SINCE 1864

It was the Portuguese festival day of Sao Bras (Saint Blaize) in 1488 when the legendary Portuguese explorer, Bartholomew Diaz sailed into what is now known as Mossel Bay. He found a freshwater spring nearby the shore and named the bay Aguada de Sao Bras, the watering place of St Blaize. In 1601, Dutch navigator, Paulus van Caerden named it Mossel Bay after the abundance of mussels he found there. On its establishment as a municipality in 1848, the town was called Aliwal South in honour of a British victory at Aliwal in India, but the name was not at all popular. The appellation Mossel Bay was reinstated later, and Cape St Blaize Lighthouse (commissioned in 1864) became the most striking local landmark. As was often the case, the British government of the time declined to fund the construction of a lighthouse on the basis that it would serve the harbour only. It was felt, instead, that the erection of a lighthouse and its maintenance should fall to the Cape Colony and not to England. However, when that approach was adopted, it was unsuccessful as the Cape government was engaged in land struggles on the eastern boarder of the colony and was severely short of finance for the purpose of building a lighthouse at Mossel Bay. The indomitable members of the Harbour Board took stock of their position, and in 1860 extensive planning commenced for the upgrading of Mossel Bay Harbour to meet the growing import and export needs of the Eastern Cape. Not only would the harbour be enhanced as one of the few safe anchorages on the south-eastern Cape coast, but the harbour authorities had an ace up their sleeves. The Government Act 7 of 1860 had just authorised the levying of wharfage dues for harbour improvements, and the erection of a lighthouse at Mossel Bay was deemed to be a harbour improvement, which it undoubtedly was. John Goodman was hired to build the lighthouse structure and quarters, while Wilkin and Co of England supplied the fixed red light of the third-order dioptric (which had a range of 15 nautical miles). On 12 January 1863, the Harbour Board's engineer reported the following:

In accordance with the Board's instructions, the Contract for the lighthouse was duly executed on the plans approved by the Board, and in October, 1862, the building was commenced on the site selected, the Bluff over Cape St. Blaize. This site, selected by Mr. Frances Skead (Master, RN Admiralty Surveyor), has met with universal approval. The tower stands on a conspicuous landmark, and the range (geographical) from the top of the tower will be about twenty sea miles. The foundations of the building are on the solid rock, which has been stepped out and levelled with concrete where necessary. I am happy to be able to state that the quarries opened on the spot have proved equal to the most sanguine expectations - the stone is hard and very durable sand stone, and generally much superior in quality and appearance to any stone hitherto used in the locality.

Fifty years after the lighthouse was erected, an explosive type fog signal was installed on 15 May 1914. This unit was replaced on 15 September 1931 by an electrically operated fog signal, and in 1944 a diaphone fog signal was introduced. The diaphone was replaced by a nautophone on 24 July 1989, and the character of two blasts every 60 seconds was changed to four blasts every 60 seconds.

John Armstrong, appointed in 1864 as Cape St Blaize's first lighthouse keeper, used the detailed instruction manual for lighthouse keepers at the Cape of Good Hope seen on the right. Recommended by the Mossel Bay Harbour Board for his good character, he was retained at £90 per annum and free quarters. A flagstaff for signalling was erected near the lighthouse and Armstrong was supplied with a set of flags and a code book. Dramatically and strategically sited on a rocky bluff with commanding views, yet close to town, Cape St Blaize Lighthouse has always been a very attractive station for lighthouse keepers and their families. One can see dassies (Cape hyrax, Procavia capensis) scurrying amongst the rocks below, waves thundering and crashing spectacularly, and seagulls crying and swooping overhead. Beyond Cape St Blaize Cave, below the lighthouse, footpaths lead to rocky coastal views of the historic town of Mossel Bay.

Text Reference: Lighthouses of South Africa, Book by Gerald Hoberman

WhatsApp us