The following article and picture were contributed by Kwazulu Natal genealogy expert Rosemary Dixon-Smith. Information on genealogy is available here.

Fatal Accident at the Bluff Lighthouse - 1898

By Rosemary Dixon-Smith - 2 June 2005

On 10 April 1898 Head Lighthousekeeper at the Bluff, Frederick STEPHENSON, wrote to Charles CROFTS, Engineer in Charge of the Natal Harbour Works, to report "a serious accident which happened about 4 p.m. yesterday whereby a man named WILLS fell from the top of the Lighthouse to the enclosure below. He was immediately attended to by the Dr. of the Naval Corps and removed to the hospital."

The 2nd Lighthousekeeper, who was on duty at the time, had been asked by four Naval Volunteers to conduct them on a tour of the lighthouse and when entering the gate two civilians also came running up and asked if they might be included. When in the lightroom the civilians and some of the Natal Naval Volunteers went outside on to the balcony, while the keeper was explaining the workings of the light to one of the other men. There was a sudden shout that a man had fallen over.

WILLS had ascended the ladder leading to a small footway round the lantern, used by the keepers when cleaning the glass of the lantern, and fell from this to the ground, a distance of over 70 feet. He died in hospital at 9.30 the following evening. Charles Crofts reported to the Minister of Land and Works that WILLS had been employed in one of the shops owned by Randles Bros & Hudson in Durban.

Picture courtesy R Dixon-Smith

The Lighthouse and Signal Station on the Bluff, sometime in 1890s.


<= Click to view a desktop-sized enlargement of the picture. (1024x768px.)

From the official Instructions to Lighthousekeepers, it would seem that the keeper on duty had allowed six visitors to enter the lighthouse at the same time, when three was the maximum number laid down in the regulations - which were many and detailed:

"The lightkeepers are expected to conduct themselves with civility to strangers by shewing the premises at such hours as are convenient, and do not interfere with the proper duties of their office, it being expressly understood that strangers will not be admitted into the lighthouse after sunset and before 10 a.m. No children under ten years of age to be admitted into the lightroom at any time. No money or other gratuities shall be taken from visitors on any pretence whatever. No more than three visitors shall have access to the lightroom at one and the same time. The lightkeeper must not on any pretence whatever admit persons in a state of intoxication. No visitors entering the lightroom shall be permitted to handle any part of the Apparatus or make drawings thereof or to take any dimensions unless he produce a written authority for so doing from the Colonial Chief Engineer and on no account is any visitor to be allowed to enter the lightroom or to remain in it without one of the lightkeepers being present. No smoking to be allowed by visitors within the lightroom, nor are they to be permitted to bring food or liquor into the lighthouse under any pretence. No dogs are to be allowed to enter the lighthouse."

Whether the unfortunate WILLS was "in a state of intoxication" or merely succumbed to an attack of vertigo, history doesn't relate.

The lightkeepers' rules also mention that "a book shall be kept at the lighthouse in which all visitors are to enter their names. This book is to be under the charge of the Head Lightkeeper."

If that visitors' book were to have survived, what a wealth of names, from Durban and elsewhere, it would offer. Apart from this volume, the Head Lightkeeper kept a daily journal, of which a copy was sent to the Colonial Engineer every month, as well as a report book in which remarks as to incidents which might occur during the watch were noted as well as the times at which the keepers came on and off duty. Sadly, none of these records are still in existence.

Footnote: for more on the history and daily running of the Bluff Lighthouse, see my article "Keeper of the Bluff Light"

Rosemary Dixon-Smith 2005

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