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Centre Island (1878)

Photo courtesy of MSA.

 

Rarotoka (Centre) Island in Foveaux Strait - one of the most notoriously dangerous stretches of water in the world, lying 5 kilometres offshore from Hinetui Point in Colac Bay. Rarotoka means “the north rock or underworld rock“ probably referring to its location below the South Island (Maori refer to north as down and south as up) and the use of the island as a sacred burial ground and navigational marker.

Local Maori feel very strongly about the Island as it was a sacred burial place and is to this day regarded as “tapu“. The island is so sacred, legend has it that local Maori on the mainland would exhume their dead and travel to the island in calm weather to rebury them on the island.

Ngai Tahu Tribes also used Rarotoka as a “resting place“ for the living on their arduous journeys to and from the Titi (Mutton Bird) Islands south of Stewart Island -to collect the fat juicy birds for food. It was also used as a navigational marker for the difficult leg across the Southern Seas. This use of the island has continued today.

 

A lighthouse was first suggested for either Stewart Island or Centre Island in 1861, but when Captain Johnson surveyed the area in 1874 he chose Center Island as the site. 

During the lighthouse survey of 1874, the Luna arrived on Monday February 23. 1874. A survey was made of the island to select a site.  271

CENTRE ISLAND. To Centre Island then our course was steered, and we got there at six. At once the representatives of the Marine Department and some of the passengers landed, whilst others, beat on fishing, used tackle, with one blue cod as the result of an hour's work. At the east side of Centre Island there is a beautiful sandy beach, at which the lauding was easy, and an inspection of the island was not difficult, as there had been clearings and cattle tracks. The island is about 500 or 600 acres in extent, and seems well stocked -for there are about twenty head of cattle, besides quite a lot of sheep. There is a house on the island, and a small garden, with turnips, cabbage, and. there is also a good stock-yard, and a small cattle shed. It is, therefore, an inhabited islet. Its highest peak is about 200 feet, and if the new Foveaux Strait light is placed on the Southland side of the Strait, Centre Island will be the site chosen. Many imagine, however, that the new light should be on the south side of the Strait; thence we left Centre Island, to visit the points near the northwest of Stewart's Island for the site. The preference for the south side is based on the fact that there are not any sunken rocks in the way of the navigator. Besides, the Dog Island is on the other side, and between two such lights, bearings could be got that would enlighten the hesitating sailor captain. We steered across the Strait, making a liblle, to the westward of the White Rocks, which lie about a mile from the shore, and then coasted down to Rugged Point and Rugged Island. Here Captain Johnson, and Mr. Wilson, and Captain Hutton left us, and we went on our way to CODFISH ISLAND. 277Otago Daily Times , Issue 3764, 28 February 1874, Page 2 (Chapter 2)

 

Work begun the same year, 1864 4  / 1877 but the local Maoris who the government had purchased the land off in 1853 begun to argue that they had not sold the land after all. They then moved into one of the newly completed keeper houses. After some resistance they were eventually moved on. The light was finally lit on September 16, 1878.

The light is a first order dioptric and shows white and red.  Cost £5785. 91

The lighthouse was designed by John Blackett and was identical to the Cape Maria van Diemen Lighthouse that was built a year later in March, 1879. 10

Marking the western approach to Foveaux Strait between the South Island and Stewart Island, Centre Island Lighthouse is one of the few wooden lighthouses remaining.

During 1909, the Marine Department who had earlier experimented with incandescent burner systems (Chance Patent) at Pencarrow, Stephens Island and Jack's Point (Timaru) made a decision to install them in other lighthouses. Lighthouse expert, Mr. Scott installed the new burner on the light.  90

 

Originally a three keeper station, it was reduced to two keepers in 1955 when the light was converted to diesel-generated electricity. By 1977 there was only one keeper at the light.

As a way of supplementing there food supply early keepers often took fishing trips from the island. In 1943 unfortunately two keepers drowned on one of these fishing trips.

As the island is surrounded by dangerous rocks, a red sector shines over the area to be avoided.

The light was one of the last to automated in 1987.

The government returned the island to the Ngai Tahu tribe in 1998 after a Treaty of Waitangi claim. The island is now uninhabited except for  the worlds rarest penguin the Yellow Eyed (Hoiho) and endangered NZ Hookers Sea Lions who now make the island their home. 

 

 

 

DIRECTIONS:

Inaccessible to the public.

The lighthouse is however observable from the mainland.

From Invercargill drive west on Hwy 99, past Riverton to Colac Bay. Better views are from Wakaputa Beach just off Hwy 99.

 

Island South
Province Southland
Location Foveaux Strait
Number K4438
Date Commissioned 16 September, 1878
Date Decommissioned
Automated 1987 Maritime Safety Authority, 1990 Leading Lights
Latitude 46 28' South
Longitude 167 51' East
Elevation Above Sea Level 81m
Height 12m
Character White light flashes every 15 seconds
Range White 19 N. miles (35 km), Red 15 N. miles (28 km)
Made Built on site
Construction White wooden tower (Kauri) New Zealand timber
Converted Kerosene To Diesel 1955
Converted Diesel To Mains Electricity 1990 (Solar Powered)
Wattage
Present Tower Original
Authority
Date Visited 5 January, 2000
 

 

Principal Keeper From To
(1st lit September 16, 1878 1 ) 
Alexander McKinlay  80  13b April 29, 1878  80  13b June 28, 1882  80  13b
Robert J Campbell  13b June 28, 1882  13b June 20, 1885  13b
Charles Tregurtha  13b June 20, 1885  13b July 30, 1889  13b
Charles Edward Johnston  22  13b  91 July 30, 1889  13b  22 July 14, 1894  13b
Andreas Fremming Stewart Sandager  80  13b July 14, 1894  80  13b December 1894  80  January 21, 1895  13b
William Colley  13b January 21, 1895  13b April 10, 1899  13b
Jerome Sinclair  13b  22 March, 1899  22   April 10, 1899  13b August 3, 1902  13b   22
John Jess    13b  22 October 9, 1902  13b  22 October 4, 1906  13b
William Scott  13b October 4, 1906  13b May 1, 1909   13b
Thomas Joseph Cox   13b May 1, 1909   13b January 7, 1913   13b
Edward Morris Parks  22  13b January 7, 1913   13b November 20, 1914  13b
Edwin H. Field  13b January 6, 1915 13b  July 26, 1920  13b
Peter W. Grenfell  13b December 7, 1920   13b November 13, 1922   13b
Henry Harvey     13b 13 11 1922  13b October 19, 1925  13b
Albert Mitchell   13b October 19, 1925  13b August 23, 1927   13b
Roy Mitchell 13b August 23, 1927   13b July 27, 1934    13b
George Ager   13b July 27, 1934    13b April 7, 1937   13b
F. N. (Ted) Watts  13b April 8, 1937   13b December 1, 1938   13b
William Smith   13b December 1, 1938   13b 1943   13b
John O. Tait    13b August 3, 1943  13b December 3, 1943  13b
Hugh G. McCrea
Jack C. H. Wagg
E. R Harris  13b    
George F. Hitchings  13b January 23, 1951    13b January 15, 1954  13b
Colin A. Ross  13b
Geoffrey F. Harris  13b
John S. Jenson  13b
Raymond M. Walter  13b
Ronald Sears  13b
Kevin I. Wilson  13b
Peter J. Coleman  13b
Raymond S. Johnson  13b
Gary Schroeder   13b
William (Bill) D. Kemp

 

 

Assistant Keeper (1st) From To
  (1st lit September 16, 1878 1 ) 
William Chandler  13b July 25, 1878   13b March 8, 1881  13b
John Brennan  13b  March 8, 1881  13b June 6, 1881  13b
William Spencer  13b  22   June 6, 1881  13b  22 December 20, 1881  13b  22   (Resigned)  22 
Richard Tregurtha  13b December 20, 1881  13b April 18, 1883  13b
William Reid  13b  April 18, 1883  13b October 5, 1884  13b
Thomas Joseph Cox  13b  22  (Probationary)  22  October 5, 1884  13b  October 10, 1884  22 March 31, 1885  22
Thomas Joseph Cox  13b  22 April 1, 1885  22 December 27, 1887  22
Richard Runge  13b  December 27, 1887  13b June 27, 1888  13b
Walter Canton  13b  22   (Probationary)  22  June 27, 1888  13b  22 December 31, 1888  22
Walter Canton 13b  22  January 1, 1889  22 May 9, 1891  13b  22
Robert H. Lloyd  13b May 9, 1891  13b July 14, 1894  13b
John McLellan 13b  July 14, 1894  13b January 5, 1895  13b
William J. Ross  13b   January 21, 1895  13b August 7, 1897  13b
Walter Fowler 13b  August 7, 1895   13b February 19, 1901  13b
Alfred C. Butler  13b   February 19, 1901  13b February 20, 1903  13b
Henry Martin 13b  February 20, 1903   13b May 25, 1905  13b
Charles J. Colfer  13b  June 7, 1905  13b March 31, 1906  13b
John Thwaites  13b  22    (Probationary)  22  March 31, 1906  13b  22 September 30, 1906  22
John Thwaites  13b  22  September 30, 1906  22 January 18, 1907  13b
Arthur Neville Pepper  13b  22  (Probationary)  22  January 22, 1907   13b  22 December 7, 1907  13b
George Thomas Simmons  13b  22   December 7, 1907  13b February 7, 1911  13b
George McPherson  13b  22   February 7, 1911  13b October 2, 1912 
Alexander Duncan  13b   October 2, 1912  13b December 16, 1915  13b
James McGarvie  13b  December 10, 1915   13b June 16, 1919  13b
Adam Williamson  13b  August 15, 1918   13b August 27, 1921  13b
Donald Cameron  13b  August 27, 1921  13b April 22, 1924  13b
A Pullan  13b May 16, 1924  13b April 20, 1927   13b
F. E. V.  Jones  13b April 20, 1927  13b July 9, 1928  13b
A. E. Lock  13b   September 9, 1928  13b December 12, 1925? 
Eric I. Bowley  13b   January 30, 1929  13b June 10, 1931  13b
Hugh Campbell    June 10, 1931  13b May 14, 1931  13b
J. S. Beardslaw  13b  May 14, 1931  13b January 29, 1932  13b
H. W. T. (Dick) Ashton  13b  January 29, 1932  13b August 7, 1933  13b
Fleet R Tennant  13b June 12, 1933   13b August 23, 1937  13b
Charles E. K. Smith   13b August 23, 1937  13b July 25, 1940  13b
W Stewart   13b May 27, 1940  13b July 8, 1941  13b
E. R. Harris  13b
C. E. Loader  13b
Richard G Smith  13b
Blake  Cransden  13b
Leslie H.R. Broam  13b
E. B.  Aitchison  13b
I. D.  Skerton  13b
J. A. Stewart  13b
F. E. B. McFadden  13b
James H. Sutherland   13b 8 1 1957  13b 6 3 1957  13b
Peter L. G.  Coltman  13b 6 3 1957  13b   13b
John J. Jepson  13b
Kevin I. Wilson  13b
D. I. Gunby  13b
John R. F. Murray  13b
D. E.  Leggott 13b
Neil W. Sole  13b
G. Harry Austin 13b
David A. Parish  13b
     
    1977 (Keeper removed)

 

Assistant Keeper (2nd) From To
(1st lit September 16, 1878 1 ) 
Charles Gibbons  13b July 25, 1878   13b August 7, 1878  13b
William Reid  13b August 7, 1878  13b January 24, 1879  13b
William Cameron  13b January 24, 1879   13b January 12, 1889  13b
John V.E. Ansin 13b  April 23, 1889   13b September 8, 1894  13b
James Anderson  13b  22 September 8, 1894  13b  October, 1894 22 August 8, 1898  13b
Henry Thompson  13b  22  August 8, 1898  13b  22 June 5, 1902  13b
Archibald McEwan 13b  22   (Probationary)  22 June 5, 1902   13b  22 November 25, 1902  22
Archibald McEwan 13b  22  November 26, 1902  22 April 11, 1903  13b
Henry Koppert,  13b   April 26, 1903  13b November 3, 1903  13b
George F. Marlow 13b   November 3, 1903  13b April 19, 1907  13b
James Duthie  13b  April 19, 1907   13b January 23, 1909  13b
John William Tipene 13b  22 (Probationary)  22 January 23, 1909  13b  22 July 20, 1909  22
John William Tipene 13b  22  July 20, 1909  22 August 17, 1909  13b
Malcolm Garland 13b August 17, 1909  13b October 2, 1912 
F.S. Partridge  13b  22  (Probationary)  22 October 2, 1912  13b  22 July 20, 1915  13b
William J. Ross 13b June 21, 1915  13b August 15, 1918  13b
August Morrison 13b  November 22, 1919   13b March 28, 1922  13b
Harry Whaitiri  13b  March 28, 1922   13b September 19, 1925  13b
George Edward Brown 13b  291 September 7, 1926   13b  1926/7  291 December 9, 1928  13b                              1929 (resigned from service)  291
A.  Pullen  13b April 7, 1937  13b December 1, 1938  13b
A.F. Campbell  13b November 30, 1938  13b April 29, 1939   13b
Edward Wylie  13b May 16, 1939  13b
David Dow (temp)  13b  August 8, 1880  13b September 30, 1880  13b
Philip Hewitt (temp)   13b December 3, 1943  13b
Richard Ward (temp)  13b
J.C. Fitzgerald (temp)  13b
Harris (temp)  13b
1955 (Keeper removed)

 

 

Sources

Additional Sources:

13b. DOC, Lighthouse of Foveaux Strait - A History. Angela Bain May, 2010. http://www.doc.govt.nz/publications/conservation/historic/by-region/southland/lighthouses-of-foveaux-strait-a-history/

80http://www.angelfire.com/ga3/gretasplace/Resources/Lighthouse/Stopforth.html

90Otago Witness, February 17th, 1909.

91Star , Issue 4872, 10 February 1894, Page 6. South Island Lighthouses

271. Wellington Independent, Volume XXIX, Issue 4049, 10 March 1874, Page 3 (Chapter 5)

277. Otago Daily Times , Issue 3764, 28 February 1874, Page 2 (Chapter 2)

291. George Edward Brown (Lynda Brocklehurst, May 22, 2014)

 

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Text and photographs. Copyright © 1999-2013   Mark Phillips. All rights reserved.

If anyone has any information on this light please contact me. thekiwimark@msn.com

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