1900: The Debut of a Replacement Lighthouse at New Zealand’s Wellington Harbour

February 21, 1900

A newly constructed lighthouse began operations on Somes Island (now officially known as Matiu/Somes Island) in the northern half of Wellington Harbour on the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island. At the time of this lighthouse’s debut, New Zealand was a British colony; it gained semi-independent status as a dominion of the British Empire in 1907 and achieved full autonomy in 1947.

That lighthouse on Somes Island replaced one that had been in existence there since 1866. This replacement was built in response to ever-increasing demands in the 1890s for a Somes Island-based navigational aid with a more powerful light that could better seen further out at sea.

Nine months after that second lighthouse was inaugurated, the Wellington-based Evening Post underscored the overall improvement in service. This newspaper reported, “The new lighthouse in Somes Island has proved to be of great benefit to vessels entering or leaving Wellington Harbour at night.”

The first principal keeper for the new Somes Island lighthouse was William Achison, who had long served in the same role for the original lighthouse. In 1871, Achison started out at the first Somes Island lighthouse as assistant keeper. He was promoted to that structure’s principal keeper three years later. Achison carried out those duties until 1882. He returned to that lighthouse as principal keeper in 1885, serving until it was phased out in favor of the new Somes Island lighthouse. Achison remained principal keeper at the replacement lighthouse until 1910.

This lighthouse, which was automated in 1924, is still in service today. The above photo of the current lighthouse was taken in 2010.

Photo Credit: 111 Emergency (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

Additional information on the lighthouses that have been built on present-day Matiu/Somes Island is available at https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/science-and-technical/matiu-somes-island-lighthouse.pdf

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