Beacon on the Rock: the Dramatic history of lighthouses from Ancient Greece to the present day-by Peter Williams
(Arum Press Ltd, 25 Bedford Avenue, London, WC1B 3AT);
hardback, large format (33cm x 25cm) 193 pages, 230 photos and illustrations (mainly colour) £19.99 Stg in UK
BEACON ON THE ROCK is one of the better lighthouse books to have appeared in recent years, despite its whimsical title. Peter Williams tells the history of lighthouses from the earliest times to the present day and in all continents, though concentrating mainly on western Europe and North America. There are chapters on early and medieval lighthouses; lighthouse design and architecture; methods of illumination, fuel and optics; designers and builders; automation; and alternative uses for redundant lighthouses.
Some of these chapters overlap and this results in some repetition. Occasionally the author strays from the chapter heading or jumps from the subject and back again. As the book credits a Senior Project Editor and an Editor these minor irritations could have been avoided. It is odd, too, for a book published in England to use American spelling.
Williams pays tribute to the skills and perseverance of the designers and builders of lighthouses on wave-washed off-shore rocks, among them Winstanley, Rudyard, Smeaton, and James Douglass, the builders of the five successive Eddystone Lighthouses; the Stevenson dynasty; the Halpins; and the other members of the Douglass family. There is no mention of the South Rock Lighthouse, the oldest wave-washed rock lighthouse in the world still standing-though not used as a lighthouse since the end of the nineteenth century. Its builder Thomas Rogers is mentioned in passing only as a maker of lamps and optics.
The significant nineteenth century developments in lights and optics are covered comprehensively, as is Gustaf Dalen's invention of the first automatic gas powered lights in 1910. Dalen's system was used in smaller lighthouses in many countries including, until very recently, Ireland.
John Wigham deserves more credit than he is given here: his multi-jet gas lights were used at major Irish lighthouses from the 1860s to the 1920s, coal gas being made in a small gas works at each station. When Galley Head Lighthouse was established in 1878 with a gas light system designed and supplied by John Wigham, it was considered the most powerful lighthouse in the world. Wigham is described as an Irish lighthouse engineer but he was, in fact, born in Scotland.
There is a good account of Hook Head Lighthouse, though the station is not shown on the map of European lighthouses from 800 BC to the 16th century, and there is no mention of the beacon light established at Hook Head by St Dubhán in the 5th century.
A chapter on lightships and service vessels includes a drawing of the rescue by Ballycotton Lightboat of the crew of the Daunt lv Comet in 1936. There is no mention, however, of the foundering, with the loss of all hands, of the Puffin on the Daunt station in 1896. The loss of the Arklow lv by a German submarine in 1917 is mentioned, but not the fact that the submarine Commander gave the crew time to take to their boats before sinking the lightship.
The sinking of the lighthouse tender Isolda in neutral Irish waters by a German aircraft in 1940 with the loss of six of her crew is omitted. The accident to the second Granuaile off Maidens Rocks in 1992 is tactfully treated. It is surprising to see Granuaile incorrectly spelt, however.
Describing the building of the Kish Lighthouse, the author tells us 'As soon as the lighthouse was in place, a team of Keepers were flown in by helicopter, the generators were started, and the light was lit.' In fact, fitting out and equipping the new lighthouse took another four months before the light was inaugurated and the lightship withdrawn. The Keepers joined the station and were relieved by Lighthouse Tender for some years before helicopter reliefs took over.
Some of the references to the Dublin Ballast Board and to the Commissioners of Irish Lights are not quite correct. The Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin (known as the Ballast Board) was established in 1786 by the Irish Parliament as the port authority for Dublin. Initially the Board had no responsibility for lighthouses but in 1810 the Ballast Board was made responsible for all lighthouses and seamarks on the coast of Ireland, perhaps because of their proven record in developing Dublin Port.
George Halpin was not appointed engineer to the Port of Dublin in 1810. He was appointed Inspector of Works to the Ballast Board in 1800, and in 1810 he was also appointed Inspector of Lighthouses. Halpin was not a professionally qualified engineer but he must have had practical engineering skills. He was also an administrator of exceptional ability. Between 1810 and his death in 1854 at the age of 75 he oversaw the building of above 60 new lighthouses and the modernisation and re-equipping of the existing ones. He also set up a training and disciplinary regime for Lightkeepers, and established an effective management structure with standardised procedures and levels of service. This was in addition to supervising the construction of new docks, bridges, and other projects for the expanding Dublin Port. From 1830 he was assisted by his son George Halpin junior who was a qualified civil engineer.
A chapter entitled Lighthouse Lore describes various disasters, disappearances, heroic rescues, and other events in the lives of Keepers and their families.
Beacon on the Rocks is wide ranging and comprehensive. Although it has a number of errors I would recommend it as a good general history of lighthouses. There is an index of lighthouse and lightship stations but no general index-a regrettable omission in a book of this kind. The book is well designed and sturdily bound, and the pictures are excellent.
Guiding Lights: The Design and Development of the British Lightvessel from 1732 -by Anthony Lane
(Tempus Publishing Ltd, The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 2QG, England);
paperback, 208 pages, 200 photos and illustrations
£17.99 Stg in UK
The first lightship in the world was placed at the Nore Sands, at the entrance to the Thames Estuary on the east coast of England, in 1732. About seven years later a lightship was placed at the entrance to the Liffey: it remained on station until around 1782 when the Poolbeg Lighthouse was established. These, and other early lightships were operated by private entrepreneurs as commercial enterprises.
When the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin was made responsible for Irish Lighthouses and seamarks, one of their first decisions was to place a lightship on the Kish Bank. A Dutch galliot was purchased and converted for the purpose, with three lights arranged in a triangular shape.
The earliest lightships were converted mercantile ships, with lanterns hung from yards. But from the turn of the nineteenth century purpose-built lightships were designed. The first Irish purpose built lightship was the Seagull, built 1823-4 by U. Roberts of Milford Haven, originally for the Coningbeg station.
Through the nineteenth century the number of lightship stations increased. At the beginning of the twentieth century Irish Lights had twelve lightship stations, and three or maybe four spare vessels, but Trinity House had around 65 stations if I understood Anthony Lane's book correctly, and quite a number were added during the twentieth century.
Dr Lane concentrates mainly on Trinity House lightvessels stationed around the English and Welsh coasts, with passing reference to lightships operated by Mersey Docks and Harbour Harbour, Humber Conservancy Board, Northern Lights, and Irish Lights. Unlike Irish Lights which always gave its lightships names, Trinity House only give theirs numbers; and for some reason, having reached No 95 they started again in 1946 with No 1.
Dr Lane describes in great detail the construction and arrangement of a typical nineteenth century Trinity House lightship, including the general arrangements, machinery space, crew accommodation, stores, deck machinery, and mooring systems.
Late nineteenth century lightships were built of composite materials, for example iron frames with timber planking sheathed with metal. Irish Lights' Fulmar lightvessel, built 1903-4 by J. Reid of Glasgow, had an iron shell with steel framing. Guillemot, built 1921-3 by Cran & Somerville of Leith, was Irish Lights's first all-steel lightship.
The first Trinity House all-steel lightship was No 81, completed in 1926. The design of steel lightships varied through the ensuing years. Dr Lane gives a detailed description of a typical steel lightship and also documents changes in the design as they developed over the years.
A separate chapter is devoted to lanterns, lights, and optics and another to the various types of fog signalling equipment. At times the book reads a bit like a technical manual and a reader would need some knowledge of engineering terms to follow it. Nevertheless, there is a wealth of information here that might have been lost had not Dr Lane recorded it.
Working life on board Trinity House lightships is described too, and a hard life it was. Apparently, during their relief periods Trinity House Lightshipmen had to work on board the Lighthouse Tenders or at one of the Depots. It would be interesting to know how the working life of Irish Lights Lightshipmen compared to that of the Trinity House lightship crews.
The book concludes with a chapter on lightvessel automation and records the present whereabouts and condition of the surviving British and Irish lightvessels.
A list of British and Irish Lights lightvessel stations is appended. The list of Irish stations includes Saltees-a station that did not exist. The Coningbeg station is, of course, to the south of the Saltee Islands. Perhaps in early documentation the two names were used for the same station, leading to the confusion.
The book has many excellent photos and drawings showing details of machinery and equipment, vessels, and lightshipmen at work and relaxing. An entire chapter consists of a photographic survey of steel lightships. The author lists his sources and there is a comprehensive index.
It is obvious that this book has been meticulously researched and it is likely to become a standard reference book for the future.
Galway Ships and Boats
Transatlantic Triumph & Heroic Failure: The Story of the Galway Line-by Timothy Collins
(The Collins Press, West Link Park, Doughcloyne, Wilton, Cork);
paperback, 225 pages,
John Orrell Lever was a businessman and shipping magnate from Manchester who recognised the potential of Galway as a transatlantic shipping terminus. Fr Peter Daly was a priest in Galway. In the years following Catholic emancipation he was engaged in church and school building programmes in a number of parishes to which he was appointed in succession. After the Great Famine he tried to improve the lot of the people through business development. He became Chairman of Galway Town Commissioners and a member of Galway Harbour Commissioners. He was also for a time Director of Galway Gas Company and was on the Board of the Midland and Great Western Railway Company.
Lever already had some shipping interests in Ireland when in 1858 he backed the establishment of the Galway Bay Steam Navigation Company, with Fr Daly as Chairman, to provide a steamship service to the Aran Islands and across Galway Bay, and a tender service for transatlantic ships which, it was planned, would soon be arriving in Galway.
Lever and Daly inaugurated a transatlantic steamship service from Galway in June 1858, though the company they formed, the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company, usually called the Galway Line, was not legally constituted until the following October.
From the outset the Line was beset by difficulties. Marine steam propulsion was in its infancy. Each engine was a one-off and, to some extent, experimental. Early steamers had wooden hulls, much the same as sailing ships. To achieve greater speed, strength was sacrificed for lightness and vibrations from the engines were likely to shake the hull apart.
The first ship chartered by the Galway Line struck the Margaretta Rock on its arrival in Galway, and then set out for New York with one of its boilers out of commission. During the voyage a piston fractured leaving the ship to complete the voyage on one cylinder. This ill luck-or was it mismanagement?-set a pattern for the future. Storms, fog, and ice in the North Atlantic caused delays and damage, though a number of voyages was made without incident and in record time.
Political lobbying by Fr Daly ensured that the Galway Line was awarded a Post Office contract to carry mail between Galway and Newfoundland, following which the name of the company was changed to the Atlantic Royal Mail Steam Navigation Company.
Timothy Collins describes virtually every one of the 104 voyages made by the sixteen ships operated at various times by the company during its six years of existence. He also gives a brief history of each ship before and after its period with the Galway Line. These accounts are amplified by contemporary newspaper reports which add much colour to the book. At times the wealth of detail, particularly in relation to ships and voyages of competing lines, makes the main plot difficult to follow.
This plot reads almost like a novel leading me to wonder whether Lever was a model for Melmotte in Trollope's novel The Way We Live Now. Lever was elected MP for Galway, unopposed when the other candidate withdrew following a speech by Fr Daly in support of Lever.
Collins blames an over-ambitious and incompetent management, which offered a service to the public before suitable ships were ready, for the Galway Line's failure. These ambitions included the building of four new ships to be named after the four provinces. The first of these, the Connaught was one of the most luxurious ships of the time. On the return leg of her second voyage she sprung a leak and caught fire 150 miles off Boston. Miraculously, all passengers and crew were saved by a passing brig which came alongside having seen the fire. A year earlier the Argo, while chartered to the Galway Line was wrecked on rocks off Newfoundland but, again, all passengers and crew were saved.
Plans to build a deepwater berth off Mutton Island, with a causeway to Furbo and a railway branch-line from Galway did not materialise. Failure to meet deadlines led to the loss of the mail contract in 1861 and, with all its ships undergoing repair the line could no longer provide a service.
The company was restructured and recommenced services in 1863 but Galway was relegated to a port of call. The company eventually failed in 1864 in the face of competition from shipping lines operating out of other ports, and a reduction in trade because of the American Civil War.
Collins gives few details of the financial affairs of the company. Perhaps Lever, like Melmotte, kept that information to himself. The 1861 Ordinary General Meeting of the company was held in London, making it awkward for Irish Shareholders to attend.
Following the failure of the company Lever lost his seat in Parliament and a few years later was declared bankrupt. Incredibly, he was re-elected as a Home Rule MP for Galway.
It is a fascinating story and Collins tells it well. Irish Lights features a number of times. (For the record, Mitchell's screw-pile method was not used to secure the No 1 Kish Buoy but was an early attempt to build a lighthouse on the Kish Bank.)
Appendices list the ships of the Galway Line, a list of Shareholders, and Sea Shanties and Ballads associated with the Line. Regrettably there is no index but an extensive list of references indicates the depth of Collins's research.
Galway-A Maritime Tradition: Ships, Boats and People-by Brendan O'Donnell
(Published by Brendan O'Donnell, The Anchorage, Gurrane South, Oranmore, Co. Galway);
A4 size paperback, 150 pages,
All kinds of vessels that sailed out of Galway are here-hookers, púcháns, gleoiteógs, trawlers, schooners, steam and motor vessels. Brendan O'Donnell comes from a family of boat builders and seafarers and spent most of his working life overseas as a Master on offshore vessels servicing gas and oil fields. This is essentially a selection of mainly old photographs from his collection. Except for a few of the more recent photos they are all monochrome.
An interesting and informative commentary accompanies the photographs, recording a way of life now gone, for the most part, when everything to do with shipping was more labour intensive.
Of special interest are photos of the Blackrock Mayo relief boat Úna Bhán showing Peter Roddy being hoisted up to the rock. Another photo shows the Mutton Island relief boat in 1951, with a young Bill Scanlan going ashore-or, maybe, going on duty- and the boat contractor Jim Fleming and his brother Martin crewing the boat. There is also a photo of Mutton Island on 13 December 1977, its last day of operation.
Photos of the Aran Island Ferries Dun Aengus and Naomh Éanna will bring memories back to many former Lightkeepers who served at Inisheer or Eeragh.
The book concludes with some more recent photos, including two of the new Granuaile in Galway in April 2000.
Galway-A Maritime Tradition is published by the author. It is simply and unpretentiously designed; a most attractive publication.