Today in Transportation History – 1849: The Light That Bridges the Atlantic and Indian Oceans

A new lighthouse went into service at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa and the start of the dividing line between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse was the third lighthouse to be built in present-day South Africa. At the time of the lighthouse’s debut, Cape Agulhas was a part of the British colony known as the Cape Colony. This colony was actually named after the more famous Cape of Good Hope, which is likewise located in that region of Africa.

By the first half of the 19th century, Cape Agulhas had gained a reputation among many sailors as a major hazard for ships. The waters in this part of the world were notorious for everything from dangerous winter storms to unusually large and often lethal surface waves. In 1837, the Cape Colony’s surveyor-general Charles Collier Michell – a British Army officer who also held the positions of superintendent of public works and civil engineer – recommended the construction of a lighthouse at Cape Agulhas to better ensure the safety of vessels.

Michiel van Breda, whose other regional achievements included founding the namesake town of Bredasdorp and serving as the first mayor of Cape Town, donated the land on which the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse was built. Michell designed the lighthouse. A highly creative person whose other talents included being an accomplished watercolorist, Michell reportedly based his design for the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse on the Lighthouse of Alexandria (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World).

For most of the time since it was first lit in 1849, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse has served as an important navigational aid for ships sailing through the area. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1968 due to the deterioration of its sandstone walls. After extensive restoration efforts, the lighthouse was recommissioned in 1988. It is now second only to the Green Point Lighthouse in Cape Town as the oldest operating lighthouse in South Africa.

For more information on the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, please check out

Additional information on lighthouses in the western part of South Africa is available at

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