distant canon-fire” 1,300 kilometres away in Batavia (now Jakarta), Sir Stamford Raffles feared a rebellion and called out the troops, but when volcanic ash began to fall, and day became night, he realised that the situation was much more serious.