Today in Transportation History – 1902: A Multicoloured Lighthouse

A new lighthouse made its formal debut in Western Australia. Woodman Point Lighthouse (originally called Gage Roads Lighthouse), which is located on Woodman Point in the City of Cockburn, was built to help safely guide vessels sailing into the area’s large and busy port of Fremantle Harbour. “The light will be visible from the bridge of a ship seventeen miles out at sea,” reported the Perth-based Daily News on the day of the ceremony for the new structure. “The light itself is an arrangement of colored glasses divided into three sections – red- white, and green.”

Sir Cornthwaite Hector William James Rason, 7th Premier of Western Australia.

Cornthwaite Hector William James Rason, Western Australia’s minister for public works, performed the first lighting of the multi-colored kerosene vapor light in the 43-foot-tall limestone structure. Rason, who became Western Australia’s seventh premier only two years later, performed those inaugural duties with enthusiasm despite his own reservations about having the lighthouse built in the first place.

“He was not sure himself that the lighthouse was needed, but there were others, of course, who thought differently,” reported the Perth-based West Australian newspaper in its account of the Saturday dedication. “However, no matter what opinions were held regarding the need for the light, the erection of it showed that the people of Western Australia took an interest in the welfare of those who go down to the sea in ships.” The article also noted, “[Rason] hoped the light would not only prove a guiding light to mariners but would also serve to advance the interests of Fremantle and the State generally.”

From the day it was first lit, the structure has been unique among Australia’s lighthouses for one reason in particular. A contractor involved in the construction of the Woodman Point Lighthouse installed the red and green sections of the light incorrectly, with the green section facing the south and the red section looking towards the north instead of the other way around in accordance with established procedures. Consequently, the Woodman Point Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in all of Australia with the red and green sections of its lights reversed. In addition, the Woodman Point Lighthouse is unusually inland for a lighthouse since it was built on the highest place in the region rather than closer to or on the coast.

Woodman Point Lighthouse has remained in continuous operation since its debut. Notwithstanding Rason’s initial concerns about the lighthouse, it has played a key role in the safety and development of shipping services in that part of Australia.

For more information about Woodman Point Lighthouse and other lighthouses in Western Australia, please check out https://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/lighthouse/wau.htm.

The West Australian newspaper article about the dedication of Woodman Point Lighthouse is available at http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/rendition/nla.news-article24841909.3.pdf?followup=5731c42698e3585f8579b20074d7a7d4.

3 thoughts on “Today in Transportation History – 1902: A Multicoloured Lighthouse

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  1. Thank you for writing about one of my local lighthouses. I have read about the ‘myth’ of the reversed sector shades in many places and decided to investigate. I offer the following:
    1. Erection of the lantern and installation of the apparatus was not part of the contract to build the lighthouse — this was the construction of the tower and keepers’ cottages only.
    2. A representative of Chance Bros, Mr (Isaac?) Taylor, came to Western Australia to superintend the erection of the lantern and installation of the apparatus; Chance, of course, being the manufacturer.
    3. The order of sectors (as installed) was announced in the press at the same time as Mr Taylor arrived — he had not had a chance to even start work.
    4. A Public Works Department drawing in the State Records Office that pre-dates construction shows the sectors as installed.

    I do not believe that it is the only sectored leading light in Australia with sectors in that order. Whether it is the only lighthouse, is for someone else to investigate. 🙂

    So, it’s a nice story, which seems to have grown in the telling and been widely copied, but I don’t think it’s correct.

    The disagreement among politicians about whether the lighthouse was needed makes for an interesting story too. Ships captains were apparently very pleased with it!

    Like

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