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Lighthouse, Cape Agulhas
L'Agulhas, Western Cape

Charles Cornwallis (alias Collier) MICHELL: Design Architect



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34° S 20° E

Colonel C C MICHELL, surveyor-general and civil engineer of the Cape colonial government, requested on 9 March 1837 that the Secretary to Government, the Hon Col Bell CB inform Governor Sir Benjamin D'Urban of the need for a lighthouse at Cape Agulhas. He requested that he be authorised to inspect Cape Agulhas for preparing an estimate for the construction of a lighthouse.

MICHELL visited Cape Agulhas in March 1839 and recorded that The Hon Michiel van Breda would give in perpetuity as much ground as might be required for a lighthouse. India - in particular the merchants of Bombay - were involved in the efforts to have a lighthouse established on the cape at Agulhas.

A notice issued by the secretary to the government on 15 December 1848 indicated that the lighthouse at Cape Agulhas had recently been completed. Remarkably, the lighthouse at Cape Agulhas seems to have been completed in just twelve months. The stone was quarried, almost certainly by hand, from the limestone hillside behind the lighthouse. The walls of the tower, at the base in the order of three metres thick, had to be quarried and hand-dressed to shape and size. Ninety persons were employed on this project which would account for its rapid completion.

A notice was issued on 15 December 1848 declaring that the light would be lit on 1 March 1849. The Light was of the first or most brilliant class, and is the work of Mr Henry le Paute of France. It was constructed upon the Dioptric principle. The burner consisted of four concentric Argand Wicks.

The framework of the Lenticular - the name given to the whole combination - was attached to a cast-iron circular floor, supported by a stem of cast iron, the lower end of which was let into a block of granite resting upon the crown of the supporting dome, surrounded by masonry.

This equipment remained in use until 25 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. The installation of this improved burner was the only change made to the lighthouse in over fifty years of operation.

A modification which included the provision of a first-order flashing light, utilising the original tower and lantern, and at a cost of £4 000 [R8 000], was sanctioned in 1908. The specification was compiled in June 1909 by W T Douglass, consulting engineer, for Lighthouses for the Government of the Cape of Good Hope. The specification for the optic was compiled in England in June 1909 and work on the installation of a new optical apparatus commenced in February 1910 and completed in March 1910.

In 1915 the original polygonal lantern with flat glazing was replaced by a circular one with curved glazing and provided with a cast-iron murette. Demolition of the old lantern commenced on 5 January 1915 and the erection of the new completed one on 1 February 1915.

Notwithstanding that the tower was asserted 'unsafe', the lighthouse was declared a national monument on 2 March 1973.

[Extracted and edited from Harold Williams.1993. Southern lights. Lighthouses of South Africa. Cape Town: William Waterman Publications, pp. 10-20]

See also A Quick Guide To South Africa's National Parks.

Writings about this entry

Hoberman, Gerald. 2011. Lighthouses of South Africa : pocket edition. Cape Town - London - New York: The Gerald & Marc Hoberman Collection. pg 22-23 ill, 24, 25 ill
Williams, Harold. 1993. Southern Lights : Lighthouses of Southern Africa. Cape Town: William Waterman Publications. pg 10-20