On 10 June 1886 Mount Tarawera erupted, killing over 100 people. Ash darkened the sky, and earthquakes were felt over a wide area.
More on Tarawera can be found here.
The Pink and White Terraces, destroyed in the eruption, were a major tourist attraction of the day. Recently it's emerged that the Pink Terrace may still exist, deep under Lake Rotomahana. Just this morning I heard on the radio that the White Terrace, too, may have been found.
In my book Mud and Gold, Frank doesn't realise that it's the distant eruption causing the earthquakes giving Lizzie and him a broken night. Something rather closer to home is claiming his attention:
‘Frank?’ Lizzie’s voice had an oddly strained note.
‘What’s wrong? Was it another quake?’
‘No.’ Her hand clutched at the sleeve of his nightshirt. ‘It’s the baby. I think it’s started coming.’
‘What? But—but it can’t be. It’s not time yet. You said not for another couple of weeks.’
‘I know, but I think it is. You’ll have to go and get the nurse.’
‘Now? It’s the middle of the night.’
‘I can’t help that!’ Frank heard the fear in her voice. ‘Hurry up!’
A kerosene lantern hung in the porch. Frank lit it and placed it on the floor while he pulled on his boots and reached for his hat. The night was black; there must be a heavy bank of cloud feeding the rain. Just catching a horse was going to be hard, let alone making his way up the road in the pitch darkness. The horses would be in a state with all those earthquakes, too; he could hear them snorting and whinnying. He wouldn’t be able to go faster than a walk.
He stood at the top of the porch steps and peered into the gloom. There was something strange about that rain. The air seemed to have a close, stuffy feel about it instead of the freshness rain usually brought; there was even a hint of sulphur. He stretched his hand out into the night air, expecting to feel cool wetness.
How could water feel rough against his skin? His fingers felt gritty when he rubbed them together. Frank drew back his hand and saw it was covered with a coarse dust. A sick realisation came to him: it wasn’t rain at all. It was ash.
Fear so intense that it left a bitter, metallic taste on his tongue sent a shudder through Frank, so strong that for a moment he thought it was another quake. What was going on out there? Why was the earth being convulsed while ash fell from the sky?
"And, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair.… And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth." Words half-remembered from a lesson in church crept unbidden into Frank’s mind. Was this the end of the world?
‘Frank?’ Lizzie’s voice came in a wail down the passage. ‘Where are you? It hurts, Frank.’
The sound brought Frank back from the edge of panic to a sense of his responsibilities. He had to look after Lizzie. He couldn’t go out into whatever was happening in the world; if ash was falling, maybe fire would soon shower from the sky. If that happened he had no way of being sure the house would protect them, but he knew it would mean certain death to anyone caught outside. That included his stock, but he could not risk himself to try and get the animals into shelter, even if he had had the barns to hold them. If he was injured there would be no one to look after Lizzie.
He pulled his boots off and left them lying in the porch with his hat and coat dropped heedlessly on top of them, stopping only to put out the lantern. Another quake struck when he was barely inside the kitchen door, and he stumbled against one wall as he hurried up the passage to the bedroom.
Frank rushed into the room and crouched beside the bed. He reached out and stroked Lizzie’s face, not speaking until he was sure he could make his voice sound calm. She must not know how frightened he was. ‘I can’t get out, Lizzie. Not till daylight, anyway.’