1935: A Lighthouse Goes into Service on New Zealand’s North Island

June 17, 1935

On the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, a lighthouse in the vicinity of the capital city of Wellington began operations. This concrete structure, situated on a narrow piece of the coastline known as Baring Head (Ōrua-pouanui), had been built to replace a longtime lighthouse at nearby Pencarrow Head as a major navigational aid for the large number of vessels entering and leaving Wellington Harbour on a regular basis. (Pencarrow Head Lighthouse, which had been in continuous operation since 1859, was the first permanent lighthouse installed in New Zealand.)

Baring Head Lighthouse was the first lighthouse in New Zealand to be inaugurated as part of an official ceremony. A local resident named Eric Riddiford had donated the 27 acres (10.9 hectares) on which the lighthouse and related infrastructure (including cottages for the keepers and their families) were built.

Both Riddiford and his wife Aileen attended the Monday afternoon opening. The New Zealand Herald, in its article about the ceremony, noted his donation of land for Baring Head Lighthouse and reported that “tributes were paid to Mr. Riddiford’s generosity and public-spirited action.” Mrs. Riddiford, however, was the one who operated the switches turning on the lighthouse’s lamp for the first time.

The government officials on hand for those festivities included John Cobbe, minister of marine (responsible for issues involving maritime transportation); and John Bitchener, minister of public works. The lighting for the now-obsolete Pencarrow Head Lighthouse had been extinguished once and for all at sunrise that same morning, even though the lighthouse would not be formally decommissioned until later in the year.

A week before Baring Head Lighthouse went into service, the Poverty Bay Herald described the technical equipment and capacities of that new navigational aid. “The lighting apparatus consists of a revolving lens with a fixed lamp,” reported the newspaper. “A sun valve operates the switching on and off of the light, which is so adjusted as to be visible eastward from a point two miles [3.2 kilometers] off Black Rock, at Cape Palliser, and westward from a point about a mile [1.6 kilometers] off Karori Rock, and about half a mile [0.8 kilometer] off Toms Rock and Sinclair Head.”

Robert S. Wilson was appointed to serve as Baring Head Lighthouse’s first principal keeper. Immediately prior to that assignment, he had served for three-and-a-half years as the principal keeper at Pencarrow Head Lighthouse.

Baring Head Lighthouse, which remains in operation today, is 40 feet (12.2 meters) tall. The hilltop elevation at that site, however, gives the lighthouse a focal height of 285 feet (87 meters).

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Baring Head Lighthouse, please check out www.gw.govt.nz/assets/Parks-and-Recreation/East-Harbour/Baring-Head-redevelopment-reference-material/Buildings-and-services/NewFolder/Baring-Head-Lighthouse-Compound-Heritage-Plan.Part1.pdf

Additional information on the opening of the lighthouse in 1935 is available at Papers Past | Newspapers | New Zealand Herald | 21 June 1935 | NEW LIGHTHOUSE (natlib.govt.nz)

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