Sunday, May 31, 2015

'Their Task to Keep the Light ...' : Lighthousekeeper ancestry in South Africa

This is the first in a series of articles on SA lighthousekeepers - ancestors as well as descendants - which will be appearing on this blog as the material is collected and collated. 

Thanks to all contributors for their input and especially to Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson for her amazing research. If you have SA lightkeeper ancestry your stories and photographs are welcome. Contact Mole first via the comments section on this blog.



I am a retired lighthouse keeper from a family of lighthouse keepers. My granddad, Bill Hannabus, was a keeper from the late 1800s till about 1930, and is buried in Port Nolloth.
My father, Babsie Hannabus, and his brother, Charlie, were keepers from after World War II
till the 1970s. They are buried at West Bank cemetery, next to Hood Point Lighthouse in East London. My late brother is buried at Danger Point Lighthouse. His little grave is a tourist attraction now.

My father was born at Robben Island Lighthouse in 1911; I was born at Cape Agulhas Lighthouse in 1954, and my eldest cousin Trevor, was born at Cape Columbine around 1945.

I was a light keeper in the 1970s, and did duties all around the coast as a relief keeper. I became a radio technician in the late '70s when lighthouses were being automated by South African Railways and Harbours, and keepers were being made redundant.

Bird Island, Dassen Island, Robben Island, and Diaz Point in Namibia were very remote stations. Three keepers were stationed at all the stations, on eight-hour shifts, 24/7. We all saw a fair amount of wrecks and helped in some rescues.

Some stations had foghorns and radio contact with ships.  We also did weather reports every three hours and phoned them to the nearest airport or  port control.

There are still about four lighthouses that are manned by 'original' keepers who are about to go on pension soon. That will signal the end of a great era.

Peter-John Hannabus

Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, where the author of this article was born.



Fascinating insight into a little-known world. Looking forward to what follows. Best wishes, Andrew

Mole said...

Yes indeed: a closed world about which little is known. Thank you for your interest, Andrew, and I hope you enjoy the articles which promise to throw some light on lightkeepers.