Saturday, November 23, 2019

L'Agulhas Lighthouse: daytime

The most southerly cape on the African continent was named in 1488 by Portuguese navigator Bartholomeu Dias, Cape of the Needle.  The reference was to the compass needle which swung in various directions when the Portuguese vessels rounded the cape. Dias found that the magnetic needle and true north coincided. i.e. there was no magnetic declination or variation.

Within the twenty-six mile range of the Agulhas lighthouse the coast is fringed with dangerous reefs on which more ships have been wrecked than on any other part of the South African coast.

The necessity for a lighthouse at Cape Agulhas was recognised by Col Mitchel, surveyor general and civil engineer of the Cape colonial government early in 1837. He visited Cape Agulhas in March 1839 and the project of building a lighthouse proceeded. It took some years for the foundation to be laid at the chosen site. Wheels turned slowly with colonial bureaucracy. Finally, the lighthouse was completed by 1848. Ninety people were involved in putting up the structure, a case of 'many hands make light work'. The task of housing and feeding a large workforce at such a distance from Cape Town must have been enormous.

The lamp was lit on 1 March 1849. The original equipment remained in use until January 1905 when H C Cooper installed a new incandescent burner. The next modification was on 5 February 1908 when the burners were altered to consume white rose oil. This installation was the only change made to the lighthouse in over 50 years of operation. Later improvements to the optical apparatus were made by Cooper in February 1910.

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