NEW ZEALAND LIGHTHOUSES
Taiaroa Head (1865)
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Marking the entrance to Otago Harbour (Port Chalmers), is Taiaroa Head lighthouse.
Taiaroa Head is named after the leader of the Ngai Tahu Maori tribe, Te Matenga Taiaroa. Taiaroa fought along with his warriors to prevent Te Rauparaha and Ngati Toa from conquering the South Island in the 1830's. In 1844, Taiaroa with other Ngai Tahu leaders sold the Otago land block to the New Zealand Company. 10
It was not uncommon during the 1840's & 50's for ships to spend days searching for the harbour entrance, so a flagstaff was erected at Taiaroa Head in 1849. In 1850 a light was added to the flagstaff, however it was hardly lit by the chief pilot as the Government refused to pay for the oil to run it. 10
The Otago Provincial Council recognized the importance of lights so in 1863 appointed James Balfour as Provincial Marine Engineer 10 . It was not before time as in 1860 only 60 vessels had arrived at the port but by 1863 this had increased to 983 10. Balfour arrived from Scotland late in 1863 10 with both the lantern for Taiaroa Head and Cape Saunders. 17
The light apparatus was shipped from Glasgow, Scotland aboard the Resolute leaving December 17, 1863 and arriving in Port Chalmers, Dunedin March 17, 1864. Also aboard this ship was the light apparatus for Dog Island 154
James Balfour immediately set to work designing his first lighthouse for the council at Taiaroa Head. In 1864 a contract was let to Dunedin builder Hugh Calder at a cost of £3150. 2 over £4900 10 / £4923 91 , including houses. 10 The foundation stone was laid June 29, 1864, and Calder was to complete the tower and nearby keepers house in only six months. Built from stone quarried locally and lined with kauri timber the light was ready to be lit on 2 January, 1865. 2 The original light used a red pane over the light to distinguish itself from the proposed light at Cape Saunders. 10
The stone lighthouse tower was 12 m high and stood 60 m above sea level. The tower had iron girders for support and a balcony surrounded the 3rd floor. The light apparatus was new at the time, a 3rd order fixed dioptric light. This type of light invented in 1823 by French Physicist Augustin Fresnel used a combination of parabolic lenses and prisms arranged in a circle around the light source to refract light. This ensured that 80% of the light source was concentrated in a beam. The dioptric light was further improved by Thomas Stevenson of Stevenson's Engineers, who developed a dioptric holophotal light enclosing the light in a prismatic glass casing, eliminating the need for reflectors. 10
According to Balfour's 1865 report to the Government, the Taiaroa light was the first lighthouse in the world to be enhanced further by using inclined frames which improved the distribution of the light, invented by Alan Stevenson, of Stevenson's Engineers and the inclusion of a 'dioptric spherical mirror' which reflected back the light on the landward side of the lens through a series of prisms, invented by Thomas Stevenson of Stevenson's Engineers. 10
The newly formed Marine Board took control of the lighthouse. The Marine Board was known as the Marine Department from 1866 onwards. 10 James Balfour was appointed Colonial Marine Engineer and Inspector of Steamers, for the new Marine Department on 11th October, 1866. 138
Due to the Russian invasion scare of 1885, Armstrong retractable guns were proposed for the site. Initially the lighthouse was to be moved further up the hill to accommodate the gun sites but as this was deemed to costly the guns were placed nearby. But by this time the tensions between the British and Russians had eased and the scare was over. The guns were only ever test fired and on these occasions they cracked the lantern room windows. The guns were again manned during the 1st and 2nd World Wars. 10 2
By the 1890's quite a settlement had arisen near the lighthouse. The harbour board had a manned signal station and the captain and crew of the pilot boats lived nearby. The Justice Department built a small prison at the heads in the 1870's and the guns had been manned since the 1880's. An estimate of the population at the time was over one hundred and a resident school teacher was appointed for the area. 10 2
As Port Chalmers is the port for Dunedin, which is the headquarters of the Union Steamship Company, a constant stream of traffic passes through the heads. 91
Due to fog, a fog horn was installed, Date Unknown originally a explosive device, in 1929 it was changed to a diaphone type. Similar fog horns were also installed at Godley Head and Tiritiri Matangi . 4
In 1921 the light was changed to an automatic acetone flashing light, the Marine Department withdrew the keepers and the light was operated by signalmen employed by the Otago Harbour Board. 4 10
With the passing of the Animals Protection and Game Act (1921-22) the surrounding area was declared a sanctuary for the Royal Albatross around 1938. 10
The light was converted to electricity in 1955 4
The lighthouse was officially transferred to the harbour board on 1 December 1976, then to Port Otago Ltd in 1989. The light is now automated and monitored by signalmen from the signal station nearby. 10
Both the lighthouse and fog station are now listed with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. 10
Registered with the New Zealand Historical Trust
Register Number: 2220
Date Registered: 14 February, 1991
Historic Place - Category 1
The Taiaroa Head 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 1d.
On July 10, 1967, the stamps were over printed as New Zealand changed to decimal currency.
Issued in 1990 as part of a stamp series on the Otago Peninsula, Taiaroa Lighthouse featured on a 75 cent stamp.
Issued in 2000 as part of the scenic stamp series Taiaroa Head Lighthouse featured on a $1.00 stamp.
Stamp Web Sites
From Dunedin, take Andersons Bay Road, then Portobello Road out to the Otago Peninsula.
Situated within the Royal Albatross colony, the lighthouse is observable from the car park and Albatross viewing areas.
91. Star , Issue 4872, 10 February 1894, Page 6. South Island Lighthouses
138. James Balfour, Engineering Heritage New Zealand Biographies http://www.ipenz.org.nz/heritage/bio-detail.cfm?id=2
154. Henry Brett, White Wings Volume 1. 1924 http://www.nzetc.org
155. Evening Post, Volume LXXXI, Issue 120, 23 May 1911, Page 6
179. Evening Post, Volume LIV, Issue 39, 14 August 1897, Page 4
187. Robert Leatham McIver (Melvina Wise, March 23, 2013)
246. Otago Daily Times , Issue 14249, 25 June 1908, Page 8
285. Otago Daily Times , Issue 16029, 23 March 1914, Page 4
Text and photographs. Copyright © 1999-2013 Mark Phillips. All rights reserved.
If anyone has any information on this light please contact me. firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: February 5, 2011.