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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



The Lighthouse Service

The rugged and windswept coastline of New Zealand's two main islands and of Stewart Island is over 4,000 miles in length and is lit by 25 manned and 66 unmanned automatic coastal lights, that is, not including harbour entrance and other harbour lights. As far back as the early fifties, when New Zealand had a dual system of government, a distinction was drawn between coastal and harbour lights, the former being established and maintained by the Central Government, and the latter by Provincial Governments. Today the Marine Department maintains the coastal lights, fog signals, and radio beacons, and various harbour boards maintain their own lights and fog signals.

The first light to be established in New Zealand was on Pencarrow Head at the entrance to Wellington's Harbour, Port Nicholson, on 1 January 1859. It is of interest to note that the first lightkeeper was a woman, Mrs M. J. Bennett, widow of the lightkeeper of a temporary beacon erected in 1852. The second light was not established until 1862, on the boulder bank at Nelson. Then, in 1865, due to the vigorous policy of J. M. Balfour, the Marine Engineer of the Central Government, and subsequently the first Secretary of the Marine Department when it was formed in 1877, lights were established at Tiritiri Matangi, Taiaroa Head, Mana Island, Godley Head, and Dog Island. All these lights are still in existence except that on Mana Island, which could possibly be confused with the Pencarrow light. This is believed to have caused the wrecks of City of Newcastle and Cyrus. It was therefore switched off in 1881 and subsequently carried in sections by the Government steamer Hinemoa and re-erected at Cape Egmont. This steel-built tower weighed 90 tons. By 1881 there were 21 lights established, and the story of their erection is one of rugged endurance and fine seamanship on the part of the crews of the Government steamers Luna, Stella, and Hinemoa in landing the materials over surf beaches and at rocky, isolated headlands. At the Brothers Islands, the landing of these stores took 60 days during which Stella was continuously under way except when loading at Wellington. At some stations teams of bullocks had first to be landed to haul the materials to the top of the cliffs. The name of the Marine Engineer, David Scott, must also be recorded as the one responsible for the work of erection of many of the more remote lights once the materials had been landed. His work has stood the test of time and, in spite of the gales and salt spray experienced in these exposed positions, the light towers are still in use and remain as monuments to his sound engineering skill.


Peter Edward Muers, Section Officer (Lighthouses), Marine Department, Wellington.

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