The Inauguration of an Innovative Lighthouse in South Africa

October 1, 1936


The Cape Columbine Lighthouse first went into service on the west coast of the Union of South Africa (predecessor to the present-day Republic of South Africa). That area had long been notorious for the hazards to vessels posed by numerous submerged rocks and reefs in the local waters. Both the lighthouse and the headland where it is located owe their shared name to the sailing vessel Columbine, which was wrecked in that vicinity in 1829. The Cape Columbine Lighthouse was designed by Harry Claude Lee Cooper, an engineer who had been trained in London by renowned lighthouse designer William T. Douglass.


In 1902, Cooper arrived in the region of South Africa that was still under British rule as the Cape Colony. He was subsequently appointed to serve as an engineering assistant in that government’s Public Works Department. After the Union of South Africa was established in 1910 as a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, Cooper was named the country’s first lighthouse engineer. Between that time and his retirement in 1941, Cooper oversaw the design, construction, and maintenance of lighthouses in South Africa.


The Cape Columbine Lighthouse was final one of those navigational aids to be designed by Cooper. During the inaugural ceremony for the Cape Columbine Lighthouse, it was Cooper’s wife who switched on the innovative lighting apparatus for the new structure.

This lighting apparatus consisted of a lens system designed for use with a 4-kilowatt incandescent electric lamp. The exceptional brightness generated by this apparatus received worldwide attention during that time.


“With a strength of 9,500,00 candle-power, it will be more than three times as powerful as the largest in the Union today, namely, the one at Durban, Natal,” reported the Australian-based Evening News about three months before the Cape Columbine Lighthouse made its debut. “Among the renowned lighthouses that will be surpassed by the new beacon at Cape Columbine . . . are the 3,000,000 candle-power light on the Lizard in England, the 6,388,000 candle-power light at San Antonia, Portugal, the 4,400,000 candle-power light at Kykduin in Holland and every lighthouse in America, where the largest is at Navesink, on the coast of New Jersey, with 9,000,000 candle-power.”


The Evening Times also noted, “With a visibility of 34 miles [54.7 kilometers], the Cape Columbine lamp will make navigation safe on a stretch of coast which has for generations been shunned by mariners.” The Cape Columbine Lighthouse also had the distinction of being the first lighthouse to have its light, fog signal, and radio beacon installed together as a single unit. The Canberra Times, another Australian newspaper, was especially effusive in its praise of this feature when discussing the Cape Columbine Lighthouse in a 1937 article. This newspaper rhetorically asked, “What would the ancients who counted the Pharos lighthouse as one of the Seven Wonders of the World think of the new Cape Columbine lighthouse north of Saldhana Bay in South Africa?”


The Cape Columbine Lighthouse has yet another claim to fame. It is the only lighthouse in South Africa that is still operated by a resident keeper rather than on an automatic basis.


Photo Credit: Yttop (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License at


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


Additional information on Harry Claude Lee Cooper is available at



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