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THE BLUFF LIGHTHOUSE – DURBAN
Like many, I have envisioned myself since a child living in a lighthouse. Wild storms beating against the solid stone walls, towering waves breaking against the rocks of the headland, the life-saving light sweeping across the bay…..
Perhaps I read far too many children’s story books. Little wonder then – that as an adult I am interested in all things ‘lighthouse’.
Latitude 29 degrees 52′ 40″ S / Longitude 31 degrees 3′ 50″ E – this is the rather nautical location of the old lighthouse that stood atop the Bluff, Durban, Natal. I record this position as the structure no longer exists, having been demolished. There is and has been precious-little sentimentality in the city of Durban, for the old has always made way for the new. So we have to rely on old images of this structure to appreciate what it looked like. Today a new swanky structure exists, set further back on the Bluff.
Building commenced in 1864 on the headland and took three years to complete. Materials had to be ferried with difficulty from the Point, across the Bay, landed at West’s and then hauled up the steep path that led to the top of the Bluff, some 195 feet (59.5 metres) high. The lighthouse was made of iron, constructed in the form of a tapering cone. It stood fully 81 feet, with a domed roof above the lantern and crowned with a ball finial. it appears to have always been painted white. Most important to these structures was the light, that was positioned on the 70 foot mark. From shoreline to this point a full 282 feet above high water (86 metres). The light revolved, attaining its greatest brilliance once every minute. In clear weather, the light could be observed from a ship’s deck 25 miles out at sea. The lighthouse was erected by Peter Paterson the Natal Colonial Engineer. Just below the light, a doorway opened to a circular walkway. Square windows were incised in the tower in three bands.
In 1867 the lighthouse was officially opened to fanfare and occasion. (image below) This was the first lighthouse on the the east African coast.
Alongside the lighthouse a Signalling Station was located, as well as a Signalling Mast with staying ropes. The mast looking very much like the mast and rigging of a sailing ship. From here flag signals could be raised to communicate with ships out at sea. A similar mast was positioned here from the early days of Durban, well before any lighthouse was built. Also located here was the Lighthouse Keeper’s home and fenced garden.
(above) Early illustration (Lithograph) of the Point, Port Natal and Bluff, 1855, Durban. Sketched from Captain Gardiner’s Mission Station. Note the Signalling Mast.
In 1933 in the time of Lighthouse Engineer Harry Claude Cooper, the lighthouse was encased in concrete to secure its future. Unfortunately, in 1941 during the 2nd World War, a gun emplacement was positioned on the Bluff and like other stupid decisions so characteristic of Durban Councilors and Government Authorities, the lighthouse was demolished so as not to impede artillery firing. All that survives today is the lower section.
In 1898, a man called Wills, while on a sight-seeing trip to the lighthouse, fell to his death from the walkway beneath the lantern.
(image above and below)) A contemporary photograph of the remnant of the Bluff Lighthouse. Note the supporting buttresses to this structure which were added to the lighthouse in the later years to secure the structure. You can see these buttresses in the image below of the revamped lighthouse.
(image below) A topographical map indicating the position of the Bluff Lighthouse, marked 4.
(image below) The later Bluff Lighthouse that was erected after the demolition of the former.