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Friday 21 July 2017

New technology and the wrecking trade

It used to be, along some hazardous sea coasts, that people could make good money by helping themselves to valuable goods and materials from wrecked ships. But in the nineteenth century the supply of ship­wrecks dried up, as more lighthouses were built and lighthouse technology improved.

This disrupted the wrecking trade and put people out of work. Alexander Gordon (1802-1868) described what happened to the trade after a cast iron lighthouse was built in 1846 at Gibbs Hill, Bermuda:

Wreckers were numerous at Bermuda before my lighthouse was put there; since its establishment and good main­te­nance the wreckers have been compelled to change their occupation. They now are engaged principally in cul­ti­vat­ing oranges.

—​Alexander Gordon, Circular relating to lighthouses, lightships, buoys, and beacons (London, 1862).

1856 contract drawing for the lighthouse at Cape Northumberland, South Australia, showing the lantern designed by Alexander Gordon. Around 1882 this lighthouse was demolished and replaced by a new tower further back from the eroding shore. The lantern was moved to a new lighthouse at Cape Banks, South Australia, where it is still in service. [National Archives of Australia, item barcode 4957152].

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