Marking time on lighthouses
Nowhere near Bordeaux
I had planned to be in France about now, making a pilgrimage to the Gironde estuary and the Cordouan lighthouse. But the spread of the coronavirus put a stop to that plan. So now I am keeping my distance at home. Maybe later, after the present unpleasantness is behind us, I’ll try again.
I imagine wading ashore at low tide to visit this remarkable ancient lighthouse in the middle of the Gironde estuary. Just looking at a map and seeing the names of places nearby wakes up my tastebuds: Bordeaux, Cognac, Margaux, Medoc, Rochefort…
A Christmas postcard from North Reef
To mark the summer solstice, I would like to show you a special lighthouse postcard with a seasonal greeting.
The postcard shows the North Reef lighthouse that guides ships passing along the Great Barrier Reef, about 120 km from Gladstone. It is a remote spot.
The lighthouse was built in the 1870s on a little patch of sand on the planar reef. The tower stands on a concrete-filled iron caisson sunk down to a coral foundation. Under the effects of wind and tide the sandy island migrated away from the lighthouse, which was left surrounded by water; over the last 140 years the sand patch has continued to migrate, and the lighthouse now stands in the middle of the sand again. There are few photographs that record the sand’s comings and goings.
Over many years the civil engineer Dr Michael Gourlay of the University of Queensland has studied the reefs and cays of the Great Barrier Reef. He has recently published a paper that includes an account of North Reef.
Mixed-up celebrity heroines
Here is an interesting case of two young women, both daughters of lighthouse keepers, who were celebrated for feats of heroism, and represented in carte-de-visite form.
Grace Darling (1815–1842) was the daughter of an English lighthouse keeper. In 1838, in a strong gale and thick fog she and her father rescued nine survivors of a shipwreck—for this she became famous.
Alexander Gordon in Africa
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.
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.
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).
The little lighthouse
The other day I was in Caloundra to talk to the Friends of the Caloundra Lighthouses. I am working with local architect Roger Todd on an updated conservation management plan for the old and new lighthouses (built in 1896 and 1968) that stand side by side at Caloundra. The Friends are doing this work with a heritage grant from the Sunshine Coast Council, augmented by pro bono contributions from Roger and me.
The Friends have recently had a part in producing a children’s illustrated book about the lighthouses, and I was delighted to be given a copy. It reminded me of reading to my daughters—it brought fond memories of that special pleasure of reading stories together, and of the countless times we read one or other of our favourite books.
Lighthouses in the spotlight
The ABC Radio National program Off Track is on my regular listening list. Each week Ann Jones interviews all sorts of ratbags and obsessives. She catches the intimate voice of her subjects, along with the sonic atmosphere of the places they inhabit, and assembles radio pieces that teleport the listener there. Magic.
To mark the centenary of the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service Ann Jones has made a program with a focus on the Queensland timber-framed, iron-clad towers that I am so fond of.
I got to be one of Ann’s subjects this time. I met her beside the Brisbane River at the Queensland Maritime Museum and we talked lighthouses. She wove our conversation in with the sounds of Double Island Point and the voices of Lyndon O’Grady, Jack Duvoisin, Col Gladstone, and Glenn Wiggin, and made a wonderful show, if I may say so.
Passing close to the rocky coast
This might be the day for quiet perusal of a diary entry from a long time ago.
Significant places and related objects
The Queensland Maritime Museum in Brisbane has a wonderful gallery of lighthouse equipment that displays the development of lighthouse technology since the nineteenth century.
The centrepiece of the gallery is a third-order rotating lens made by Chance Brothers & Co Limited of Birmingham in 1915, complete with its mercury-float pedestal, hand-wound clockwork, and kerosene pressure-lamp. The lens was built for the lighthouse at Cape Don on the Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory.
John Smeaton, on working solo
I am committed to Continuing Professional Development. I try to keep up with the current technical literature. Just now, reminded by John Smeaton’s birthday, I have been re-reading his account of the design and building of the third Eddystone Lighthouse. It’s a big book, full of fascinating detail. He wrote it at the end of his long career, as he looked back on his most celebrated project.
He explains why he chose to work on his own during the early stages of his work. He was stuck in London between meetings with various important people, as he grappled with the problem of securing the lighthouse tower to the wave-swept rock:
John Smeaton’s birthday
Let us take note that John Smeaton, the English civil engineer, was born in Leeds on this day 290 years ago.
Getty Images: free at last?
For years, Getty Images has tried to stop web publishers using images from its library of pictures unless they pay money to Getty. The company has tracked down pirates and chased them through the courts to recover licence fees. But, in a sudden reversal, the company has announced a new scheme. Bloggers and other non-commercial users can use images on their websites at no charge—as long as the images remain on Getty’s servers and are displayed using Getty’s code.
I know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When I first heard about it, I didn’t see why Getty Images would do this. But now I do—thanks to Peter Krogh who has explained how this could be part of a cunning plan.
With that new understanding, and just as an experiment, I am happy to try it out. So here is a picture of a lighthouse, courtesy of Getty Images.
Dent Island plan adopted
The latest Reef in Brief newsletter from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority announces that the heritage management plan for Dent Island lightstation has been added to the Commonwealth Register of Legislative Instruments.
The keeper’s Christmas dinner
I have sent out my email Christmas card for 2013, the third in a series illustrated with a wood engraving. Again, it’s a sentimental subject involving Christmas, a rowing boat, a lighthouse, and a lighthouse keeper.
I follow the @AMSAupdates Twitter feed for news about the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s work. These tweets don’t appear every day, but they are usually about something important and interesting—a search and rescue operation, a lighthouse repair, a medical evacuation, or a training exercise.
Moon signals at Bustard Head
I found this in the Queensland Figaro newspaper, 24 September 1903. The same story also ran in the Launceston Examiner, the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, the Melbourne Argus, the Hobart Mercury, the Zeehan & Dundas Herald, and the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin:
It was while locum tenens at the rectory of Gladstone, Queensland (says a writer in Chambers’ Journal for August) that I became aware that moon-signals could be used in the same way as those of the sun. It was my duty to go to Bustard Head Lighthouse every few months to hold service and visit the Sunday-school and people of the station. I usually went by land, and rode 30 miles to Turkey Station; and as soon as I arrived Miss Maud Worthington, the daughter of the station owner, would at once heliograph the news of my arrival at Bustard Head, and enquire by use of an 8 in looking glass at what time a horse could be sent to meet me on the other side of the swampy ground, over which it was wiser to walk. There I was met by Mr Rookesby and his wife, who piloted me to the lighthouse station. Mr Rookesby is a well-known inventor in Queensland. He erected the heliograph between Turkey Station and the lighthouse, but failed to make communication with Gladstone, 84 miles off, either because an 8 in mirror was too small, or because of other conditions peculiar to the lie of the country. He then experimented with signalling by moonlight, and discovered that—notwithstanding the feeble light of the moon as compared with sunlight—owing to the darkness of the night, the moon’s reflections were quite powerful enough to carry the intervening 10 miles between the two stations.
The mystery explained
On one occasion, whilst examining the machinery of the monster revolving lamp belonging to a lighthouse, a visitor, wishing to see how many seconds would elapse before it completed a revolution, took a half-crown from his pocket, and placed it on the revolving framework.»more»
Watch in hand, he patiently waited for the coin to come round again to where he was standing, but no half-crown appeared. The seconds lengthened out into minutes—still no half-crown.
“Strange!” he exclaimed. “What can be the reason of it?”
In order to find out, he walked to the other side of the lamp, and met one of the lighthouse men, who touched his cap and said respectfully,
“Thank you, sir.”
[from the Rockhampton newspaper The Capricornian, 14 December 1907.]
John Deazeley’s backdrop
Here’s an object that tickles my interest in three branches of history—photography, lighthouses, and the region where I live.
It’s a cabinet photograph made in the 1880s by John Deazeley, a photographer with a studio in Queen Street, Brisbane. Queen Street was, and still is, the main commercial street in the city. Three other Brisbane photographers had Queen Street studios then—Thomas Mathewson, Albert Lomer, and Eddie Hutchison.
First thing in the morning. I’m on the verandah of the Assistant Lightkeeper’s quarters. I can hear waves lapping the shore, sea birds calling, the wind in the palm fronds. At a distance, just audible, repeated strokes of a rake on sand.
Draft Dent Island plan released
The draft Dent Island Lightstation heritage management plan is now available for download. The period for public comments ends on 3 April 2013. I was commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, to complete this joint plan.»more»
A lighthouse keeper’s life
The National Museums Scotland website has a fine online exhibition—Shining lights: the story of Scotland’s lighthouses—where I found this video of interviews with lightkeepers:»more»
Port Said lighthouse
Another one for the bucket list: I must have seen it as I passed through the Suez Canal (twice, in 1965 and 1966), but I don’t remember it. It marks the northern entrance to the canal.
It was the world’s first concrete lighthouse tower, and was designed by François Coignet and completed in 1869—the first Australian example of this type was Green Cape lighthouse (first lit in 1883).
The Port Said lighthouse was among the first to be lit by electricity, using a carbon arc powered by de Meritens dynamos—the first (and only) use of this system in Australia was at the second Macquarie lighthouse (first lit in 1888).»more»
A Christmas pudding for the lighthouse
Last year’s email Christmas card was received so well, I have done the same thing again—another wood engraving from the Illustrated London News, by the same artist, of a similar sentimental subject involving Christmas, a rowing boat, lighthouse keepers, and a pile-lighthouse.»more»
A visit to the Eddystone Lighthouse
I feel guilty, just a little, because I support the vandals who cut up old books and magazines. I am part of that awful trade. I search for bits of paper on eBay, and I pay money to dealers. Forgive me.
But I rationalise that it’s a small transgression. If I don’t buy those bits of paper, somebody else will; and if nobody wants them, they’ll all go to landfill.
I paid a dealer to send me some pages pulled from a bound volume of the Strand Magazine (Volume IV, July-December 1892)—an article written and illustrated by F G Kitton, describing a visit to the Eddystone lighthouse. It’s a nicely written piece that gave me a peek into the offshore light keepers’ life.»more»
Henry Winstanley’s great lighthouse engraving
I have a few nice old prints of lighthouses, but none as wonderful as the one I just acquired. It’s from a copper plate engraved by Henry Winstanley (1644-1703)—an English engraver, merchant, and entrepreneur.
The engraving shows the lighthouse Winstanley built, with very great difficulty, on the Eddystone Rocks near Plymouth. The work started in 1696, and the lighthouse was finished and lit in 1698. Winstanley was not satisfied—he enlarged and strengthened the structure in 1899, and my engraving shows it in this improved form. The picture is surrounded by notes that set out the history of the project, and the intricate details of the design.»more»
The new yacht ‘Galatea’
On this day in 1868 The Illustrated London News ran a picture of the Galatea, the lighthouse yacht I have already mentioned. The launching of such a vessel, associated with such a noble purpose (and such noble personages), was a typical subject for celebration in the popular illustrated press in the nineteenth century.
The Illustrated London News was the first illustrated weekly newspaper (founded 1842). It was followed in England by The Graphic (1869), in America by Harper’s Magazine (1850), and in Australia by the Australasian Sketcher (Melbourne, 1873). At their best, these mass-circulation illustrated papers brought high quality illustrations of current events into the homes of middle class people.»more»
Quite a regal station
The Brisbane Courier-Mail newspaper published this letter to the editor on Wednesday 5 May 1937, under the heading Coincidence of names:
Sir,—I think it is rather interesting to note that the three lightkeepers recently stationed at Cape Moreton Lighthouse were named L. R. King, H. P. Earl, and L. Marquis, making quite a regal station.—I am, sir, &c.,
H. P. Earl.
Mary Street, Wynnum.
The Byrne family at Cape Moreton
Just because I enjoy looking at this evocative image so much, I am posting this photograph from the Byrne family collection.»more»
Some work I’m doing at Cape Moreton Lighthouse prompted me to do just one more search for historical photographs and drawings online. At the National Archives I found something new—this drawing (item 1717447), signed by W Wilkins, lighthouse engineer of Long Acre, London, of a proposal for Cape Moreton lighthouse, the first lighthouse in Queensland and the only one built of stone.»more»
A most delightful trip (not)
A hundred years ago the postcard was a favoured medium for quick informal messaging. The limited space, and the idea of quick communication, encouraged a short, informal writing style—having a great time, wish you were here. Perhaps the fact that somebody bought and posted a card said as much as the words written on the back.»more»
Christmas papers for the lighthouse
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.»more»
A postcard from North Reef
My favourite Queensland lighthouse is the one at North Reef, about 120 km north east of Gladstone. The lighthouse was built in 1878 on a small patch of sand on a coral reef, supported on a concrete-filled iron caisson founded on the coral. It is the tallest example of its type, and the most remarkable. Because the lighthouse is remote from the mainland, and is difficult to approach by boat, few visitors went there and old photographs are very rare.
I went to the North Reef lighthouse in 2006 for my nationwide survey project. I flew in and out with an Australian Maritime Systems maintenance crew by helicopter—an exciting and efficient way to get a great view of the tower and the reef.»more»
Visited: San Giorgio Maggiore»more»
The four lighthouses of ‘South Solitary’
On Saturday Margie and I saw the film South Solitary and thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought to mind the four different lighthouses closely connected with the film. And it reminded me that I still want to go to Maatsuyker Island, the place that inspired the film.»more»
San Giorgio Maggiore lighthouses
I guess that Pevsner would have classed most lighthouses as buildings, not architecture.† But in Venice there is a pair of lighthouses that must belong in the architecture class, and I’m putting them on my visiting list. I hope to see them next month.»more»
Alguada Reef Lighthouse
So remote is this lighthouse tower, on a wave-swept rocky reef off the coast of Myanmar, that a google image search found no photographs of it. That remoteness, along with its beauty and its impressive height, prompts me to add this lighthouse to my must see list.»more»
Another old postcard (or six), another old lighthouse I want to visit. Mumbles Lighthouse. Mmm, great name.»more»
New year’s resolution for 2010
I have resolved to compile a checklist of lighthouses that I would like to visit some time. I have already said I want to visit Muckle Flugga. Next on the list is in Chennai (formerly Madras) in southern India. The postcard below shows an amazing architectural mashup of lighthouse and courthouse. The building, described as an exquisite example of Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, incorporates the lighthouse lantern room and optical apparatus in the top of its highest dome. Flickr user NavneethC took a nice telephoto shot that shows the Chance Brothers lantern grafted into the Indo-Saracenic dome.»more»
Engineering heritage conference in Dunedin
I have just spent a couple of weeks in New Zealand, at the 3rd Australasian Engineering Heritage Conference and visiting various sites in Otago. I presented a paper on Queensland’s timber and iron lighthouses: 19th century colonial innovation [pdf, 165KB].»more»
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.»more»
Lighthouse life in Queensland
It was my pleasure today to talk to members of the Queensland Women’s Historical Association on the subject of lighthouse life in Queensland. The association hosts morning talks each month at Miegunyah, its house museum at Bowen Hills. Before the talk we gathered on the verandah for introductions and chat. There were white table cloths, tea in china cups, and platters of dainty sandwiches. It was a warmish day, and kind ladies handed out fans to the members as they filed into the dining room for the talk.
My audience really enjoyed seeing a series of photographs of the Byrne family, taken at Sandy Cape Lightstation between 1903 and 1913. The photos are now in the John Oxley Library collection, and published on the web. The Byrne family story is also told as one chapter in the library’s virtual exhibition Travelling for love.»more»
Design for extreme places
This article, describing a design to support habitation in Antarctica, reminded me of the living quarters built into the 1878 lighthouse on North Reef, off Gladstone in north Queensland.»more»
Talking to volunteer lighthouse guides
Today, at a seminar for volunteer museum guides at the National Maritime Museum, I spoke on Cape Bowling Green lighthouse in historical context. The hundred or so enthusiastic volunteers had some terrific questions, and there was some lively discussion after the talk. I prepared a small handout (pdf, 673 KB).»more»
Cape Bowling Green lighthouse
Since I was in Sydney for other reasons, I arranged with the Australian National Maritime Museum to have a close look at the Cape Bowling Green lighthouse on display there. This was the second of a series of timber framed, iron plated towers designed by Queensland architect Robert Ferguson (1840-1906). It was built in 1874 on a sandy cape south of Townsville. In 1987 the lighthouse was dismantled and taken away for display at the planned National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour.»more»
Peter Garrett comes good»more»
Timber and iron in the smart colony
Yesterday I gave a talk at the Queensland Museum, part of a series called Queensland Connections. In this series, speakers about cultural heritage subjects are teamed with Queensland Museum staffers who talk about natural environment subjects. The result is short talks and odd double-bills.»more»
Peter Garrett and Nobby’s Head
The Commonwealth Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, is inviting comment on his proposed decision not to approve a new building wrapped around the 1858 lighthouse at Newcastle. For the record, I have written to him supporting his decision to refuse this inappropriate and damaging proposal.»more»
I want to go there. Muckle Flugga: a rocky islet near Unst in the Shetland Islands, site of the northernmost lighthouse in Scotland, at Latitude 60° 51.3′N. The light was established to guide ships carrying British troops to the Crimean War. Bella Bathurst describes engineer David Stevenson’s visit in the 1850s:»more»
Navigating the Bosphorus»more»
Another month, another placeholder. I’m still busy inspecting lighthouses, and collecting useful knowledge about them.»more»
I’m busy with the lighthouse inspections, so I won’t be writing anything original here for a while. Let this engraving mark the time I am spending offshore. Islands have such evocative names: Who would not want to go to South Solitary Island, or Booby Island, or Low Isle, or Cliffy Island?»more»
It’s no holiday
I am off to Northern Tasmania tomorrow to inspect lighthouses. This morning I walked past a rack of postcards at the Southbank Market - reproductions of old travel posters, jam tin labels, and other ephemera. This one said buy me!»more»
Just found in the National Library picture collection: a stereo photo of a welcome arch built in Hobart for the 1901 visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. This little object tickles my interest in stereo views, lighthouses, and celebratory arches.»more»
I’m at Kangaroo Island, inspecting lighthouses. Today’s subject was the Cape St Alban Lighthouse, which deserves an award for cuteness.»more»
Split Point Lighthouse
I’ve been inspecting lighthouses lately, but seldom get to see them as they are meant to be seen—from the seaward side, at night.»more»
As I set off by helicopter from Gladstone to inspect another lighthouse tomorrow, I’ll have this plastic laminated card in my pocket. A source of comfort, I’m sure.»more»
Yesterday I did Helicopter Underwater Escape Training. I spent the morning watching video clips of helicopter crashes, and hearing the theory of surviving a crash into the sea. After lunch the 14 of us did practical training in the cool water of the Queensland Police Academy swimming pool.»more»
Rained-in at Nobby’s Head
Last week at Nobby’s Head lighthouse I met heavy weather: Rain, and cold gusty winds. It’s a long cold walk from the car, and the same going back. »more»
Cape Byron lighthouse
I was doing some survey work at Cape Byron lighthouse yesterday. In the tower, on the level below the main light, there is a window facing Julian Rocks not far offshore. A red light in this window gives warning to sailors to watch out for the hazard. It also makes a magic atmosphere inside the lighthouse.»more»