Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Light on the Bluff

Port Natal struggled through the 1850s - the era when emigration to the Colony was at its height - without a lighthouse on the Bluff to aid navigation of arriving ships. There were frequent mentions in the press of this lack.

The Natal Mercury reported thus:

We have on former occasions urged the great importance of this provision. Another illustration of its necessity has just been furnished. The Rydal would have anchored off this Port two days sooner than she did, if a light on this promontory had identified the spot.

The currents on this coast cannot always be allowed for with certainty, especially after such weather as has recently been experienced, and the Rydal after sighting the land, came to anchor during the night, at a point which in the darkness was mistaken for the outer anchorage of this Port, but in the morning, instead of the Bluff, it was found the vessel was opposite a headland of the coast which, when an observation could be taken, was ascertained to be some point about 60 miles north of Port Natal.

A light on the Bluff, duly notified, would be invaluable, not only to the shipping frequenting this Port, but to passing vessels which would then commonly make the land at the point, and the advantages of the Port would then also be brought more generally  into notice.

January 1860, the Cape and Natal News stated: The Rydal, from Liverpool had arrived with 70 immigrants, a considerable number of persons had also come to the colony from the Cape, Mauritius, and Australia, the latter chiefly Australians, who declared their preference "for the land of sugar and arrowroot over the land of gold".

One of many shipwrecks at Port Natal
 before a lighthouse was built on the Bluff.



It is astounding how disorientated masters could become without the vital assistance of lighthouse beacons. Must have been a bit embarrassing for all concerned the following morning. Andrew.

Mole said...

Yes it must have been a bit embarrassing. It is likely that the Rydal had cast anchor off Athlone Bluff at Umbogintwini.
Incidentally the commissioning of the Bluff lighthouse (1867) records for the first time the geographical position of the Port using the lighthouse as the point of observation. Latitude 29 deg 52 mins 40 seconds South and Longitude 31 deg 3 mins and 50 seconds East.


It is also amazing that the light could be seen for 28 miles. This was a significant achievement in 1867, before the electric light bulb (Thomas Edison, 1879).