Saturday, June 20, 2015

Lighthousekeepers: Rules and Regulations

A Lighthousekeeper and his family

Lighthousekeeping was no sinecure. Keepers fulfilled a vital role and carried a heavy responsibility for maintaining the light.  Every aspect of their duties was covered by the printed Rules and Regulations of which every keeper received a copy. It would be his ‘bible’ for the entire period of his service.

‘Rules for the Proper Care and Maintenance of the Light on the Bluff at Port Natal’ would have been my ancestor Thomas Gadsden’s daily reading, in-between all his other activities. The Rules were published in each annual edition of the Natal Almanac and Yearly Register and changed little from their inception to the phase after Thomas’s death.

The following instructions give some idea of a keeper’s many and varied tasks:

Great care is to be bestowed in keeping everything connected with the Lighthouse in a thorough state of cleanliness and efficiency, as the optical apparatus, consisting of lenses and prisms, suffers materially from the effect of dust injuring its polish, and as the proper burning of the lamp is impaired by a want of due attention to its cleanliness and the state of the works.

Fresnel lens close-up

The glass lenses and prisms are to be cleaned every day, being first freed from dust by a feather or other soft brush and then rubbed down with a soft chamois skin, free from anything that would injure the polish of the glass. If the glass becomes greasy it is to be first washed with a linen cloth steeped in spirits of wine and afterwards carefully dried with a soft dry linen cloth or rubber free from all dust and gritty particles and finally rubbed with a fine chamois leather.

The brass work of the lamps is to be kept clean by polishing with whitening or suitable  polishing paste. Great care is to be taken that the lamp is accurately in the focus of the illuminating apparatus and that the flow of oil is such that a proper height of flame is maintained. If the flame cannot be maintained to its proper height, the lightkeeper must immediately examine whether or not it is due to want of cleanliness of the burner, want of proper flow of oil, or any imperfection in the wicks or oil, or the draught of the lamp’s chimney. The wicks should be gradually raised during the first 20 minutes of burning until the flame reaches the proper height to give the maximum amount of light.

Note: the mechanical lamps being constructed to give a plentiful overflow from 3-4 times the quantity consumed, the wicks char but slowly. The lamp should burn, when in good order, the whole night without the works requiring to be touched when paraffin oil is used. [Paraffin came into use about mid-19th century]

All moving parts in the revolving machinery and mechanical lamps must be kept scrupulously clean. Ventilator to be opened to admit sufficient supply of air to ensure  proper burning of the light and prevent condensation. Storm frames are to be kept in readiness for immediate use in case of accident.

The windows of the lantern are to be regularly cleansed every day and washed with water when necessary to remove the sea spray or other obstructions to the passage of the light, and for the same reason they are to be rubbed during the night when they become obscured by condensation or sweating.

To be continued ...

1 comment:

andrew van rensburg said...

Fascinating. One realises that keepers had their hands full, and weren't always watching out to sea for burning steamers. Thanks, Andrew.