On This Day in Trinity House History – 11 January


Trinity House and the Royal Navy

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Trinity House to the Duke of Buckingham. Petition to prefer a Bill to Parliament for increase of pay to men in the King’s ships, by ancient allowance 4d. per day.”


Trinity House By-Law ‘Against Scandalous Words’

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Notice of a by-law that if any Elder or Younger Brother speak scandalous words against an Elder Brother, for the first fault he was to pay 20s., and for the second fault be expelled.”


Electric Light  First Exhibited at Souter Point Lighthouse

Extract from The Newcastle Courant of 12 January 1871:

“The important lighthouse on the north-east coast was opened last night and there were present at the ceremony a deputation from the London Trinity House, consisting of the Deputy Master (Captain Sir Frederick Arrow), Admiral Collinson, and Captain Nesbit; Professor Holmes, of London, the patentee of the electric light; Mr. Douglass, the chief engineer of the London Trinity House. There was also a select party of visitors, including Sir Hedworth Williamson, Bart., M.P., Lady Williamson, and the Dowager Lady Williamson; the Rev. Mr. Hitchcock, Rector of Whitburn, Mr. and Mrs. Hodgson; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Harrison, Mrs. Green, & c. For the purpose of giving further protection to the growing commerce of the Tyne and Wear, and to facilitate the navigation of that part of the coast, the Trinity House determined to place another powerful light in this neighbourhood.

An excellent site has been selected on Souter Point, about midway between the two rivers where the light will be comparatively free from the dense masses of smoke that are ever sent from these busy centres of manufacturing industry. The tower is based at a distance of 315 yards from the edge of the cliff; it is 75¾” feet high from base to vane and shows at an elevation of 150 feet above high water, a revolving electric white light of great brilliancy at intervals of 30 seconds; the duration of flash to interval of darkness is in the ratio of 1 to 5, thus giving 5 seconds for the duration of each flash, with 25 seconds for each interval of darkness. Each flash will differ somewhat from that of an ordinary apparatus for oil light, inasmuch as it will appear and disappear suddenly and be of nearly equal intensity throughout.

This apparatus has been manufactured expressly for the purpose, and consists of a portion of dioptric apparatus of the third order for fixed light; around this is rotated a hexagonal drum of glass, consisting of eight panels of vertical lenses; by three lenses the divergent and continuous sheet of light from the fixed rotation of the apparatus is gathered up so as to form distinct beams which successively reach the observer as the panels pass in succession before him. It is a remarkable piece of optical skill requiring the utmost care both in mathematical calculation and manufacture; the perfections in both are due to the scientific attainments of Mr. James Chance.

A lower light also electric is shown from the same tower at a distance of 22 feet below the upper light, for marking dangers in Sunderland Bay. Directly this light is opened from seaward it will show white, and seamen will know that while it continues so they are on the line of Mill Rock; standing further into the shore it will change to red, indicating that they are then in the line of the Hendon Rock and the White Stones. As Mill Rock is a very short distance from the lighthouse it will be safe to navigate in the White Beam unless close to, but when the Red Beam is opened except seamen be going to Sunderland they should not go further in shore. If bound to Sunderland the Red Beam, with the assistance of the Sunderland pier light, will enable them to avoid the Hendon Rock and White Stones.

This lower light is a novelty in lighthouse illumination on a principle adopted by the Trinity House engineer and is from the same electric spark as the upper light. To obtain this result, the light of the landward side of the spark, which is usually imperfectly utilized, is collected and condensed into a small cylinder beam of great intensity, and is sent, by reflection, down the centre of the tower to the required distance below the upper light, where it is again reflected and sent through a lower window over the required sector of sea surface. At this lower window a simple but important contrivance has been introduced for cleaning the glass externally in all states of weather, without the necessity of opening the window or for the lightkeeper in charge to go outside the tower.

The electricity for the production of the spark is generated by one of Professor Holmes’ magneto-electric machines, worked by a steam-engine of 6½ indicated horse-power. The magneto-electric machine contains 56 compound permanent steel magnets, and is driven at a speed of 400 revolutions per minute. The steam-engine, boiler, and magneto-electric machine are all duplicated in case of accident or repair to any part, and during such states of the atmosphere as lights are imperfectly visible, both magno-electric machines will be worked, this doubling the power of the current of electricity and consequently the intensity of the light.

But as a further precaution against accident an oil lamp, is placed in position and is always in readiness to take the place of the electric light at any moment. The machinery was exhibited at the International Exhibition held at Paris in 1867 with which an electric light was shown every night during five months of the period during which the exhibition was open the light receiving high commendation from the international jury.

During foggy weather a powerful fog horn, also the invention of Mr. Holmes, will be sounded. This horn is placed 97 seaward of the lighthouse, at an elevation of 85 feet above high water and is blown by air compressed by the stern engine, and sent through a pipe underground to an iron receiver on which is placed an automatic apparatus which causes the horn to traverse to and fro and send its sound to every part of the adjacent sea, and regulate the number and duration of the blasts. It is arranged that the number blasts be two per minute, the duration of each blast being five seconds, with an interval of twenty-five seconds corresponding with the flashes and intervals of the light.

The building comprises dwellings for five light keepers (one principal, who is a duly qualified mechanical engineer and four assistants), engine house, boiler house, coke store, workshop, and store-room these are specially arranged for securing the utmost efficiency in the service of the establishment. As no spring of water could be found at or near the site arrangements have been made by collecting and storing a large supply of rain water for the service of the steam engines and establishment generally. The works have been designed by Mr. Douglass, engineer to the Trinity House and have been executed by the following firms:- Electrical apparatus and fog horn, Professor Holmes and Messrs. Buckett Brothers London; optical apparatus, Messrs. Chance Brothers and Co. near Birmingham; steam engines and boilers, Sir Joseph Whitworth and Co., and the Fairbairn Engineering Co. Manchester; and building, Mr. Robert Allison builder, Whitburn.

The whole of the scientific portion of the work has been carried out under the advice and personal inspection of Professor Tyndall, who has taken a great interest in the work. The Deputy Master of the London Trinity House opened the proceedings by referring to the origin of the light which he characterised as a most powerful one. He stated that on its construction and illumination the highest lighthouse engineering talent of the day had been brought to bear; and he made bold to say that no lighthouse in any port of the world would bear comparison with it. He alluded to the dangerous character of the coast, and expressed a hope that the light now about to be inaugurated would be instrumental in saving life and property.

Sir Hepworth Williamson endorsed the remarks of the Deputy Master adding that he himself had urged on the Trinity House the necessity of erecting a lighthouse to guard the shoals that lay in the vicinity of Whitburn. The Rev. Mr. Hitchcock then offered up a suitable prayer, after which Lady Williamson gracefully performed the inauguration ceremony by starting the engines, when a brilliant light was produced. The fog horn which was subsequently tested, was found to work satisfactorily and the interesting proceedings terminated. The Souter Lighthouse could be seen with very great distinction from Tynemouth, and it had a very brilliant effect, notwithstanding that the weather was very unfavourable. The light at Tynemouth was changed to red, and Coquet light was altered last night.”


Tragedy for THV Vestal Workboat

A workboat from the Trinity House lighthouse tender THV Vestal (formerly the first THV Patricia) is dashed upon the Eddystone Rocks, killing seven crewmen. Mr. E G Middleditch, a Post Office Engineer who was on board the Vestal establishing a radio-telephone link between Eddystone Lighthouse and the mainland, was a witness to the tragedy that took the lives of R W E Gibbs, J V Briggs, T G Reynolds, W E J Hammersley, E G R Stephens, R W Wyatt and W R Trenoweth.

Mr. Middleditch described the tragedy as follows:

“The boat 22′ 6″ long, 6′ 10″ beam and 2′ 9” deep, driven by a 9hp engine, was scheduled to carry 24 persons for life-saving purposes. On the trip she carried the second officer, R W E Gibbs, coxswain, bowman, two midship hands and a landing party of three, eight men in all but no stores. The intention was to go in and see what landing conditions were like and to return if unsafe. The boat dropped its grapnel, laid out its creep rope, made a perfect approach and took aboard boat ropesand hauling off rope. Up to this point there was no sign of danger, but before the boat ropes could be made fast, a sea entered the boat and stopped the engine. The boat became unmanageable and the crew were forced to abandon attempts to make fast and try instead to get out stern first on the creep rope. The officer ordered “Start bailing, it’s only up to your knees” – a lot of water in a boat only 2′ 9″ deep. From the deck of the tender it was difficult to see exactly what was happening the light was awkward –  alow sun dead ahead – rocks betwen and the swell hiding the boat in the troughs. The boat’s crew continued to do what they could without panic, and might have saved the situation but for the set of the wind and the stump rocks. Here they were in a desperate position and the bowman made a last unavailing effort to bring the boat head to wind by taking a turn round the bollard with a heaving line which had somehow remained aboard, but at this moment a heavy backwash from the rocks dropped staright into the boat and it sank immediately. The last impression seen from the Vestal was of about five of the crew standing in their boat just before it foundered, silhouetted against the glare of the white water and the light of the sun behind them.

As soon as it was seen that the boat was in difficulties the starboard quarter boat, previously launched ready for ferrying stores, was ordered away in charge of the first officer, who was heard exhorting his crew to “bend to it, there’s men in the water.” Directly this boat had been got away I went up to the bridge to enquire of Captain McCarthy – who was just ordering  second boat away – if there was anything we could do to assist him. As his crew of 37 had been considerably depleted and he was not aware if any first aid men remained aboard he accepted the offer to attend to any survivors who might be picked up. While rescue attempts were proceeding hot blankets and bottles were prepared, and we watched, through glasses, the fforts of the rescue crews, and could see that the lightkeepers were also making attempts from the set-off. Unfortunately only one survivor was picked up, the coxswain, C H Pike, a man of 42 years of age and of heavy build. He had been seen to wash up twice on to rocks, on each occasion lying quiet until floated off with the back-wash finally swimming strongly with the tide clear of the rocks. When brought aboard the tender he seemed to be in a bad state, but was quickly relieved if the water he had swallowed, and was soon breathing normally again. He had no physical injuries, but was extremely cold and complained bitterly of attempts to restore circulation; the skin seemed painfully tender. He was made as comfortable as possible in hot blankets with plenty of hot water bottles and at once fell into a deep sleep, from which he awoke about half an hour later, anxious to talk, but was given a hot drink and encouraged to sleep again.”

Although Mr. Pike survived the tragedy, it is regretted that he never really recovered from the effects of his ordeal and he died in the following year after a sever attack of chronic pleurisy.

Patricia (1) later Vestal

Patricia (1) later Vestal


The Texaco Caribbean Disaster

THVs Siren and Ready rush out to mark the wrecks of the tanker Texaco Caribbean and the Peruvian cargo ship Paracas in the Dover Strait off Folkestone. The tanker collided with the cargo ship and had blown up, sinking in two parts close to the Varne Bank, creating a major hazard to navigation to outward-bound traffic in the shipping lane. The German cargo liner Brandenburg and the Greek cargo ship Niki would soon join the casualties piled upon the wreck site. The severity of the disaster led directly to the formulation of the 1977 IALA Maritime Buoyage System, an improved means of marking safe passage using buoys of different type, colour and markings.

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