Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man



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.

The Lighthouse, Bluff, Durban vv

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.

The Opening of the Bluff Lighthouse, 1867

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.

Early illustration (Lithograph) of the Point, Port Natal and Bluff, 1855, Durban. Sketched from Captain Gardiner's station

(above) Early illustration (Lithograph) of the Point, Port Natal and Bluff, 1855, Durban. Sketched from Captain Gardiner’s Mission Station. Note the Signalling Mast.

Bluff Lighthouse and Flag Mask pp

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.

The base to the old Bluff Lighthouse, Bluff, Durban

(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.

The Durban Lighthouse, Bluff Lighthouse, Bluff, Durban, Natal

(image below) A topographical map indicating the position of the Bluff Lighthouse, marked 4.

Map and Plan of Durban Harbour, 1911, Point, Cave Rock, Lighthouse and Bluff

The Bluff and Lighthouse and Channel to Harbour, Durban

The Bluff headland, Bluff Lighthouse and Cave Rock viewed from South Pier

The Bluff, Lighthouse, Durban with Tugboat

Durban Harbour Entrance and the Bluff beyond, Lighthouse

Bluff and Entrance to Durban Harbour, Lighthouse

Bluff, Cave Rock and Bluff Lighthouse from North Pier

Bluff Headlands, with Lighthouse Durban

Breakwater and Bluff, Lighthouse, and entrance to Port Natal, Durban, 1909

Fanciful illustration of the Bluff and Lighthouse and entrance to Port Natal, Durban, 1879

Bluff and Lighthouse

Union Castle Liner entering Durban Harbour with the Bluff and Lighthouse in the background

The Bluff Lighthouse, Natal, durban

The Bluff Lighthouse, Durban, 1929

The Bluff Lighthouse, Natal, Durban

The Bluff Lighthouse, Durban, Natal

The Lighthouse, Bluff Lighthouse, durban, Natal

The Bluff Lighthouse, Durban cc

The Bluff Lighthouse, Durban, Natal (2)

The Bluff Lighthouse, drawing by Cathcart Methven

Durban, Bluff Lighthouse

Durban Lighthouse, Bluff, nd

Bluff Lighthouse, Bluff, Durban

Christmas Card. An unusual juxtapositioning of the Durban lighthouse with Proteas

Bluff Lighthouse, Durban nn

Bluff lighthouse and Flagstaff

Bluff Lighthouse, Durban, Natal q

The Lighthouse, Bluff, Durban, Natal

The Bluff Lighthouse, Bluff, Durban, Natal, m



The Bluff Lighthouse, Bluff, Durban, Colony of Natal

A Passenger Ship enters Durban Harbour, viewed form the Bluff Lighthouse, Durban

Photograph taken from the Bluff Lighthouse of the Bluff and Point, Durban

The Bluff Lighthouse, Durban Natal n

At the Signal Station, Lighthouse, Durban

(image below) The later Bluff Lighthouse that was erected after the demolition of the former.

The Bluff Lighthouse, Durban (2)


  1. Rosemary Dixon-Smith
    November 15, 2014

    Excellent photos of the Bluff lighthouse, thank you for posting these. The one of the ‘remnant’ of the base of the lighthouse: is it known what date that still existed? I’m also interested in the early keepers’ cottage/s and have a photograph taken of a group ca 1870s by W James local photographer. The group includes, probably, Douglas Bell, son of Capt Wm Bell. Douglas was brother-in-law of Thos Gadsden, and the two worked as Head Keeper and Assistant Keeper at the Bluff Light. Unfortunately the photo is not in good condition and Douglas’s figure is not clearly visible, but he is identified in a caption on the back of the pic. The structure appears to me to be the same as that in front of which Capt Wm Bell was photographed at various dates during his time as Port Capt of Durban. He was my great great grandfather. Thomas Gadsden married his daughter Eliza Ann Bell. One of the photos shows Capt Bell standing with George Cato, one time mayor of Durban and a close friend from their Cape sailing days. Regards Mole

  2. alnic2013
    September 8, 2015

    Hi, Thanks so much for a very informative blog. I am researching Portland Bentinck Shortt ( Polly, of the hill’s fame!) ( my husbands GG Grandfather) . One of his sons was Francis James Bentinck Shortt who as is recorded in your blog was a Lightkeeper at the Bluff circa 1898. If you have any further information or pics relating to him and you wouldn’t mind sharing, I would really love to have it for my Blog (Finding Polly Shortt – its an uphill climb!). Kind regards Nikki

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This entry was posted on May 27, 2014 by in Durban Architecture, Durban Environment and Issues, Durban History, History.
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