Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bluff Light-keepers 1875: Gadsden and Bell

According to the listing of the Port Office in the Natal Almanac, when my light-keeper great grandfather, Thomas Gadsden, was Head Keeper of the Bluff Light, Durban, he was paid a hundred pounds a year, 'with quarters'. This wasn't an enormous salary but he was doing better than the 'Native Assistant' at twelve pounds. And in comparison with the Port Captain, then Alexander Airth, who received 350 pounds, perhaps Gadsden's salary was fair.

At this date, the Assistant Light-keeper was D W Bell, Gadsden's brother-in-law, the son of the late Captain William Bell who had died in 1869. Gadsden had married Bell's daughter, Eliza Ann, in 1873.

So the lighthouse was very much a family affair. Douglas Bell took over as Head keeper in about 1880. 

This unique photograph, restored from its original damaged condition, shows various members of the Bell family including possibly the only surviving picture of Douglas Bell, left. He could be holding the Dolland telescope which previously belonged to his father, Capt Bell. Unfortunately, it was this portion of the original photo which was water-damaged and the figure may not be an accurate likeness of Douglas Bell - though the telescope was definitely visible in the original.

Capt Bell and his Dolland telescope

The ladies are 'Aunt Ellen' (Ellen Harriet Bell, daughter of Captain Bell, who later married Edward Baxter) and her niece 'Cousin Violet Bell' (Violet Amy, daughter of Sarah Scott Bell and Charles George Pay).  The other little girl may be Natalia Beatrice Pay, sister of Violet. The identity of the bearded man, perhaps Assistant Light-keeper at the time, is not known.

The photograph was taken by W E James who at that date, ca 1880, had a studio at the Point, Durban.

Most interesting of all is the structure in front of which the group is foregathered. This is likely to be the current keeper's quarters near the Bluff Lighthouse. It has a corrugated iron roof over timber walls which are raised above the ground (against white ants). The windows with their top 'awning' detail are typical of the period. Note the plaited fence.

For more about the Gadsden/Bell connection with the Bluff Light see:

Photograph restoration: Hartmut Jager
Photograph from Gordon Brown.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Green Point Lighthouse, Natal, and its keepers

Brought into operation in 1905, Green Point Lighthouse on Natal's South Coast was the second last SA lighthouse to use petroleum vapour burners and the first to be fully automated in November 1961.

Light intensity was approximately  240 000 cd. The lighthouse had an added feature: a subsidiary sector light exhibiting a fixed red light over an arc subtending the extremities of the Aliwal Shoal.

In the days when it was a manned light, Green Point, though not far from Durban, was a comparatively isolated and inaccessible light for lightkeepers and their families.The old South Coast Road to Port Shepstone was seven miles inland and was connected to the lighthouse by a secondary road running through the canefields. The old road was always in poor condition and the staff used the train from Clansthal to visit Umkomaas or Durban. When the new tarred road, running close to the sea, was built, a short access road was cut through the bush to the lighthouse. This enabled those members of the staff who were fortunate enough to own cars to travel to Umkomaas in a few minutes and to Durban in less than an hour. But lightkeepers no longer frequent the road in this area. Another era has gone.

Names of the senior lightkeepers at Green Point before automation:

C G Johnson
E D Bayes
J R Clingen
D Hurley*
C H Cornish
T McInerney
E L Andreasen
J C Addison
H H Hews
W A Hews
F C Miller

* father of Archbishop D Hurley

The last lightkeepers did not benefit from the electricity supply - it resulted in their permanent withdrawal.

Read more in Harold Williams's authoritative volume Southern Lights, Lighthouses of Southern Africa (Published by Wm Waterman 1993)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Waratah 106th anniversary: links

On Monday, 26 July 1909, at 8 pm from ‘C’ Shed, SS Waratah put to sea for the last time. As the ship turned south past Durban Bluff heading for Cape Town none on board would have believed that they would be sailing to their deaths.

As they progressively headed into stronger winds, at around 6.30am on 27 July the following morning, Waratah‘s last communication from Latitude 31.36 degrees South and Longitude 29.58 degrees East, positioned her due East of Cape Hermes near Port St. Johns.

Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson tells the story:

A must for Waratah enthusiasts, Andrew Van Rensburg's blog:

Buy his book via Amazon now!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Countdown to Waratah Anniversary 2

Waratah officers' signatures

Western Times 19 August 1909

STILL NO NEWS OF THE MISSING LINER: The east coast from Durban southwards is still being vigorously searched for any trace of the missing liner Waratah. One hopeful view is that no signs of wreckage have been seen and it would seem impossible for a ship the size of the Waratah to go to pieces without wreckage being floated ashore.

For much more on Waratah see

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Countdown to Waratah Anniversary

A very poignant letter written by a crew member on 26 July 1909 from SS Waratah in Durban, was received by his sister in London.

‘Just a line to let you know we arrived here safely after a pretty rough voyage from Adelaide. For 13 days after leaving that place we had heavy seas and weather and a lot of the deck fittings were broken and carried away by heavy seas that swept over the vessel. The last five days however have been fine and we got here yesterday midday (Sunday) and we leave the Cape Saturday next on 31st July for London, where we will arrive on August 21st although we are not due until the 23rd….’

Those words still hang in the air more than a century later. The Waratah was destined not to reach London but to disappear off the southern coast of Africa after her departure from Durban for the Cape.  The story of her mysterious final hours continues to haunt us and even now there are plans to search the coastal waters for her final remains.

Was your ancestor on the Waratah's last fateful voyage. Check the passenger list at 

and Andrew van Rensburg's enthralling book of the same title, now available on Amazon. A must-read for all Waratah enthusiasts.

Thanks to Waratah expert S J L Patterson for her input for this post.

The crew of SS Waratah

Friday, July 24, 2015

Lighthousekeeper: Roman Rock

Not an operation to be carried out in stormy weather.

Roman Rock Lighthouse perches on an isolated rock in the harbour at Simonstown.
It is the only lighthouse on the SA coast erected on a rock that is exposed at low water and awash almost continuously at high water.

Joseph Nourse Commodore of the Royal Navy at Simonstown wrote to the Admiralty in London in January 1823 stressing the importance of the safety of HM ships entering anchorage at Simon's Bay at night. A plan was presented in February of the same year, with an estimated cost of 450 pounds, a low figure for the time.

Nothing happened until 1838 when Rear Admiral Elliott urged the need for a lighthouse at the entrance to Simon's Bay. He repeated his request in 1839. Simon's Bay was still waiting for its lighthouse by 1843. Work finally began on a lighthouse in 1857, but it took four years for the structure to be completed. Delays were very much a part of the history of lighthouse building in South Africa.

Despite adverse comments on the safety and stability of the tower in 1861, the same beacon is still in operation having defied the south-east gales and surging seas which engulf it every summer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bluff Lighthouse, Signal Station and keepers' quarters

Pre 1930 - as can be seen from the lack of the additional concrete with which the lighthouse was 'restored' by that date. This is one of the best photographs taken of the lighthouse and its environs between 1900 and 1930. (Note that the shape of the Bluff changes from photo to photo over several decades.)

The concrete sheath was added due to concerns that the foundations of the old lighthouse were shaky: an earth tremor had unsettled the foundations and in a strong wind the tower swayed considerably, throwing the lens which floated on the mercury bath out of kilter.

Lighthouse engineer Cooper's scheme encased the original lighthouse in reinforced concrete, which may have assisted its stability but did nothing for the aesthetic appearance of the landmark.

Bluff Lighthouse with its concrete casing, taken ca 1935

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lighthouse keepers at the Bluff Light, Durban

Senior Lightkeepers

1867 - 1880             T A Gadsden
1885                          Moffat
1898                          J Stephenson
1.7.1898                    B Shortt
1918                          G Johnson
1922                           L R P Daly
1927 - 1933              T F Addison
1938                           G A Orchard
20.1.1941 - 1.4.1942 A Gray

27.7.1889 - 30.6.1898 F B Shortt
1.7.1898                     John Murphy
18.8.1931 - 16.7.1934 A Spring
16.7.1934 - 1.3.1941   E L Andreason                                              

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lighthouse keeper's uniform 1920s: Agulhas Light

My grandfather George Orchard in uniform at Cape L'Agulhas lighthouse where he was stationed from 1921 to 1924 (writes Edith Morris).

This photo shows an interesting example of the keeper's uniform at that time.

George Orchard in uniform, 1920s

L'Agulhas Lighthouse, Cape, SA

PJ Hannabus sends additional information on keepers' uniforms:

The uniforms stayed the same until the 1980's, I think, when they stopped issue. However, our uniform (winter Issue) was the same as the Navy, except on the lower sleeve where the braid was, it was capped with a 'diamond', not a round whorl.  This in fact depicted a Naval Officer, Lieutenant, Captain etc. Junior keepers had 1 & 2 braids, a senior keeper had 3.  The summer uniform was white shorts and shirt, and white long socks. The rank was worn on the shoulders with epaulettes. From a distance it looked like a Navy Officer, as the caps were the same too.  I remember my dad walking down Adderley Street, Cape Town, in uniform, and passing soldiers all saluted him! He returned the salute of course, with a 'Carry on soldier!' My mom said, 'But you're not an officer!' He replied,  'But they know what I should have been!'  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lighthouse: Shelley Point, St Helena

This unusual and classically-attractive lighthouse (strictly speaking not a lighthouse but a lead light), also called Stompneus Point light, was built privately by the owner of the estate (he was a lighthouse enthusiast) and later became official. Located at the northernmost point of the Cape St. Martins peninsula, marking the western entrance to St. Helena Bay, about 20 km northeast of Paternoster. Today the site is open but the tower closed.

Harold Williams does not include this light in his volume Lighthouses of Southern Africa, hence he offers no lists of lightkeepers at Shelley Point. If anyone has further information on the topic please contact Mole via this blog.

Input from P J Hannabus: it seems that the old beacon was a local structure to assist the trawlers. From that point, eastwards along that small piece of coast, is a residential area called The Golden Mile. Rows of palm trees line the access roads and properties. As the name suggests, it is a Millionaires Row with mansions resembling Beverley Hills in the USA. 
These folks were unhappy with the  common wooden structure on their doorstep, and had the present structure built to resemble a Middle East minaret.

[Mole is of the opinion that the dome looks more Italian than Middle Eastern.]

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Lighthouse: Slangkop Poinr, Noordhoek, Cape Town

Slangkop Point lighthouse, part of the Marine Protected Area of Table Mountain National Park, is a 34m-high giant of a lighthouse that has become the icon of Kommetjie. Visitors walking the 8km stretch of Noordhoek Beach often climb up to the top of the lighthouse for stunning coastal views.
The tallest tower on the South African coast was established after the lighthouse commission of 1906, but it wasn't until 1913 that tenders were invited for the supply of a cast-iron tower, lantern, optical apparatus etc. It had been intended to be put up by 1914, but the Great War intervened and though the lighthouse was built by that year it had to wait five years to be commissioned.
The cost of the original installation was 14 358.9.1. pounds.
The lighthouse is now fully automatic but a senior lightkeeper is retained on the premises for security reasons.
In 1914 the Senior Lightkeeper was J C Luxton, T F Addison taking over about 1918. Others in the earlier years were J Piper, A Small, H C Grieve, R W Gardiner.
J F Hannabus (see other posts on this lightkeepeing family) was First Lightkeeper at Slangkop from 1963 - 1965, and C H Hannabus preceded him from 1929 - 1930. Other surnames associated with this lighthouse include: Bissel, Andreason, Linden, Stewart, Bruyns, Harty, and van Rensburg (F, 1970-1975).


Slangkop Point lighthouse near Kommetjie
At sunset, with low visibility, the captain mi
That was not the end of the Kakapo, howe

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Last of the South African Lighthouse Keepers: Hannabus family

The strong Bird Island lens, with a view of the keeper's house to the right of the lens

 A series by Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson - 2015

As we continue this series, recognition is paid to the Hannabus family.  Their history of three generations in the lighthouse service, illustrated below, is a continuous contribution to providing safety to the numerous ships and their precious cargoes of passengers and crews which plied the long and rugged South African coastline.

At various periods of their careers, all of the Hannabus dynasty were Senior Keepers of the Light:

(a)   A.E (Bill) Hannabus (1906 – 1945)  Bird Island, Hood Point, Cape St, Blaize, Cape Point, Dassen Island, Cape Recife, Robben Island, Port Nolloth.

(b)   C.H. Hannabus (1929 – 1970)  Slangkop, Cape Point, Danger Point, Green Point,  The Hill, Cape St Lucia, Cape Hermes, The Bluff Cooper Light, Bird Island, Port Nolloth, M’bashe Point, Great Fish River, Hood Point.

(c)   J.F Hannabus (1946 – 1974)  Green Point, The Bluff Cooper Light, Cape Agulhas, Diaz Point, Danger Point, Slangkop, Cape St Lucia, M’bashe Point.

(d)   P-J Hannabus (1972 – 1975) M’bashe Point, Danger Point, Cape St Blaize, Slangkop, Dassen Island, Robben Island. (1975-1990) Radio Technician - Robben Island, M’bashe Point and  Hood Point Lighthouses.

Bird Island with the guano collectors 

Our earlier story began with Bird Island, which was one of the most remote Lighthouses along the coast and it has a history of unusual mysteries.

From Colin Urquhart’s book, ‘East to the Isles’, P-J Hannabus brings us this captivating story, which involved his uncle, Lighthouse Keeper, Charlie Hannabus.

The story begins, when, Lighthouse Keeper, C.C. Hansen was stationed on Bird Island in 1908. The isolation depressed his wife Mrs Hansen in the extreme and one day she was found drowned in Newtons well near the Lighthouse.  As time went by, rumours circulated and questions were raised as to whether it was suicide or something more sinister and Keepers and Guano staff believed that Mrs Hansen’s spirit haunted the island!

When he was stationed there, Charlie Hannabus claimed the double-storey house on the island, just NW of the tower, was haunted!

On certain nights it was said that "Mrs. Hansen" would run through the house as well as walk the island.  Charlie claimed that whilst he was there in 1930, sleeping in the kitchen one night for warmth, he suddenly woke up to find himself being dragged by his ankles across the floor by, he was sure, "Mrs. Hansen!”  The next night nothing would induce Charlie to sleep in the kitchen again and he slept upstairs with the door firmly bolted!

Shortly after this episode on one moonlit night, Head Lighthouse Keeper, Fred Ball, with thirteen years spent on the island and his Assistant Edwards, clearly saw Hannabus stumble 200m, across the island from the house to the flag room - but when they checked on him, Charlie Hannabus was in his bed!  Was that a ghost the two keepers had seen?  What explanation could there be?

Keeper Fred Ball said that Hannabus then recounted a similar incident some years earlier, when, on a stormy night, thought he had seen the Guano Headman strolling outside, but when the Keepers checked, the Headman was in bed ….. fast asleep!

Once again, on a stormy night, some twenty five years later on, while Tommy was on duty, Mrs Addison, wife of Head Keeper Tommy Addison, heard footsteps come up those stairs!  Terrified, Mrs Addison ducked under the blankets and heard the ‘ghost’ next to her bed, even to the extent of hearing the tick, tick, tick of a watch!  Later, when she questioned Tommy, he assured her that he had been on duty in the tower all night and did not come home at all!

The belief still exists today, that Bird Island remains haunted.  After the house was torn down, burnt and replaced in 1979, it seems that ‘Mrs Hansen’ was never seen again.  Even then, lighthouse maintenance crews did not like staying over, claiming that blankets have been pulled off beds as the crew slept and cold draughts blew through the rooms even when windows were tightly shut ……….

I’m sure that many readers will be sceptical, but the question has to be posed – If you are a sceptic, would you be comfortable spending the night in the house on the island on a stormy night?

A E Hannabus (Bill) the Patriarch L/H Keeper 

Left to Right:  J.F. Hannabus (Babsie), Mr Slattery (Charlie’s father-in-law) and C.H. Hannabus (Charlie) at Danger Point Lighthouse 1961  

P-J Hannabus, J.F Hannabus (Babsie) and C.H. Hannabus (Charlie)  Christmas 1981

For Part 1 of this series go to:

Friday, July 10, 2015

RFA Darkdale torpedoed St Helena 1941: list of those lost

22nd October 1941 at 00.15 RFA Darkdale was torpedoed by German submarine U68. Three of the four torpedoes made their mark. The ship exploded, turned over and sank. Reports vary as to who escaped, but all hands bar the Captain, Chief Engineer and Purser who were dining at the Garrison, two rankings in hospital and two rankings in the process of returning to the ship, perished.

Memorial: RFA Darkdale

Monday, July 6, 2015

Ulundi, Anglo-Zulu War: anniversary of the battle 4 July 1879

ULUNDI: A Study in Revenge?

The Battle of Ulundi took place at the Zulu capital of Ulundi on 4 July 1879 and was the last major battle of the Anglo-Zulu War. The British army broke the military power of the Zulu nation by defeating the main Zulu army and immediately afterwards capturing and razing the capital of Zululand, the royal kraal of Ulundi.

'After half an hour of concentrated fire from the artillery, the Gatling Guns and thousands of British rifles, Zulu military power was broken. British casualties were ten killed and eighty-seven wounded, while nearly five hundred Zulu dead were counted around the square; another 1,000 or more were wounded. Chelmsford ordered the Royal Kraal of Ulundi to be burnt – the capital of Zululand burned for days. Chelmsford turned over command to Wolseley on 15 July at the fort at St. Paul's, leaving for home on the 17th. Chelmsford had partially salvaged his reputation and received a Knight Grand Cross of Bath, largely because of Ulundi; however, he was severely criticized by the Horse Guards investigation and he would never serve in the field again.

Cetshwayo c 1875

Cetshwayo had been sheltered in a village since 3 July and fled upon hearing news of the defeat at Ulundi. The British forces were dispersed around Zululand in the hunt for Cetshwayo, burning numerous kraals in a vain attempt to get his Zulu subjects to give him up and fighting the final small battle to defeat the remaining hostile battalions. He was finally captured on 28 August by soldiers under Wolseley's command at a kraal in the middle of the Ngome forest. He was exiled to London, where he would be held prisoner for three years. Wolseley swiftly divided up Zululand into thirteen districts, installing compliant chiefs in each so that the kingdom could no longer unite under one ruler. Cetshwayo was restored to the throne of the partitioned Zulu kingdom in January 1883 shortly before his death in 1884.'

For further information see: