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Lighthouse History In New Zealand

First Flying Boat In Southern Hemisphere

Image: Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 1-W35

To see footage of a lighthouse in New Zealand, see below.

New Zealand's rocky and often stormy coastline, endangered the lives and claimed the cargo of many early settlers. These goods were vital to colonial settlement, but most of the chartered coast was still unchartered. Their uproar of the new colony's settlers led to the Pencarrow Head lighthouse being built at the Wellington Harbour entrance back in 1859. But not before the insurance and freight rates were increased.

In the 19th-Century, there were more than 2000 deaths and over 1,500 wrecks. The demand for lighthouses could no longer be ignored. Building the first lighthouses in exposed areas with little or no nearby roads, meant materials were delivered through treacherous rolling waters by boat and dragged up hills by a horse. Add to that the stormy seas which necessitated a lighthouse in the first place, and you've got a mission on your hands. Oil lanterns were used in New Zealand’s first lighthouses, then kerosene burners followed. To magnify the amount of light omitted, their beam was encased in large glass lenses as you will see in the Manukau Heads Lighthouse footage below. 

Electric lights were not used until 1935. Each lighthouse was recognised by the sailors as their lights flashed in their special sequences. Lighthouses in New Zealand today, are solar powered and no longer need lighthouse keepers. In the Ashmore's time back in 1882, the keepers worked long hours topping up the oil lanterns, cleaning the glass lenses, and looking after the lighthouse tower and any farmland and buildings nearby.

Keepers’ wives also worked with their husbands in maintaining the lighthouses until electric lights were installed and put on automated systems. There are no longer any keepers in New Zealand. Lighthouses were not only vital for identifying harbour entrances, but they also marked the necessary changes needed in the sailing direction due to submerged reefs and rocks. They were used as markers by day and beacons by night, enabling sailors to fix their position and calculate their speed and distance.

There were two classes of lighthouses. They were administered by two different authorities:

Harbour lights guided ships into each port and were the responsibility of provincial authorities at first. Later that changed to the local authorities. Coastal lights confirmed a ship’s position along the coast and considered to be the concern of central government.

'From 1874 Finance Minister Julius Vogel’s public works initiatives allowed for an extraordinary programme of lighthouse construction, directed until 1889 by the marine engineer John Blackett. By the end of the 19th century, the Marine Department had commissioned and built (often within months of each other) 16 manned coastal lighthouses and six manned harbour lights. Mariners could now sail up the east coast of New Zealand and the glow of one light would barely drop below the horizon before the next rose above it.'