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Marking time in May 2009

Sunday 3 May 2009

Ramsbotham on lighting of the Great Barrier Reef

I spoke to a gathering at the Brisbane auditorium of Engineers Australia the other day​—​on timber and iron lighthouses, my usual shtick. My audience were a well-informed lot, and the discussion especially interesting. My thanks go to Bill Oliver for inviting and introducing me, and to Robert Riddel for a vote of thanks at the end.

A helpful engineer told me about The lighting of the Great Barrier Reef, North of Cooktown, Queensland, a paper read before the Liverpool Engineering Society in early 1918. He very kindly sent me a copy of the paper.

Drawing showing the general arrangement of North Queensland lighthouses built during the First World War, from J F Ramsbotham’s paper.

Joshua Ramsbotham, the author of the paper, was the first director of the (Australian) Commonwealth Lighthouse Service from 1913 to 1926. He wove the collection of lighthouses, systems and people that he inherited from the various colonies into an effective service.

The paper was written as a memorial to the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service District Engineer for Queensland, Isaac Althorp Ridgway. Ridgway had initially been responsible for the construction of the Barrier Reef lights, until he joined the Australian Imperial Force in December 1914. He was wounded in action in the Gallipoli campaign in May 1915, and died at sea some days later.

Both Ridgway and Ramsbotham had worked as civil engineers in Liverpool before moving to Australia, which may explain why Rowbotham chose to memorialise his young colleague by sending this paper to be read before the Liverpool Engineering Society. The proceedings of the society record a comment from a member in Liverpool that Mr Ridgway …was a splendid fellow in all respects, and [his death was] a great grief to all who knew him.

Lieutenant Ridgway’s service record has been digitised and, like all such files, it makes sad reading. You can find the records via a name search on the National Archives of Australia website.

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Ramsbotham on lighting of the Great Barrier Reef

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