Friday, August 2, 2013

Port Shepstone Lighthouse, Natal

Port Shepstone Lighthouse July 2013
Port Shepstone, on the southern bank of the Umzimkulu River, was named after the 19th c colonial statesman, Sir Theophilus Shepstone.

The first vessel to enter the Umzimkulu River, in 1880, was the coasting steamer Somtseu. The energetic colonist William Bazley started building a wall at the mouth of the river in 1882 and about ten years later Port Shepstone became a functioning harbour.

Its first light was constructed in 1895: a simple ship's masthead lantern mounted on a platform on a ladder-like structure placed on the southern bluff of the river mouth. This served the purpose of lighthouse and signal station and was manned by a Norwegian, E K Andreason, from June 1889 until his retirement at the end of 1929.

In 1906 the lighthouse at Scottburgh, which had previously marked the southern end of the Aliwal Shoal, was dismantled and put up at the port. 'It was equipped with a petroleum vapour burner replaced in 1912 by an acetylene gas apparatus. This apparatus consisted of a 187.5 mm focal distance, three-panel optic using a twenty litre incandescent mantle burner. It produced a single white flash of 27 000 every ten seconds. The lens was rotated by a weight-driven clockwork machine.'

This was replaced in 1961 by an electric motor reduction gearbox unit, changing the light to one white flash every six seconds. The lighthouse became fully automatic in 1963: the range is 24 sea miles. 

With its circular tower painted in distinctive black and white checks, the lighthouse is a well-known landmark on the south coast. This dangerous coastline is associated with numerous shipwrecks, including those of the Sao Joao and the Grosvenor, occurring two centuries apart but both remaining topics of fascination and research.

Position: 30 44 30.1 South, 30 27 33.0 East

Further reading: Harold Williams: Southern Lights, Lighthouses of South Africa (Waterman 1993)]

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