by Peter-John Hannabus (P-J) – Retired Lighthouse Keeper 1970s
From the 1800s to the late 1970s, fifty three manned stations spanned the South African coast, before automation slowly forced the Lighthouse Keepers out of their cottages and away from their unique way of life.
The Hannabus Dynasty entered the Lighthouse Service in the early 1900s and covered eighteen lighthouses between them, stretching from the east coast at Cape St. Lucia Lighthouse, Natal, at position 28°31´08´´S., 32°23´50´´E, to the opposite west coast at Diaz Point in Luderitz, Namibia, at 26°38´11´´S, 15°05´37´´E.
Born at Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, P-J grew up in an environment with characteristics and influences at play, which attracted him to follow in the footsteps of his father, his uncle and his grandfather.
P-J’s duties, often as a Relief Lighthouse Keeper, took him from coast-to- coast exposing him to many different situations. Drawing on these experiences, plus stories handed down and childhood memories, he provides us with a window into the world of these men.
One Saturday morning on February 1st, 1919, Mr. Abbott, a guano foreman and his assistant, were fishing in a longboat off the island. Around midday a strong sou ‘westerly wind came up, whipping up the sea. Abbott’s stepdaughter, Frances, worried for their safety, climbed onto the roof of their cottage and saw the men battling the wind to get back to shore. Frances raised the alarm and all three of the Lighthouse Keepers, Hayward, Hughes and Ward, rushed to their aid in another longboat.
Once out to sea, a fog enveloped the three Lighthouse Keepers and they were lost to sight fighting wind and waves. Just before dark, the wives who had no idea how to operate the Light, together with the children, gathered all the lamps in the houses and took them up to the lighthouse lantern room to guide the husbands back and to warn ships on this stormy night! The families took turns to rotate the lens throughout the night with still no sign of the men. About midday the next day, the men made it back to shore but alas, without Abbott. He and his assistant were never found.
In recognition of the bravery of the Keepers, Harry Claude Lee Cooper, the esteemed Lighthouse Engineer, awarded the men gold watches and the wives received crafted handbags!
These are just part of the large band of lighthouse men and women whose brave deeds prove their commitment to their duties, irrespective of the risks to their own lives.
Whilst we are still on
an intriguing similarity has come to my attention. Bird Island
In 1884 Thesen and Company of
Town purchased their first coastal steamer in Norway and brought her out to the Cape. This was the SS Agnar,
an iron vessel of 427 tons. The Agnar
soon found a place for herself in the trade between Cape
Town, and Knysna and after
five years a second steamer the SS Ingerid
joined her. The Agnar and Ingerid sailed regularly between Mossel
Bay Table Bay and Knysna and before long they enjoyed a
virtual monopoly of the steamship traffic to the little port. (Ships and by Marischal Murray) South Africa
From 1920 to 1928 Agnar loaded guano on
. Strangely similar in shape and design to the
SS Waratah, which disappeared off the
coast in 1909, Agnar was a very much
smaller vessel. The Agnar also met
her fate by disappearing without trace twenty nine years later, between Transkei Madagascar and . With thirty four souls
aboard, a cyclone had raged across her track and she never reached Mauritius . All that was
ever found was a damaged hatch cover. A tragic end to those poor souls on a
hardworking little steamer. Port Louis