Today in Transportation History – 1871: Let There Be Light(house)!

In New Zealand, Bean Rock Lighthouse in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour made its debut when keeper Hugh Brown lit a kerosene lamp in the new structure. (Brown served as the lighthouse’s keeper until retiring in 1890.) Bean Rock Lighthouse had been built in response to ever-increasing maritime traffic in this area of New Zealand; one of the main reasons for this increase was the discovery of gold locally. The larger-than-before number of vessels, according to the New Zealand Herald in its article about the inaugural lighting, “made the existence of a good light at this spot not only desirable but necessary.” The article also reported, “”It has always been marked ‘dangerous,’ and has been the scene of several accidents.”

First flying boat in the Southern Hemisphere seen here with a passenger and Vivian Walsh at the controls flying over Bean Rock Lighthouse, June 1915

Bean Rock Lighthouse was designed by an engineer named James Stewart (no relation to the famed Hollywood actor). Stewart had moved to New Zealand from his native Scotland in 1859. He took over designing Bean Rock Lighthouse after James Balfour, the engineer originally assigned to the project, drowned before his plans for the structure were complete. In coming up with a workable design for the lighthouse, Stewart had to keep in mind the formidable challenges posed by Bean Rock. As the New Zealand Herald outlined, the often turbulent waters slamming against this rock required a lighthouse that didn’t weigh a great deal but still had the sturdiness and balance to stay in place.

“Mr. Stewart has succeeded in contriving a building which combines the qualities described in a remarkable degree,” reported the New Zealand Herald. The key features of Stewart’s design for Bean Rock Lighthouse included an open framework with a cottage on top; and iron foundations wedged deep into the rock to help keep the structure stationary.  Stewart, standing with others in a nearby vessel known as Enterprise No. 1, was among those who witnessed the inaugural lighting of his creation.

Bean Rock Lighthouse is now the only wave-washed wooden cottage lighthouse still in existence in New Zealand, and only one of the few structures of its kind to be found anywhere in the world.

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