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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 6, April 1973

Life in Lighthouses

page 30

Life in Lighthouses

First of all I had better explain how I come to know anything about lighthouses, etc. My father, James Anderson, was in the New Zealand Marine Department Lighthouse Service 40 years, and during this period was stationed at three lighthouses a second time—places namely Manukau Heads, Akaroa and Kahurangi. As far as I know, nobody else has done more than one station twice.

The picture on front of the journal* would be taken about 1900, a year before I was born, and in it are my father, mother and three elder sisters (later there were eight of us). I was born at Nurse Kidsons in Haven Road, Nelson, and I didn't know much about Nelson at that time except what dad told me. About 1900 my father was assistant at the Boulder Bank, and during his three years there the principal keepers were Mr. Nelson and Mr. Cunningham.

I have often heard mother saying how they used to bring over sacks of soil to grow a few vegetables in boxes, along with a few flowers, geraniums, etc.

My father was always a keen naturalist in his own way, and also keen on Maori history and a collector of artifacts. I followed in his wake, in this respect, and have a good collection of Maori curios from the full length of New Zealand.

My first recollection of lighthouses was at the next station after Nelson—Dog Island, Foveaux Strait. We shifted to Kahurangi about August 1906, dad being second principal keeper since the lighthouse was built. Previous head keeper was Mr. Raynor, with assistants W. Champion and R. Partridge. Keeper's assistants with my father were W. Murray, Wilkins and McVeigh.

Our next stations were Bear Rock (Auckland), Manukau Heads, Waipapa Point (Foveaux Strait), Akaroa, Moeraki and Kahurangi again. This time dad went on his own for two years then retired to live at Port Moeraki. In 1917 while my people were at Akaroa, I joined the "Hinemoa" lighthouse ship as boy seaman under Capt. John Bollons. I was on that ship five years, then we all transferred to the "Tutanekai" as the Marine Department considered the "Hinemoa" had not enough cargo space, for the work allotted her. I was on the "Tutanekai" two more years, still on all lighthouse work and outposts, southern islands, etc.

I then joined the Fisheries Branch (still Marine Department) and was stationed at Auckland as Fisheries Inspector and also in charge of launches servicing all the automatic lights, about 14, and 3 manned island stations in and around the Hauraki Gulf. The last 10 years of my service was in charge at Russell here, where I still had Cape page 31Brett and North Cape lights to look after, making 42 years with the Marine Department.

As regards Kahurangi Point, our family always considered that station the nicest we were ever at. We loved the bush and beautiful beaches. It was certainly isolated then. Once a month, weather permitting, one keeper would ride up to Mangarakau for mail. Our closest neighbour was Nicholls at Paturau River about 18 miles north. With all the rivers to cross on the beach, sometimes a keeper would be weather-bound for days on his mail trip.

Our stores were all per S.S. "Hinemoa" scheduled for three times a year. One year Christmas arrived and we had received no stores since early August. The "Hinemoa" was away I think down at the wreck of "Dundonald," Auckland Island. The Marino Department arranged for a little wooden steamer, the "Energy" from Westport, to bring the stores, but after several attempts at trying to land, they had to give up and put the stores on the "Ngunguru" (a larger steamer). More vain attempts and Christmas arrived—still no ship. However, between the three keepers, nine children included, we pooled resources and made a community plum duff and we still had biscuits (the ships variety). Meat didn't worry us, as there was an abundance of fish and pigeons, etc. We had no cows as no land was cleared, hence no milk. As regards butter we used to get it in cases, reduce it to lbs. then put it in brine. After about three months what was left was rather rancid. The "Ngunguru" managed to land stores after New Year, but while doing so one lifeboat capsized and we all lost some stores.

In your journal it states that the landing place was Big River. It was, when the sections of steel tower and accessories were landed for building, but during our time at Kahurangi, and ever after it was never used, mainly because the channel ran broadside to the breakers making it dangerous, and also owing to being so far from the lighthouse. Two painted beacon posts were erected about threequarters of a mile closer to mark a gap in the reef, and this was the landing place.

As kids we used to play trains on the long tram line to the houses from the beach.

We arrived at Kahurangi with a private governess to teach us, and arrangements were that if seven children were of school age, the Education Department would pay half her salary and the keepers had to pay the other half and board her free. It worked all right and we had the same young lady with us for three years.

The first morning, on arrival, a weka walked in while we were having breakfast and fed on what we dropped under the table.

Occasionally, we would see a wandering gold prospector. One old fellow, who apparently could hardly speak, we nicknamed 'Thunderbolt" and we would see him about once a year and give him meals and a bed in a storeroom for a few days.

At that period there was a lot of shipping passing us. Sometimes we would count 14 in a day and we knew most of them quite well page 32on sight. In fine weather some came past quite close and we were allowed to go outside the school and wave to them and often get a reply from the ship's whistle. One morning the U.S.S. Co.'s "Kaitangata" whistled, and ran a flag signal up: "Have you seen a derelict ship?" We had not, but later on found out that the vessel inquired after was the brigantine "Rio Lodge," missing and untraced between Kaipara Harbour and Dunedin.

Of the keepers longest stationed at Kahurangi, I think Mr. Page would have the honour after the light was made automatic. For many years now, keepers have had no need to keep watches in any of our lighthouse towers, and to go into a tower at night with no noise of machinery, hiss of the incandescent light, and no old familiar tea-billy hanging above the table-lamp to keep tea warm. To me, there is a lot missing in the atmosphere, and instead of homeliness, there is a chill of loneliness.

Once again the march of progress, but to our family and especially myself, they were very happy times, spent in what were once outlandish places and to many, considered very lonely.

Hoping these few notes will be of interest re Kahurangi, and thanking you again for the journal.

P.S.: I undersand "Kahurangi" means "clothing of the sky" (clouds going across).

The writer is a retired Fisheries Officer, Russell.

* J. Nelson Historical Soc., Vol. 2, No. 5, November 1971.