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Stephens Island (1894)


Photo courtesy of Maritime New Zealand.


Date: 1965

Stephens Island lighthouse, Marlborough. Randle, Graham :Photographs of New Zealand lighthouses. Ref: 1/2-092138-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


Date: 1965

Stephens Island from top of lighthouse tower. Randle, Graham :Photographs of New Zealand lighthouses. Ref: 1/2-092124-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Two lighthouse keepers and their wives, Stephens Island, New Zealand. One of the keepers is holding a tuatara. Photographed by an unknown photographer sometime in the 1930s.

Lighthouse keepers and tuatara, Stephens Island, New Zealand. Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand :Photographs relating to Perrine Moncrieff. Ref: PAColl-3295-1-04-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


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Stephens Island situated in the Marlborough Sounds lies 2 kilometres northeast of Cape Stephens, the northernmost point of D'Urville Island. The Maori called the island Takapourewa. The island is 1.5 square kilometres (0.56 square miles) in size and it's highest point is 283 metres (928 feet) above sea level. 15

Cape Stephens and Stephens Island was named by Captain Cook. Cook entered in his journal for Saturday, 31st March, 1770. "The Bay I have named Admiralty Bay, the N.W. point Cape Stephens, and the S.E. Cape Jackson after the two Secretaries (of the Admiralty). It may always be known by the island which is pretty high and lies N.E. 2 miles from Cape Stephens".  169

In 1854, during the 1st session of the House of Representatives, a beacons and lighthouses committee was formed. The committee recommended lighthouses for Pencarrow Head, Manukau Harbour and Stephens Island.  26

Pencarrow Head was lit in 1859, Manukau Harbour in 1874, but unfortunately it took the wreak of the barque Weathersfield in April of 1888  230  that went ashore near the Oahu River  4  after being carried off course by a strong westerly current,  230  before plans were made to erect a lighthouse.  3  4  169

In July, 1891, a number of ship masters advocated to the Minister of Marine, Hon J. McKenzie for alight on Stephens Islands. The minister acknowledged the need for the light as the land had already been secured however the funding of £8000 for the light was yet to be approved.  232

Work begun in 1892 to build the lighthouse with a tramway was constructed from the rock landing to the construction site2

In April, 1892, the shipping agent accepted a tender for £3600 for the light apparatus.  233

January 17, 1893, Tenders are called for the iron work on the lighthouse.  234

In February, 1893, the tender of Beaney and Sons, Auckland was accepted for £689. There were 5 other tenders, Sparrow & Co., Dunedin, £725; Luke & Co., Wellington, £729; Scott Bros., Christchurch, £800; Cable & Co., Wellington, £825; J. & A. Anderson, Christchurch, £992.   235

The work was carried out by by Beaney and Sons  235  , Messrs Beaney and Co.  91, Beabey and Sons  169, of Auckland, under the supervision of Mr. David Scott, who was the overseer for the Lighthouse Service.  169

As reported in the Otago Daily Time February 1, 1893.  236

There have been just completed and fitted up at the Milton Works of Messrs James Milne and Son (Limited), Edinburgh, the optical apparatus and machinery for a lighthouse at Stephens Island. The apparatus is novel in design, and forms a four sided cage of glass, fitted in gunmetal framing, about 8½ feet in height and 6 feet in diameter. Each of the four faces of the instrument is built of two central lenses or discs surrounded by light prismatic rings, with four reflecting prisms below and a crown of thirteen holophotal prisms above. In the focus of the apparatus is a lamp having a burner with five concentric wicks, the flame being 4½ inches in diameter, and possessing a power equal to 515 standard candles. The whole apparatus is made to revolve on a carriage working on steel rollers, which circulate between two rings of steel, the motion being given by clockwork actuated by a falling weight. The machine has a maintaining power which keeps the apparatus going at the required speed even when the weight is being wound up, and provision is also made for working the machine by hand if any accident happens to the winding gear. The apparatus is so arranged that as each face comes into view the observer sees two flashes of intensely white light following each other in rapid succession every half-minute. The lantern in which this apparatus is to be placed is now on the way to New Zealand . It is 12ft in diameter and 9ft in height; The astragals are of gunmetal, and arranged in a series of triangles, thus securing a structure of great rigidity and strength; the dome is double, of copper plates riveted together. the triangular panes being of the best mirror plate glass, a quarter of an inch in thickness; and are called “storm panes” are provided, and kept in readiness to be applied in the event of a pane being broken either by birds driving up against the lantern or by stones thrown up from the cliff on which the lighthouse is placed. The lantern was made by Messrs Dove, Greenside Lane, Edinburgh; the optical apparatus by Messrs Barbier, Paris; and the revolving carriage, machine, and lamps by Messrs James Milne and Son. - the whole being constructed to the designs and under the direction of Messrs Stevenson.

The light was first lit January 20, 1894  1, and was built for a total cost of £9,349. 1  3  The lighthouse is built at the highest elevation of all New Zealand lighthouses and the original light was the most powerful with five wick paraffin lamps  169  , with a range of 27 N. miles. 1   The light station begun operation with 3 keepers and there families, plus school teacher; a total of 17 people on the island.  231


THE LIGHTHOUSE AT STEPHENS ISLAND. The following notice to mariners has been issued by the Marine Department, Wellington Marine Department, Wellington, New Zealand, 15th December, 1893. With reference to preliminary notice No. 35 of 1893. issued by this department on the 18th August last, it is hereby notified that on and after Monday, the 29th day of January, 1894, a light will be exhibited from the lighthouse which has been erected on Stephens Island, the position and characteristics of which are as follow: The lighthouse is situated at the northern end of Stephens Island, western entrance to Cook Strait, New Zealand. The tower is 50 feet in height from base to top of the lantern, is built of iron, and painted white. The light will be a first-order group flashing white light, showing two distinct flashes in quick succession every half-minute, and will show over an arc of 293 degrees all round seaward as far as the land will allow. The light is elevated about 600 feet above the sea, and; allowing 15 feet for the height of the eye, it will be visible at a distance of about thirty-two nautical miles in clear weather, and at lesser distances according to the state of the atmosphere.—P. A.  Buckley, for Minister having charge of Marine Department.

New Zealand Herald, Volume XXXI, Issue 9418, 26 January 1894, Page 4  237


Landing supplies on the island was difficult, a landing was built 20 feet  2   above the water where a crane was used to winch supplies off the deck of the supply ships. Supplies and people were placed in a box and winched up onto the landing, from there the tramway went up another 180 metres to the lighthouse and keepers homes.  1

The light station was also a Lloyd's Signal Station.  3

In March 1908, Mr. David Scott, installed an experimental incandescent burner systems (Chance Patent) lighting apparatus.  238   Also installed at Pencarrow and Jack's Point (Timaru), in 1909 the Marine Department made a decision to install them in other lighthouses.  90

In July, 1908 a telephone line is installed to the light station, enabling ships to signal the station and the keepers to contact ports and report on shipping.  239

One of the hazards of island life was illness, it is reported in 1909, one of the keepers wife is suffering from scarlatina and it has spread to the children. The port health officer Doctor Pollen and a nurse are dispatched to the island.  240

Late in 1925, a wireless radio is installed.  241

In 1938 the light was converted to electric power using diesel generators and a radio beacon was installed at the same time.  1  244

After the war the lighthouse was serviced by the Enterprise out of Picton once every two weeks, delivering supplies and mail.  2

After the 1960's generators were used so that the keepers could run household appliances such as a freezer and washing machine. Cooking was still done by gas powered appliances.  2

Originally a 3 keeper station, it was reduced down to two after the workload reduced due to the automation of tasks. Later when the station was serviced regularly by helicopter it was reduced to one keeper.  2

Serving by helicopters which begun in 1984 greatly improved life on the island2

The Stephens Island station was one of the last to be automated. The last keepers were withdrawn on March 31, 1989  19

At least 30,000 tuatara and other rare species of wildlife live on Stephens Island including the Hamilton frog, geckos and snails.  2

The lighthouse keepers have over the years acted a wildlife wardens to ensure that wildlife poachers did not remove these species from the island.  2  However there is a disputed story that one of the 1st keepers David Lyall  brought along a pregnant cat that was responsible for the demise of the Stephens Island wren232   The details of this can be read at:   232

By the end of the 19th century the cats had multiplied immensely so an eradication program was put in place.  2

Stephens Island is inaccessible to the public and is administered by Department of Conservation. as a nature reserve. Two of the original keeper’s houses have been retained and are used by the DOC, with one ranger living on site. 1 

In  2000, the original light was replaced with a new rotating beacon fitted with a 50 watt tungsten halogen bulb which is located within the original tower. The new light is powered by battery banks charged by solar panels. The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office. 1 





The Stephens Island lighthouse has along with others been featured on New Zealand postal stamps issued by the Government Life Insurance Office. 

The lighthouse featured on the 1947 issue with a value of 4d. 

The stamps in the series were, Castlepoint  1/2d, Taiaroa Head  1d , Cape Palliser  2d, Cape Campbell  2 1/2d, Eddystone 3d, Stephens Island  4d, The Brothers  6d and Cape Brett  1/-.

On July 10, 1967, the stamps were over printed as New Zealand changed to decimal currency.

The overprinted stamps in the series were,  Taiaroa Head  1 cent , Cape Campbell  2 cents, Eddystone  2 1/2 cents, Stephens Island  3 cents, The Brothers  5 cents and Cape Brett  10 cents.





Stamp Web Sites






Stephens Island is inaccessible to the public and is administered by DOC as a nature reserve.


Island South
Province Marlborough
Location Cook Strait
Number K4236  1
Date Commissioned January 20, 1894  1
Date Decommissioned
Automated March 31, 1989  19
Latitude 40° 40' South  1
Longitude 174° 00' East  1
Elevation Above Sea Level 183m  1
Height 15m  1
Character Flashes twice in quick succession every 20 seconds  1
Range 27 N. miles (50 km)  1
Construction White cast iron tower  1
Converted Kerosene To Diesel 1938  1
Converted Diesel To Mains Electricity
Present Tower Original
Authority Owned and operated by Maritime New Zealand
Date Visited


Principal Keeper From To
  1st lit, January 20, 1894  1  
Patrick Henaghan  22  84  91 1894  22 c December, 1898  22
Robert Cathcart  84  22 October 10, 1901  22
David Partington  84  22 December 14, 1901  22  1904  22  245 
William John Arnold  84  245 1904  245   
George William Thwaites   84  22 June, 1905   22  
George Grieg  84   1908  246
Powell  246 1908  246  
Donald McNeil  22  84 September 19, 1910  22  c  June 6, 1913  22  247                                     (Retired September 6,  2013)  22  
Tutt  247 1913  247   
Edward R Wilson  199  1913/14?  199  1916  199
Len Akers  2   March 31, 1989  2
  Automated & Keeper Withdrawn March 31, 1989  19


Assistant Keeper (1st) From To
  1st lit, January 20, 1894  1  
William Scott  84 1894 c October, 1896  59
Patrick McLean  84 ? July 1897
C W Broughton  84 July 1897 ?
William Murray  84 June, 1905  22 c  1909  22
Percy Edwin White  166 December, 1921  166  
George Gwynne  (AK)  84 1901  2  
Mr. Bailey  155 1911  155  
  Reduced to one keeper  


Assistant Keeper (2nd) From To
  1st lit, January 20, 1894  1  
David Lyall  84 1894  231 June, 1896  231
Pip & Jeanette Aplin  24 October, 1966  24  
  Reduced to two keepers  


Keepers (Rank Unknown) From  To
Percy Bayley  84    
Walter Bailey  84    
William Dabinet  84    
George Jamieson  84    
Charlie Jacobsen  84    
Peter Grenfell  84  155   1911  155
Joseph Hooper  84    
Fred Hobbs  84    
David McLeish  84    
Len Lensey  84    
James Lensey  84    
Percy Malthus  84    
Alex McInley  84    
Roy Mitchell  84    
George Odey  84    
William Ross  84    
W D Rosa  84    
William Tutt  84    
Alfred Saunders      
Robert Wilson  84    
Robert Williams  84    
Thomas Smith  84    
F Woodbury  84    
Thomas Turner  84    
V G Whiteman  84    




Additional Sources:

24Jeanette Aplin, The Lighthouse Keepers Wife. Cape Catley Ltd, Auckland, 2001. ISBN: 0-908561-87-3

22. Akaroa Museum

26. Helen Beaglehole. 'Lighthouses - Beginnings', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12 URL:

59. Evening Post, Volume LII, Issue 133, 27 October 1896, Page 4


90Otago Daily Times , Issue 14431, 26 January 1909, Page 2

91Star , Issue 4872, 10 February 1894, Page 6

155Evening Post, Volume LXXXI, Issue 120, 23 May 1911, Page 6

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

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

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

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

230. Barque WEATHERSFIELD. Cook Strait. April 8th, 1888.


232. Evening Post, Volume XLII, Issue 5, 6 July 1891, Page 3

233. Star , Issue 7268, 28 April 1892, Page 3

234. New Zealand Herald, Volume XXX, Issue 9110, 30 January 1893, Page 8

235. Bruce Herald, Volume XXIV, Issue 2451, 17 February 1893, Page 2

236. Otago Daily Times , Issue 9650, 1 February 1893, Page 4

237. New Zealand Herald, Volume XXXI, Issue 9418, 26 January 1894, Page 4

238. Dominion, Volume 1, Issue 156, 26 March 1908, Page 10  (new light)

239. Marlborough Express, Volume XLII, Issue 159, 7 July 1908, Page 4

240. Wanganui Herald, Volume XXXXIV, Issue 12759, 3 May 1909, Page 7

241. Auckland Star, Volume LVI, Issue 180, 1 August 1925, Page 8

242. Evening Post, Volume CXVII, Issue 114, 16 May 1934, Page 7

243. Evening Post, Volume CXXII, Issue 130, 28 November 1936, Page 24

244. Auckland Star, Volume LXIX, Issue 285, 2 December 1938, Page 4

245New Zealand Herald, Volume XLI, Issue 12544, 11 April 1904, Page 5

246. Otago Daily Times , Issue 14249, 25 June 1908, Page 8

247. Dominion, Volume 6, Issue 1755, 21 May 1913, Page 6

248. Dominion, Volume 6, Issue 1768, 5 June 1913, Page 4




Press, Volume LVI, Issue 10397, 14 July 1899, Page 5






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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.

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