Today in Transportation History – 1824: South Africa’s Oldest Lighthouse Was Lit

On the southwestern coast of present-day South Africa, a new lighthouse began operations near the city of Cape Town. (At the time of the lighthouse’s debut, this region was a part of the British colony known as the Cape Colony.) While built at Mouille Point, the lighthouse was formally named after the local community of Green Point.

Construction of the Green Point Lighthouse had been commissioned by Rufane Shaw Donkin, a British Army lieutenant general who served as the Cape Colony’s acting governor in the early 1820s. The lighthouse was designed by Herman Schutte, a public works contractor whose wide range of skills reportedly included everything from architecture to sculpting. Schutte was born in the Holy Roman Empire’s free imperial city of Bremen in present-day Germany, and he immigrated to the Cape Colony sometime around 1790 when it was still under Dutch rule.

When the Green Point Lighthouse first went into service, it was illuminated by two oil lamps known as Argand lamps that could be seen for six nautical miles (11 kilometers). The lighthouse’s range was extended to 22 nautical miles (41 kilometers) in 1922 after 3rd order dioptric flashing lights were installed. Another major addition to the Green Point Lighthouse took place four years later when it was outfitted with a foghorn. As a result of this foghorn’s loud sound, many area residents soon started referring to the lighthouse as “Moaning Minnie.”

The red-and-white Green Point Lighthouse, which was extended to its current height of 52 feet (16 meters) in 1865, remains in service today. It is South Africa’s oldest operating lighthouse.

For more information on the Green Point Lighthouse, please check out http://www.cape-town-heritage.co.za/heritage-site/green-point-lighthouse.html and http://www.lighthousedigest.com/Digest/database/uniquelighthouse.cfm?value=1147.

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