Sunday, July 1, 2012

Natal's lighthouse opened at last, January 1867.

Natal's inhabitants had waited impatiently for their lighthouse since the 1850s. It wasn't until 22 November 1864 that the foundation stone was laid, and even then, with delays in delivery of the necessary materials, as well as difficulties in transporting these to the actual site, it was another two years before the tower was finally completed, in October 1866. Mr Patterson, Colonial Engineer, circulated the following details about the structure:

The lighthouse is to be erected upon the Bluff, on the northern side of the entrance to the Bay of Natal. It is to consist of a cast iron, conoidal tower, loaded at the base with concrete, surmounted by a cast iron lighthouse plinth, and a gunmetal lantern, glazed with plate glass, with a domed roof covered with copper. The lighting apparatus is to be a second class holophotal lenticular apparatus on Fresnel's system with a first class lamp. The lights will be revolving with brightest flashes at intervals of sixty seconds. The apparatus is composed of concentric glass lenses in gunmetal frames forming an eight-sided figure. The light which would otherwise radiate through the portion of the azimuth which is landwards, and therefore does not require illumination, is intercepted by an arrangement of totally refracting lenses, and returned to the focus to strengthen the seaward portion of the light. The revolution of the apparatus is effected by means of clockwork fixed inside the iron pedestal upon which the apparatus is supported. 

On the date of the official opening of the Bluff Lighthouse, 23 January 1867, the mood of the townsfolk was one of jubilation and everyone turned out in full force for the gala occasion. It was a glorious day with just enough of a southerly breeze to temper the full radiance of a summer sun. Businesses were closed, and the railway carried throngs of spectators to the Point from where boats were taken to the Bluff. The scene at the Bay assumed epic proportions.

Uniformed soldiers, dignitaries and citizens gathered
 at the opening of the Bluff lighthouse, the variety
of costume worn - particularly the hats - lending a
colonial air to the proceedings.

Members of the Durban Rifle Brigade and Artillery Company formed a Guard of Honour. The Mayor, George Cato, and some of his friends were on the little steamer, the Enuna Scott. The ship Umgeni, the barque Priscilla and other vessels were lying peacefully in the Bay, dressed from stem to stern with flags, and little boats were laden with family parties. Dignitaries included His Excellency Colonel Bisset, the Administrator, the Hon. Theophilus Shepstone, Secretary for Native Affairs, the Mayor and Councillors and Rev. W. H. C. Lloyd, the Colonial Chaplain. Officers of the 99th Regiment added a splash of colour. It is entirely likely that among the spectators was my great grandfather, Thomas Gadsden, as well as my great great grandfather, the Port Captain, William Bell. With everyone gathered at the foot of the lighthouse, the ceremony began.

An address was presented to Colonel Bisset by the Colonial Engineer, pointing out the reasons for the delay in completion of the work and adding that the completed structure had cost £5,800, £200 less than estimated. His Excellency was handed the keys and was asked to inaugurate the opening of this important public work "upon which, above all others, we may humbly hope the divine blessing will be given, as it is instituted for the benefits and welfare not only of this Colony, but for those of our fellow men of whatever name or nation they may be, who approach our shores". After the Governor had inspected the tower and surveyed the scene from the lantern gallery, Rev. Lloyd offered up a prayer for the safety of the structure. His Excellency delivered himself of the opinion that it was one of the best lighthouses on the South African coast and confidently expected it would bring to the port the commerce of the Australian, the African and Eastern World. God Save the Queen was enthusiastically rendered, followed by repeated hurrahs for the Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Administrator and the Misses Bisset, followed by a toast by the Mayor: May the light of Natal never grow dim. 

Much to the disappointment of the spectators, permission to view the lightroom was refused, though the tower could be inspected. The lighthouse was 81 feet high and 282 feet above sea level. 

Lighthouse and signalman's quarters at a later date.

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