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Alexander Gordon in Africa

Sunday 7 January 2018

I have added one more to the list of lighthouses I would like to visit some time. It is the old Cape Point lighthouse near Cape Town, South Africa, first lit in 1859. There is a good chance I’ll get to see this one, unlike some of the others on my bucket list. I’ll enjoy com­par­ing it to the Australian lighthouses designed by the same engineer, Alexander Gordon.

Cape Point Light House, an albumen print from my collection.

Alexander Gordon (1902–1969), the British civil engineer, de­voted himself principally to the construction and management of lighthouses, especially in the colonies. I have already men­tioned him here. One of his great contributions to the field was his enthusiastic promotion of cast iron as a material for building lighthouse towers. In the 1840s, ’50s and ’60s he designed a series of cast iron lighthouses which were pre­fab­ric­ated in Eng­land and erected in distant parts of the British Empire​—​in the Caribbean, Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia and South Africa.

“Some of Mr Alexander Gordon’s lighthouses, most of the towers being of iron”, a fold-out plate included with Gordon’s pamplet Circular relating to lighthouses, lightships, buoys, and beacons (London, 1864). The Cape Point lighthouse is at the top right of the plate.

Gordon’s illustration includes four Australian lighthouses. I have had professional dealings with three of them: Cape Borda (1858), Breaksea Island (1858) and Cape Northumberland (1859). So my experience of Cape Point, if it happens, will resonate with these Australian examples.

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