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Nelson Boulder Bank (1862)











Nelson lighthouse and keepers' residences.                                                                                   Photograph of the Kidson family outside a Nelson lighthouse.

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätauraga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.


Nelson lighthouse, surrounding buildings and a radio mast, Boulder Bank, Nelson.

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätauraga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.


In 1840 the New Zealand Company established the settlement of Nelson and as the settlement grew the need for some sort of beacon to mark the harbour entrance became apparent.

By January 1842, a beacon was erected on the Nelson Harbour boulder bank to aid shipping in the port. This was improved upon in August, 1848, when a lantern with a reflector was installed with a recorded  range of 12 miles. Little else is known about these early beacons, until 1861 when the official lighthouse was built.

In 1859, the Nelson Provincial Council set up a special committee chaired by Alfred Domett to make plans for a permanent lighthouse. The octagonal cast iron tower was manufactured by Stothert and Pitt, engineers of Bath, England and the lens was built in Birmingham, England. Arrangements were made with James Stuart Tyler of Edinburgh, England to ship the lighthouse in sections aboard the ship "Glenshee" at a cost of £2824.

After being reassembled on site, the light was lit on August 4, 1862, and Nelson Boulder Bank became New Zealand's second lighthouse. The oil-fired lamp shown through a sixth order Fresnel lens, and cast a beam 12 nautical miles out to sea, however the sector facing the port was obscured. The early residents were able to see the light on two occasions in the first year when the authorities arranged for the light to shine over the town.

The first head lighthouse keeper was William E Cross, the brother of the harbour master. Mr. Cross and his family  lived in the house to the north of the lighthouse while the assistant keeper and family lived in the house to the south. In the base of the lighthouse were a storeroom, bunkhouse and workroom.

The lighthouse was sold in 1864 to the newly formed Marine Board who were now administrating all New Zealand lighthouses. 

One of the longest serving head keepers was John Kidson, who served for 27 years. He and his wife raised seven daughters and three sons at the lighthouse. Mr. Kidson served from 1865 until his death in 1892. The children were rowed across the bay to school each day.

In 1888 the keepers begun signaling the port the state of the tides using a flagstaff.

In 1903 the New Zealand Marine Department began trialing incandescent acetylene burners, developed only three years before. In 1912, it installed its first automatic acetylene light at Bean Rock and the lighthouse became the first watched light to lose it's resident keeper. 

On December 5, 1915, the Nelson Boulder Bank was also converted to an automatic acetylene gas light, the keepers were withdrawn, and the old cottages destroyed. Although there were also reports that they were relocated to Nelson.

The acetylene gas was delivered to the lighthouse by port workers on a pilot boat to a jetty which had a small railway track that run up to the storage area.

In 1924, the ownership of the light  was transferred back to the Nelson Council when it was not classified as a costal light.

During World War 2, the lighthouse was extinguished due to the threat of a Japanese invasion. The light was re-lit in May of 1943.

The character of the light was changed in 1950.

The light was decommissioned 120 years after it was first lit on August 4, 1982 when a new automatic light was installed elsewhere in the harbour. But this wasn't the last time the light was to shine. That night, the light kept operating as there was evidently some gas still left in the pipeline.

The light remains fully operable as a backup and is managed by Port Nelson Limited. 

In 1983 the New Zealand Historical Places Trust gave the lighthouse an "A" classification.

In 2008, while inspecting the lens it was discovered the cement holding the glass to the brass work was deteriorating. Port Nelson workshop staff, headed by workshop manager, Craig Terris removed the lens and local glass company Smith & Smith reconditioned the lens, replacing the damaged cement with resin. Tracy Kearns of Smith & Smith estimated they spent 80 hours restoring the lens, On November 12, 2008, the lens was reinstalled with a new 250W mercury light and will now be powered by solar panels and batteries. Port Nelson Limited, have decided to re light the light which will now shine over the city. This is expected to happen in March, 2009.



A ferry service is available out to the lighthouse.

You can also walk the Boulder Bank Walkway. Accessible from Boulder Bank Drive, off SH6. The 8km walk out to "The Cut" in the boulder bank just beyond the lighthouse takes about 2-3 hours.

See more information on the DOC website.

A key to open the lighthouse may also be available from Port Nelson


Island South
Province Nelson
Location Port of Nelson
Date Commissioned August 4, 1862
Date Decommissioned August 4, 1982
Automated December, 1915
Elevation Above Sea Level 20 m
Height 18.3 m
Range 12 N. miles
Made Stothert and Pitt, Bath, England.    Also recorded as Stothart and Pitt
Construction Cast iron, painted white.
Converted Kerosene To Diesel
Converted Diesel To Mains Electricity Never
Present Tower Not in use
Authority Port Nelson Ltd
Date Visited


Principal Keeper From To
  1st lit, August 4, 1862  
William Edward Cross August 4, 1862 1865
John Kidson   1865 1892 (deceased at lighthouse)
Martin Nelson  22 September 1, 1897  22 April 8, 1902  22
John Frederick Rayner  81  80 November, 1906  81  80 April, 1909  81        November, 1909  80
William Chandler  183    
  Automated December, 1915


Assistant Keeper  From To
  1st lit, August 4, 1862  
W Courtney  22 February, 1865  22  
Donald McNeil  22 November 1, 1877  22  July 1, 1878  22 
Edward R Wilson  199 July, 1878  199 December, 1879  199
James William Nicholson  22 1883  22
Cunningham Hosier Reeves  202 c 1895  202  
Henry Thompson  22 June, 1897  22 c  August, 1898  22
James Anderson  22 August 14, 1902  22
Albert Victor Pearce  22  September 28, 1910  22 c  October/November, 1913  13a
Arthur W Page  13a c  October/November, 1913  13a  
Automated December, 1915



Additional Sources:

163.  Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971 - Nelson Lighthouses. 

164Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971. Kahurangi Lighthouse - Author: J. N. W. Newport

165Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 6, April 1973. Life in Lighthouses - Author: Ivan Anderson

166Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 6, April 1973. Nelson Lighthouses - Author: J. N. W. Newport

167Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971. Farewell Spit Lighthouse - Author: J. N. W. Newport

168Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971. Nelson Lighthouse - Author: B. E Dickinson

169Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 5, November 1971. Stephens Island Lighthouse - Author: G. H. Cole




Approved to go automatic.223. Dominion, Volume 7, Issue 2006, 13 March 1914, Page 8




199Edward Wilson (Lynda Webster, March 9, 2012)

183.  William Chandler ( Diane Chandler, March 22, 2010)

202. Cunningham Hosier Reeves (Mark Pascoe, August 23, 2013)

223. Dominion, Volume 7, Issue 2006, 13 March 1914, Page 8


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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.

Last Updated: 2009