Blackett's Lighthouse, Timaru

At Maori Park. July 2010 about 3.30pm  in the afternoon. Photo taken by M.T.
- was a harbour light, not a coastal light

A Little About Timaru

It has an open roadstead, where
Whene'er the weather 's fair,
A vessel may with safety ride,
With very little care.

But woe betide them, if a gale
Sets dead in on the shore ;
For ere the sun has rose and set,
There's one ashore or more.

It's just according how they're rigged,
For some, it seems, won't sail ;
While others, they put out to sea,
And there ride out the gale.

We only want a breakwater,
A lighthouse, and a pier,
Then Timaru will be as fine
A place you'll find out here.

And now, ere long, we'll have it all,
If only we use care ;

by R.H.R.
[Who was R.H.R., a local bard?] Maybe Robert Heaton Rhodes (1861 – 1956) . He would have been 16 in 1877.
Papers Past Timaru Herald, 26 January 1877, Page 3

Blackett's classic design.

New Zealand Lighthouses (Paper No. 1671.) By John Blackett, M. Inst. C.E. In 1870 the author was appointed Marine Engineer for the colony of New Zealand, and in that capacity was immediately called upon to arrange for the erection of a number of lighthouses. Two separate trips were undertaken, each being a complete circumnavigation of the Middle and North Islands respectively, for the purpose of determining the sites for the intended lights. During these trips full and accurate information was obtained on which to base a scheme for lighting those parts of the coasts not already provided for, and the work of erection was ordered to be commenced forthwith... The plan Map

John Blackett - the father of our lighthouse system.

John Blackett and his wife, Mary, and James and Sarah Blackett, arrived in New Plymouth in 1851 via Wellington on the Simlah. Diary. John Blackett, C.E., later a colonial marine engineer for the general government from 1871 until he left in 1889 left a legacy of fourteen lighthouses around New Zealand and all built within a five year period including Timaru -1877, Moeraki 1878 and Akaroa 1879, all timber. In 1874 Mr. Blackett accompanied Captain Robert Johnson, nautical adviser, to survey sites for future lighthouses. He wrote a paper demonstrated progress in lighthouse construction in New Zealand for the Institution of Civil Engineers in London, to which he was elected as a member in 1878. Most innovative was the double wall, to be filled with rubble to a height of 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 metres). This allowed cheap, easy-to-handle wood to be used while achieving the weight to ensure towers were well founded in exposed positions. It is believed that seven of Blackett's timber lighthouses survive on their original sites, with at least two others having been relocated including Timaru's and Akaroa's. The Akaroa and Waipapa lighthouses, like that at Kaipara North Head, have double-skinned walls enclosing a rubble core. 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. The light dues that ships paid at specified ports largely funded the service, and do so today. photo The impressive Waiau Ferry Bridge on the way to Hanmer Springs was designed by John Blackett and opened in 1887.

He missed New Zealand. In 1890 he went to London as Consulting Engineer in London for the New Zealand Government. Mr Blackett died in January 1893 in Wellington. He had arrived from England four weeks earlier on the s.s. Doric with his wife and family. His health had been bad for some time which caused his return. He was among the earliest settlers of Taranaki, where he arrived in 1851, but some six years later removed to Nelson, where he carried out important engineering works. He left a widow, a son, and two daughters. Had he lived he would have retired on a pension of £550 a year, from the first of next month. The deceased gentleman was 74 years of age.

Above the door of the Timaru lighthouse.

Timaru's Lighthouse on the move

The 30 feet lighthouse tower protected by a five feet dome was erected in 1878 at the top of the Terrace, No. 7, for a cost of £350 with a keepers house. The kerosene lenticular apparatus, 14½ inches in diameter, was first lit on 1st July 1878 and replaced by gas in 1890, then by an electric light in 1920 and served Timaru as the main harbour light until it was decommissioned in March 1970. The light was elevated about 85 feet above the sea and was able to be seen about fourteen miles nautical miles in clear weather and at a lesser distances according to the state of the atmosphere.  In 1980 the Timaru Harbour Board moved the tower to Benvenue Street, Maori Park. This move, in 1980, was well documented by Bremford's Studios. Originally the tower was painted a stone colour. It was restored by the NZ Historic Places Trust and now acts as the rear leading beacon for entry into the port. Now, in 2010 it will be moving several hundred metres away, down the street, across the rail track and closer to the sea to a site on the Benvenue Cliffs as the council are building the planned Caroline Bay Aquatic Centre close to the existing site. The relocation will be completed by February 2012. The three story kauri timbered lighthouse is a Category II structure and the Historic Places Trust (Heritage NZ) was agreeable to the structure being re-sited. The site is not the critical issue, but the structure itself, and the the HPT preferred any new site to be near the sea so Blackett's Lighthouse is heading for the coast. The harbour master has also agreed to the lighthouse's relocation, with the navigation beacon in front of the lighthouse being moved forward about 10 metres. Heritage Matters. In March 1878 Captain Meredith was appointed by the Harbour Board to the position of lighthouse-keeper, at a salary of 50 guineas per annum.  Reference: Papers Past Timaru Herald, 26 June 1878, Page 4  

On Saturday 20 Nov. 2010 the lighthouse was moved to the Benvenue Cliffs walkway with the help of a crane near the footbridge bridge over the railway cutting near end of Benvenue Street and Parkview Terrace. It is now closer to the sea and you can hear the sound of the sea. The cliff site is leased by the council from railway company OnTrack. In May 2011 the lighthouse was repainted by the Timaru District Council in its traditional colours of white with a red dome. Upgrading of the new site will continue with landscaping, e.g. renga renga, or New Zealand rock lily, lawn and an informational sign that outlines the role of the lighthouse in the region’s maritime history.

Along Benvenue Cliff, it is now closer to the sea. Nov. 27th 2010, photo by M.
The lighthouse in Nov. 2010 looks great on its third site Benvenue Cliffs at the end of Benvenue Ave.  A good photo opportunity. The row of eleven mature macrocarpa trees gives the lighthouse, a historic building, a nice background and some protection from the elements and the trees will remain as long as they were healthy and there was no issue with erosion. Rock was being dumped along Benvenue Cliffs in 1882 to help protect the cliffs, this rock came from Blackmore's quarry. In the past the only quarries nearby would be Blackmore's quarry in Glen St or Kirby's quarry in Douglas St, behind where the Highfield Golf Clubrooms were. Douglas St was called Quarry Road in early times.

2014 photo courtesy of Sue White.

2014 photo courtesy of Sue White.

Sunrise. April 2018

Timaru Fishermen Memorial on the North Mole.

Proper place for a lighthouse is on Patiti Point

Timaru Herald, 8 October 1875, Page 1
Lighthouse for Timaru. To the editor of the Timaru Herald. Sir, — Masters of vessels are continually complaining about the want of a good light here, which has been talked of so long. A few days ago I had a conversation with Captain Underwood, of the s.s. Albion, and Captain Jones, of the s.s, Bruce, on this subject, and these gentlemen were agreed that the proper place for a lighthouse is on Patiti Point. I, myself, have long been of this opinion. A harbor light is, of course, always needed, but a good light on Patiti Point, would enable navigators to ascertain their position at once, well out in the offing, and to shape a course to clear the reefs in making this port from the southward. On Captain McLean's last trip here in the s.s. Otago, from Melbourne, he arrived during the night, but could see nothing to enable him to come to an anchorage, and had to stand off for several hours in consequence. The rapidly increasing coastal and intercolonial trade makes this a matter of the gravest importance both to life and property. I am, &c, W. C. Beswick. Timaru, Oct. 5th, 1875.

Timaru Herald
, 3 November 1881, Page 2 Port of Timaru.
The flagstaff at Timaru is situated in 171 deg. 17min. 20sec. East longitude ; 44deg. 23 min. South latitude. During the month of October, 22 vessels, of a total tonnage of 3533, arrived at the port of Timaru, and 18, of 2656 tons, sailed from it. The barque Chaudiere requires only about 200 sacks of grain to complete her loading, and she will, weather permitting, sail for the United Kingdom this evening. The masters of several vessels which have lately arrived in Timaru have told us that they were misled by the bright light at the railway station, St. Andrews. In one instance a vessel was within an ace of going ashore, owing to the resemblance of the light to that erected in the lighthouse, Timaru. It is time the Harbor Board took the matter up, and while seeing the St. Andrews lamp was darkened seaward, that the Timaru lighthouse should throw a red light into the offing. If this is not done, an accident most sooner or later occur. The proper place for the lighthouse is Patit Point, which overlooks the reefs.

Wanganui Herald, 27 July 1906, Page 5
New lamp for lighthouses. Wellington, July 26.
The Marine Department has satisfied itself that the Matthews patent incandescent, vapourised oil, occulting light is preferably to the light now used on the various parts of the New Zealand coast, and it is to be brought into general use as far as possible. One of the lights is to replace the fixed light at Jack's Point, near Timaru, and will be shown there for the first time on August 23rd.

Early morning photo Nov. 2009. Needs a new paint job. Paint is peeling off the dome.
John Blackett’s legacy.

New navigational light for Timaru Jan. 2017. PEL-4 Up to 4.7 NM by day & 22.5 NM by night. LED sector light. At nighttime, this light can be seen for 21 nautical miles, and that's almost 40kms. Cost was $50K. Previous one in place for 20 years also made by Vega Industries, a NZ company. The VRB-25 LED was operating at the Loggerhead lighthouse such as Dry Tortugas NP (USA) from 1995 to 2015.

Timaru Herald, 4 January 1878, Page 3
The Editor of the Timaru Herald wrote an entertaining editorial on what he thought of the Government and Blackett's lighthouse.

Fancy allowing a wooden shanty to be stuck within ten feet of an iron building containing over a hundred pounds or gun powder; and a large number of weapons which, unless under proper direction, are of a most deadly character. The Borough wanted a lighthouse built of stone and the Government would not back down. In the first there was no necessity whatever for a lighthouse at any point within the Borough, and if the Harbor Board did not feel themselves justified in spending as much money as was required to comply with the Building Regulations, they had an excellent opportunity of economising, by declining to build at all. A lighthouse on Patiti Point would have been of real value to the Port, and would have been a proper object for a considerable expenditure out of Harbor funds. But the erection of the lighthouse on LeCren's-terrace is simply a waste of money, the old "chemist's shop " answering all the purpose of mariners coming straight into the roadstead, for which indeed, scarcely needed at all. A town built of stone, brick, or concrete, is healthier, safer, cleaner, and more slightly, that a wooden one ; and the difference in the cost of building is so small, when insurance and repairs are taken into consideration.

In June 1880 there was another out cry against Blackett and the Timaru Herald editor had a field day again. Blackett declared the Timaru breakwater work a complete fiasco, and likely to cost the country hundreds of thousands of pounds by damage to the coast, and recommending that it should be immediately stopped and the structure already built be broken up or "blown up" and removed. The report caused a considerable sensation. The Timaru people are literally in a state of '' burning" indignation with Mr. Blackett on account of his strongly-worded report in reference to their beloved breakwater. On Wednesday night the inhabitants of the town assembled together in large numbers, and solemnly consigned an effigy of the trenchant Engineer-in-Chief to the flames. The precise object which the Timaruffians thought to achieve by this demonstration is not altogether clear. It does not strike one as a very logical method of confuting an engineering opinion on a technical question ; but then we never heard of the South Canterbury people being accused of any special weakness for logic.

Snippets from Papers Past

Timaru Herald, 2 May 1868, Page 5
A Lighthouse at Timaru. — We believe that Mr Balfour has recommended the erection of a small lighthouse at Timaru. The necessity for such a building has been long felt, and the report made by Captain Lusher, of the steamer Lady Bird, proves that it is dangerous for vessels trading on the coast to be without any very distinct and bright guide. The light shown on the top of the flagstaff at this port can be seen only a short distance away, and any light exhibited on the const, either north or south of Timaru, might be mistaken for it. What appears to us a very absurd regulation is that all vessels entering this port have to pay lighthouse dues for the light shown at Godley Head. Probably some of the lighthouse plant which has already been ordered from England by the General Government is intended for the work at Timaru ; and we. hope the Government will press on this work, as it is really required.

Timaru Herald, 11 September 1877, Page 4
The other afternoon my steps led me to the cliff in front of the lighthouse. I sat down, and for some time amused myself by watching the hosts and vessels in the roadstead. By-and-bye my eyes wandered in the direction of Milford, and I became lost in the contemplation of the future greatness of that place. The afternoon was fine and the air warm, and the two causes finally sent me to sleep. I then
"Had a vision in my sleep,
Which gave my spirit at strength to sweep
Adown the gulf of time."
I saw Milford converted into a harbor, with numbers of fishing boats and pleasure gigs floating on the calm surface of the water. Two long piers stretched themselves far out to sea from each side of the entrance, and on the outer end of one of them I saw a grey haired man. standing, with hit hands deep in his trousers' pockets. He was anxiously watching a noble ship which was gradually nearing the entrance. She came within hailing distance of this solitary individual, and then hove to. The watcher removed his hat with a low bow, stroked his beard, and the following dialogue, ensued between H YH T. AND THE SHIP.

Timaru Herald, 18 June 1878, Page 5
Mr T.W. Hall pointed out that although the Board were now paying the Harbor-master, the Government were keeping the light dues. The Secretary said this was because the Government looked on the lighthouse as a coastal light, and therefore colonial. Light dues were not charged for harbor lights.

Timaru Herald, 1 July 1878, Page 2
The new lighthouse is to be lit this evening, and be kept lit every night in future.

Timaru Herald, 2nd & 6th September 1878, Page 3
On September 2nd there were four wrecks at Timaru and three lives loss. The Fanny struck the beach about 1 p.m., underneath the lighthouse. The whole of the Rocket Brigade on duty had now re-assembled at the lighthouse, and with those others who had labored so hard, were enabled to obtain some dinner. No one, however, thought of going home.

Star 30 June 1896, Page 4
Incandescent lights. The lighthouse at Timaru is now illuminated with a group of three Welsbach incandescent burners, such as are now used in shops, and the improvement in the light over the old patent burner is considered very satisfactory.  

The Lighthouses of New Zealand.
Otago Witness 13 February 1901, Page 58 by Fabian Bell

Following the outward bend of the coast, we skirt Banks Peninsula, and find ourselves at the entrance of Akaroa Harbour. Here the cliffs are bold, and steep, and darkly threatening. At the foot of Truni lies a long black rock 270ft in height, called, from its shape, the Boat Rock. The lighthouse tower stand at an elevation of 270 ft above the sea, and is visible at a distance of 22 miles in clear weather.

The coast line from Banks Peninsula to Timaru — our next light — is low, and cannot be seen in thick weather or at night until close in upon the breakers, but southward of the town the cliffs rise again to the eight of 30ft to 50ft. Timaru itself lies on the seashore, and back of it rises the long line of mountains which forms the backbone of our island. Burkes Pass presents a very conspicuous feature in fine wealthier, and can be distinctly seen. Timaru is approached from the open sea, and the light here is a harbour light and not a coastal light. The lighthouse was built by the Government in 1877 (John Blackett, engineer), and handed over to the Harbour Board, who have maintained it ever since. It is lit and attended to by the night watchman. The light is furnished by three incandescent Welsbach burners, lit with gas, and is visible at a distance of about 14 miles. The chief danger of the Timaru Harbour is found in the Patiti Reef, which extends about two-thirds of a mile from Patiti Point, and is fronted by sand and shoal patches, with outlying reefs of rock and kelp. The lighthouse and flagstaff are on a cliff towards the north end of the town, and thus mark the S.W. extremity of the Ninety-mile Beach. The tower is 30ft high, built of wood, and painted white.

At Oamaru is to be found the simplest lighthouse on our coast or perhaps any other. It is but a cottage with a little bay window on the eastern side, in which a light is shown to indicate the position of the harbour, yet this little light has a history. It was erected in 1874 by the Provincial Government of Otago, at the cost of about £300. It is situated on the slope of Cape Wybrow, about 300 ft above sea level. The light was originally supplied by one or two common kerosene lamps showing a fixed white light. This primitive light came into the hands of the Harbour Board on the abolition of the provinces in 1875. ...

The fashionable watering place of Moeraki next demands our attention. Here again the coast is low, though there is a good deal of high and broken ground at the back ; and snow-capped peaks are visible in the distance. Moeraki Bay is a fine sweep of water five miles long and about two miles deep ; it is protected by a reef stretching nearly from point to point ; and vessels are warned of its dangers by a fixed white light shown from a tower 28ft high, and 170 ft above high water, visible 19 miles, to Oamaru on the north and Taiaroa Heads on the south. We now find ourselves at the entrance of Otago Harbour, with the tall cliff of Taiaroa Head towering above us to the height of 196 ft, and looking even steeper in its sheer precipitance. Here was erected in 1864 the fine tower which still dominates the harbour bar. It is built of stone quarried close to the spot where it stands, is of dazzling whiteness, the lantern being painted a vivid green, so that it serves as an excellent beacon by day. 1975 article

Not all who wander are lost.
Akaroa lighthouse on a stormy day, Oct 29th 2009, photo taken by me. Blackett's classic design.

Many tourists plan trips to New Zealand around visiting as many lighthouses as possible. The scenery can be dramatic, bird watching first class, the air fresh and photo opportunities spot on. FAQ The hexagonal Akaroa lighthouse was built of kauri timber in 1879 and lit in 1880 to 1977 and moved to town on 4th October 1980 and is now sited at Cemetery Point [the Old Anglican Cemetery is across the road and up a short shaded public driveway] on the Akaroa waterfront [Aylmers Stream bridge built in 1886]. The lighthouse is open on Sunday afternoons. On the wall on level 2 you can see photos of the relocation. A drive up Lighthouse Rd, through a couple of farm gates to the old site at the Akaroa Head Scenic Reserve at the entrance of Akaroa Harbour is dramatic, but a very worth while side trip from Akaroa. Some people might find the road a bit steep, I didn't.

Moeraki lighthouse at Katiki Point

The Moeraki lighthouse, early in the morning. Photo taken by me, Nov. 2009.  A sibling of the Akaroa Head light. Blackett's classic design.

The hexagonal Moeraki lighthouse at Katiki Point, on the east coast of the South Island, overlooking the Pacific, is another short side trip on the gravel Lighthouse Road. On the way out look for some slight terracing of the hillside, there was an old Maori Pa here. This wooden [macracapa] lighthouse shone for the first time on April 22, 1878. Don't forget to walk down to the free hide and look for the New Zealand fur seals ashore amongst the rocks on the beaches on both sides and the yellow eyed penguins come ashore from about 3 pm on until dusk. Again some people might find the walk back up a bit steep. Take a jacket, this is a beautiful windy spot. Note how the bushes are sculptured by the wind and the lighthouse has extra strengthening. In Moeraki you can drive up and watch the sunrise from the Whaler's Lookout and time your visit to the Moeraki boulders at low tide.

On top

On top of the Katiki Point (Moeraki) lighthouse lantern room is a black metal copula with a storm proof vent that moves with the wind, this was used in the early days to ventilate the tower when a flame produced the light source rather than an electric lamp. The other item on top is called a Franklin Rod, this is use to intercept lighting and send it to earth / ground. In 2010 only three of the Maritime NZ lighthouses and light beacons have gauges on top, these are have wind and weather equipment associated with the Metservice system, several other sites have Metservice equipment in a self contained hut close to the lighthouse. Two sites have Tsunami & tidal measuring equipment although this is not mounted on top. Akaroa's lighthouse metal cupola is also black. Do a ctrl N to view in another window.  The open platform called the gallery outside the lantern room was mainly used for cleaning the outside of the windows, storm panes support by metal rods.

Operation. On the balcony of the Katiki Point (Moeraki) lighthouse is a modern LED beacon, the shiny grey cylindroid, installed in December 2005 to replace the existing classic crystal lens, 230V lamp and associated control equipment. The conversion allowed a battery as the back up supply rather than the generator, the old 230V lamps are also custom made so very expensive and hard to source. This type of upgrade allowed Maritime NZ to replace aging equipment while still keeping the historical equipment in place, as you can see the original lens is still visible in the lantern room. The light is monitored remotely from Wellington.

Waipapa Point Lighthouse a work of art.

The 13.4 metre (44ft) tower is clad in a double skin of kauri and totara -much of the vertical exterior cladding is in single lengths in 19th century wooden lighthouses. The lower tower wall cavity was filled with local stone ballast (weight). Waipap Point and northland's Kaipara North Head (Dec. 1884) were the last major timber towers built in NZ. both to identical designs. The lantern room is made of bronze, copper, cast iron and glass. New Zealand's chief engineer John Blackett's 1882 design.

Polished the apparatus and made preparations for the first exhibition of the light. Light lit at sunset by Mr L.B. Wilson of the marine department. Found everything in good working order. First watch Erecson. The first entry in the Waipapa Log Book on 1 January 1884 was written by lighthouse keeper John F. Erecson. 

In 1884 paraffin fuelled and Argand lamp with a hallow circular wick that allowed oxygen to circulate and create a brighter flame. The lamp remained station inside while the Second Order glass optic manufactured by Barbier and Fenestre revolved around it. (second order refers to lens size) The optic moved on rollers powered by a hand wound mechanism manufactured by James Milne and son, similar to a grandfather clock. Used at Waipapa Point until 1943. A heavy weight on a chain was wound up by hand daily, it then sank slowly down the centre of the tower. The 10 second interval between the flashes of light enabled seafarers to recongnise it as Waipapa Point. In 1912 an incandescent light was installed replacing the paraffin light source with kerosene. The process created a jet of gas capped by a mantle (similar to today's propane lanterns) which glowed brightly when the gas was lit. John Frederick and Charlotte Erecson looked after Waipapa Point lighthouse for 11 years. John Frederick Ericson born November 11, 1842 Gothenburg, Göteborg, Västra Götaland County, Sweden. Died August 5, 1932 Timaru aged 80 years. Charlotte Ann Ericson (Kidson) born February 25, 1849 in Nelson, NZ. Died March 19, 1926, aged 77 years and buried at Timaru. Bryan Richards was Waipapa's last permanent keeper.

In 1943 the Waipapa Point lighthouse became the first lighthouse to be connected to the national electricity grid. A 1000 watt light bulb replaced the kerosene light source and the need for two keepers was reduced to one. A diesel generator later provided backup in case of power failure. The light was automated in 1976 and the keeper withdrawn. 

The Tararua Acre at Waipapa Point
NZ's worst civilian shipwreck 29 April 1881 on Otara Reef. The Tararua was bound for Melbourne via Bluff, carrying 151 passengers and crew, when she struck the reef. She finally sank in the early ours of 30 April with the loss of 131 lives. The court recommended that steamers should carry enough lifebelts for all their passengers (there were only twelve on the Tararua) and that a lighthouse should be built at Waipapa Point. A court of inquiry recommended a lighthouse on the point. Lighthouse reserve of 200 acres 980 hectares) gazetted April 1882. GSS Stella delivered construction materials to Waipapa Point Dec. 1882. The timber tower completed end of 1883 at a cost of 5,969 pounds. 1st January 1884 light officially in use.
    The first dead were taken to Fortrose for identification but as bodies continued to was ashore, it became impractical to transport them far from the wreck site. Sixty four people were buried in a special created cemetery, known as the Tararua Acre. Three gravestones and a memorial remain today, 27 May 2018. This site is a short walk across paddocks and signposted off Waipapa Lighthouse Road. Access may be restricted during lambing. Others recovered bodies were buried at the Fortrose Cemetery on the Tokanui-Gorge Road Highway about 10km to the north west. In memory of the 104 passengers -78 men, 12 women, 14 children and 27 members of the crew who lost their lives in the wreck of the ss Tararua at Waipapa on 29 April 1881. Including Gillingham and Martin.


The Gillingham Memorial -St. Colomba, Fairlie.

photos taken 28 May 2018.

Not forgotten

South Canterbury NZGenWeb Project

Page last updated 30 January 2019