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The Brothers (1877)



Photo courtesy of Maritime New Zealand.



The Brothers is a rocky series of islands on the western side of Cook Strait, known to the Maori as Nga-whatu ("The Rocks"). On one of Captain Cook's voyages his ship the "Endeavour" came close to wreaking on the rocks after being becalmed in a strong tide-rip while when sailing from Queen Charlotte Sound in February, 1770. 116

In 1856,  the northernmost of The Brothers islands, off the north-east tip of the South Island, was considered an excellent site for a lighthouse. But Marine Board members visiting on a still, fine day in 1863 nevertheless found that neither island offered easy access. The precipitous coastline and choppy waters were a danger to anyone landing, and building would be expensive. The board opted for Mana Island, off the south-west coast of the North Island, as an alternative site. 18

The Mana Island light was first lit on February, 1st, 1865. 

Unfortunately the Mana Island light displayed the same characteristics as Pencarrow Head lighthouse at the entrance to Wellington Harbour and this may have caused the loss of two ships the City of Newcastle and Cyrus, in 1870, with their masters confusing the two lights. 3

Therefore, in 1874  a decision was made to move the Mana Island lighthouse to Cape Egmont where a lighthouse had been planned since the 1860's, 10 and a lighthouse was planned for the The Brothers. 117


As reported in the Press, Volume XXIV, Issue 3110, 11 August 1875, Page 2.

STATEMENT ON MARINE MATTERS. The Commissioner of Customs (the Hon "W. Hunter Reynolds) said —Mr. Speaker, last session I was frequently applied to in the House for information regarding the marine department, and you will remember, Sir, that before the Session closed I stated what progress had been made in the works undertaken by the department during the recess, and also the views of the Government as to what further action should be taken during the then current year. Anticipating the wish of the House for further information, I now propose to show what has been done during the past year and what is proposed for the present. Lighthouses. —Shortly after the termination of last session officers of the marine department were dispatched to visit the Brothers in Cooks Straits, with a view to ascertain whether it would be advisable to erect a lighthouse on one of three islets instead of at the entrance to Tory Channel, and afterwards to visit the sites of the proposed lighthouse in the Middle Island. From the reports received, and which I have just laid on the table, it was decided to erect a lighthouse at the Brothers instead of at Tory Channel. The apparatus, which had been ordered to Tory Channel, and which is now in the colony, will consequently not be required for that place, and is unsuitable for the Brothers, but will be available for Hokitika, where it is proposed to erect it. In connection with Tory Channel I may also state, that last month Captain Johnston of this department was sent to select sites for the erection of leading lights to guide vessels into that channel, and as soon as the temporary beacons have been proved to be in their proper position, it is proposed to provide the lights Having obtained all the requisite information as to the sites and class of lights required, an order was sent to England in February last for the necessary apparatus for tights to be erected on the Brothers in Cook's Strait Puysegur Point and Centre Island in Foveaux Strait, at Mokohinau Island, in Hauraki Gulf at Cape Maria Van Dieman at the extreme north of the North Island, and at Portland Island off the Mahia Peninsula. Advices have been received from the Engineer in Great Britain that the contracts for the lanterns and apparatus have been let and no time will be lost in erecting the necessary buildings, so that they may be ready, or nearly so, to receive the light when they arrive in the colony. A road party has for some time at work forming a road from Puysegur point to Otago's Retreat at the entrance to Preservation Inlet, the nearest convenient harbor and a road has also been formed to the site of Cape Foulwind Lighthouse The materials for this lighthouse are partly in the colony, and the remainder on the way from England, and the preparation is being made for erection of the towers and dwellings. The Government propose ordering at an early date lights for the following places —Moeraki, Cape Saunders, Akaroa Heads, and a site yet to be fixed near the Eastern entrance to Hauraki Gulf. Your concurrence will be asked to these proposals when the estimates are under consideration, as also to provide for the erection of leading lights for Tory Channel and for the removal of Mana Island light to Cape Egmont. The latter will have to await the completion of the light on the Brothers, and the acquiring of a suitable site, but the land being native property, requires further action to be taken by my colleague, the Native Minister As even with the present number of lighthouses, considerable inconvenience has been caused at times through the service of the Luna not being available for the use of the marine department, and as both, during and after the erection of the proposed lighthouses, it will be absolutely necessary to have a steamer for the sole use of the marine department, an order, has been sent to England, for a steamer suitable for use as a lighthouse tender, and also for lifting buoys and moorings. In connection with the claims of the shipping community for the erection of additional lighthouses, l may point out that the light dues for the past financial year amounted £10241 19e 6d whilst the cost of maintaining the lights only amounted to £6767 4e 9d, thus showing a profit of £4474 14s 9d. The profit during the previous financial year was £3989 lie 9d. From the 1st of July, 1866, to the 30th June last, the revenue derivable from light dues has exceeded the working expenditure by £18,847 13a 6d. The returns of trade and shipping and the table attached to the marine reports now laid on the table of the House, show the largely increasing trade of the colony, and whilst we are entitled to congratulate ourselves on such an increase, I think that it will be admitted that I am justified on behalf of the shipping interest in asking you to provide liberally for the further erection of lighthouses. The Government do not propose to reduce the dues, but rather to use any surplus, from time to time, towards increasing the number of lighthouses along the coast. 117

In February, 1875, the lighting apparatus was ordered from Chance Bros of Birmingham, England.  122

In 1876 construction commenced on the lighthouse. 10  Due to poor weather it took sixty days for the men and their building supplies to be landed on the rock so work could begin on constructing the tower. 4  And during the construction the winds were so strong it was decided to fill the space in the walls with rocks to strengthen the wooden tower. Later wooden stays and cables were added. 16

The Brothers was first lit on September 24, 1877  91 , the total cost being .£6955. 91  At the same time the light at Mana Island was extinguished. 10

First Principal Keeper was James Nelson  22

There were two lights inside the lantern, one showing a red light over Cook's Rock, and the main light is a revolving light of the second order dioptric.  91

As the island has no soil or drinking water all supplies had to be shipped in. So a crane was used to winch a basket carrying the supplies and keepers from the deck of the supply ships to the rock. 1  From there a winch is used to haul the supplies up a tramway.  91

This was a hazardous process therefore the station was restricted to single men and was staffed in the later years by a roster of relieving keepers. 1  The Lighthouse Service paid for the families accommodations in Wellington.  91

Originally the lighthouse had four keepers, three on the island and the other worked at the Marine Department, Stores, in Wellington. Later it was reduced to three keepers, then two. 1

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 island.  90

It  was converted to diesel-generated electricity in 1954. 1

The light was one of the last to be automated in July 1990. 1

The original light beacon has now been replaced with a 50 watt tungsten halogen beacon which is powered from batteries that are charged by solar panels. 1



The Brothers 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 6d. 

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



The island is now a restricted-access wildlife sanctuary administered by the Department of Conservation and is inaccessible to the public.  It is home to the endangered Brothers Island tuatara.

Distant views can be obtained on a clear day from the Cook Strait ferry.


Island South
Province Marlborough
Location Cook Strait
Number K4246
Date Commissioned September 24, 1877  91
Date Decommissioned
Automated July 1990  1
Latitude 41° 06' South   1
Longitude 174° 26' East   1
Elevation Above Sea Level 79m   1
Height 12m   1
Character White light flashes once every 10 seconds. Red sector over rocks.   1
Range 26 N. miles (48 km)   1    19 N. miles (35 km) New beacon  1
Made Built on site
Construction White wooden tower 
Converted Kerosene To Diesel 1954  1
Converted Diesel To Mains Electricity
Wattage 50 w   New beacon  1
Present Tower Original  
Authority Owned and operated by Maritime New Zealand
Date Visited


Principal Keeper From To


(1st Lit September 24, 1877)  91
James Nelson  22 September, 1 1877  22     December, 1879  2   August 9, 1879  22
James William Johnson  22 September 25, 1880  22
William Ashison  22 June 2, 1882  22 November 3, 1882  22
Martin Nelson  22 March 7, 1883  22 c  1883  22
Charles Tregurtha  91              (c Feb 1894)  91 October, 1896  59
George Gwynne  2              (c  early 1900's)  2  
Louis Thompson  22 July 11, 1907  22
Tutt  247   1913  247 
Craig  247 1913  247  
  Automated July 1990  1


Assistant Keeper (1st) From To
  (1st Lit September 24, 1877)  91  
Donald McNeil  22 September 18, 1877  22  November 1, 1877  22 
Richard Tregurtha  331    (Probationary)  331 September, 1877  331  
Richard Tregurtha  331       1878  331
Charles William Skill  22  (Probationary)  22 December 17, 1877  22 January, 1878  22   
John Frederick Rayner (Probationary)  80  81 December, 1877  80  81 February, 1878  80  81
Patrick Henaghan  22 February 9, 1878  22 c December, 1879  22
James William Nicholson  22 December 24, 1879  22 July, 1880  22
Edward R Wilson  199 November 13, 1880  199 June 1881 199
James William Nicholson  22 c  November, 1882  22 November 13, 1882  22
Charles Augustus Tomlinson  22   (Probationary)  22  March 20, 1887  22 July 8, 1887  22       (Services dispensed with, absent without leave)  22 
Patrick Quinn  22  (Probationary)  22 June, 1893  22 September 30, 1893  22   (Resigned)  22 
Louis Thompson  22 December, 1893  22 January 23, 1894  22
Mr. Fowler  18   June 1897 ?  18
Denis Quinn  22  (Probationary)  22  July, 1897  22  January 7, 1898  22 
Denis Quinn  22  (Probationary)  22  January 8, 1898  22  1900  22 
Sanders  212   1898  212
James Barm McQueen  22   (Probationary)  22  July 7, 1898  22  December 31, 1898  22 
James Barm McQueen  22  January 1, 1899  22  January 31, 1901  22   (Resigned)  22 
Edward Morris Parks  22 1899  22 
John Henry Thomas  22   (Probationary)  22  May, 1900  22  November 9, 1900  22 
John Henry Thomas  22  November 10, 1900  22  March 9, 1901  22 
Thomas McAlpine  22   (Probationary)  22  July 10, 1902  22  October 8, 1902  22 
Thomas McAlpine  22    October 9, 1902  22  c  September, 1903  22 
Francis (Frank) Ernest Lee  13b  13a c  November/December, 1904  13b 
Mr. Kent  18 ??  18 Nov 1906  18
George Thomas Simmons  22     (Probationary)  22 August, 1906  22  March 1, 1907  22 
George Thomas Simmons  22  March 1, 1907  22   
Arthur Neville Pepper  22   December 7, 1907  22 February 29, 1908  22  (Resigned)  22 
Thomas Randle  22  (Probationary)  22 March, 1910  22 August 19, 1910  22   (Resigned)  22 
John Bertram Hay  22   (Probationary)  22 May, 1910  22 October 19, 1910  22
John Pottinger  22            (Probationary)  22 October 4, 1911  22  February 15, 1912  22 
John Pottinger  22    August 21, 1912  22 
Mr. Kane  155   1911  155
Mr. Conway  155            (Probationary)  155 1911  155  
Charles M. Dusting  247 May, 1913  13b  247 
Stronach  2                        (c 1942)  2  
  Automated July 1990  1



Additional Sources:


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



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

116Wellington City Library,

117Press, Volume XXIV, Issue 3110, 11 August 1875, Page 2

122. West Coast Times , Issue 2959, 20 March 1875, Page 3

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

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

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


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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: January 3. 2010