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Christmas papers for the lighthouse

Friday 23 December 2011

My Christmas ‘card’ this year includes this old image from the Illustrated London News. On the left is the bulk of a side-wheel paddle steamer with a man on deck shown in the act of throwing parcels towards three men in a rowing boat close by. Alas, one of the parcels has fallen short of the boat, and one of the men is reaching over the bow to pull it out of the water. From the title, and from the silhouette of a pile lighthouse in the background, we understand the three men are light keepers who have rowed out to meet the steamer to collect the Christmas mail and papers.

I have found several pictures like this, in popular Victorian magazines, that depict light keepers​—​strong, stoic men doing important but lonely work​—​in poignant scenes around Christ­mas time. I can imagine parents showing these pictures to their children, and reminding them how fortunate they were to be in a snug parlour with their family around them, and a dry copy of a Christmas magazine to read.

Christmas papers for the lighthouse, wood engraving of a drawing by W H Overend published in the Christmas supplement to the Illustrated London News, 23 December 1875.

I put ‘card’ in quotes, because I sent it out by email rather than by post. One of the recipients, a friend who works in the light­house business, forwarded it to a friend at Trinity House (the English lighthouse agency), asking which lighthouse was repres­ented in the engraving. So shortly after I sent out the card, I received the news that the lighthouse in the picture was probably a pile light in the Thames estuary​—​either Chapman Sands Light­house (built 1849) or Maplin Sands Lighthouse (built 1838). The expert also had a probable identification for the steamer​—​the Trinity House yacht Galatea (launched 1868).

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