On This Day in Trinity House History – 30 October

1680

St. Agnes Lighthouse is lit for the first time

St. Agnes Lighthouse on St. Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly is built by Trinity House and lit for the first time.

Excerpt from Observations on the ancient and present state of the islands of Scilly: and their importance to the trade of Great-Britain by William Borlase 1756:

“The greatest ornament of this Island is the Lighthouse, which, as you may never have seen one, give me leave to describe. It stands on the highest ground, and is indeed a fine Column. The building, from the foundation to the bottom of the Lantern, is of stone, fifty-one feet high, the Gallery four; the Sash-lights eleven feet six inches high by three feet two inches wide; each pane of glass is one foot nine inches and an half high by one foot five and an half wide of the best Crown-glass, the number of Sashes sixteen. The Column is divided into three Stories, marked by three Lists or Astragals; the Stairs … are of stone, but [above] are of timber; on the floor of the Lantern is laid a platform of brick, upon which stands a substantial Iron Grate, square, barred on every side, in which the coal fire is lighted every night, and a Bellows (of the same size and make as a Smith’s Bellows) so fixed as to blow the fire when it wants that assistance.

The Lantern, consisting wholly of timber-work and glass, is a spacious room; it has a coving canopy roof, in the middle of which there is one large Chimney, which has many subordinate funnels round it, all piercing the roof, and contributing to discharge the smoke. To supply the fire they use a great deal of coals, which are drawn up through a trap door by means of a Windlass; what cinders the fire leaves are thrown into a gutter-hole above, and descending through a hollow passage made purposely in the Buttress, are discharged. […] there is a Gallery quite round round the Lantern, railed in; this Gallery serves for air to the Fire-men, and to clean and repair the windows, and as is mentioned before, collects the rain water which descends through the Lead-pipe into the Cistern. The whole Stonework is plaistered white, which makes it as useful a mark by day for Ships coming from the Southward as the light of the fire does by night.”

St. Agnes Lighthouse Scilly

St. Agnes Lighthouse Scilly

 


1690

The Elder Brethren are ordered to assist with pressganging

Trinity House Court Minute:

“By his Majesty in Councell
To the Trinity House.

Whereas his Majesty has been pleased for the more easy and speedy Supply and furnishing His Fleet with Able and Sufficient Mariners and Seamen, to Direct the Commissioners of Customs to cause Lists to be made of the Names of all the Mariners and Seamen in the Severall Ports of the Kingdome. And the said Commissioners having represented that your Assistance will contribute to the easier Effecting thereof, Wee do therefore in His Majesty’s Name and by His Command’ pray and require you, as much as in you lies, aide and assist the Officers of Their Majesty’ s Customes, who shall make application to you for that purpose, in making Exact lists of the Names and Sirnames together with the ages and Place of Abode of all Mariners and Seafaring Men not only on the River of Thames and Medway, but in all other places where you may in any way assist in perfecting such lists.

A like letter to the Master Wardens and Assistants of the Trinity House of Newcastle.”


1724

Casquets Lighthouse is lit for the first time

Casquets Lighthouse: Thomas Le Cocq, under patent from Trinity House, first lights the three lights called St Peter, St Thomas and Dungeon.

About 1722, the owners of ships passing certain dangerous “Rocks called the Casketts” off Alderney in the Channel Islands, applied to Thomas Le Cocq, the proprietor of the Rocks, to build a lighthouse and offered him ½d. per ton when vessels passed the light. Le Cocq approached Trinity House and a patent was obtained on 3 June, 1723.

Trinity House decided that a light of particular character to distinguish it from those on the opposite shores of England and France was needed. Three separate lights in the form of a horizontal triangle were proposed, and three towers containing closed fires, i.e. coal fires burning in glazed lanterns were erected. These three lights called, St Peter, St Thomas and Dungeon were first exhibited on 30 October, 1724.

The lease granted to Le Cocq by Trinity House lasted for 61 years at a rent of £50 per annum. The three Casquets lights reverted to Trinity House (in 1785) and were converted to metal reflectors and Argand lamps on 25 November 1790; a revolving apparatus was fitted to each tower at the Casquets in 1818, and the three towers were raised by 30ft in 1854.

The Casquets Lighthouse and rocks have been the scene of many shipping disasters, among them the SS STELLA in 1899 with a loss of 112 lives.

The three original towers at the Casquets are still in use, although only the North West Tower still exhibits a light. A helideck is mounted on the third tower.

Casquets Lighthouse by Matthew Clarke

Casquets Lighthouse by Matthew Clarke

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On This Day in Trinity House History – 16 May

1741

The First Trinity House Buoy Tender

The Board minutes record the origins of the Corporation’s first vessel:

“The Master was pleased to observe that he thought it might be of service to the Corporation & for the Safety of His Majesty’s Ships to have a vessel of our own, to be sent down amongst the Sands, to observe their bearings, the setting of the Tides & the Depths of Water, Especially from the Naze to the North Foreland & to have some of our Pilots go therein for their Improvement, under the Direction of some of the Brethren, as also for the better care & placing of our Buoys.”

One month later, the minutes would name the vessel and issue its first assignment:

“Our Buoy boat called the Trinity Sloop, being now ready… and she to be sent out immediately on an inspection of the Buoys and Beacons in the North and South Channels.”

The ensuing ‘Yacht Establishment,’ a precursor to the Steam (later ‘Support’) Vessel Service was also used to survey the shifting sands of the Thames, a function performed today by the Admiralty Hydrographer and the Port of London Authority.

For a full history of the Trinity House Support Vessel Service, readers may want to pick up a copy of Richard Woodman’s Keepers of the Sea, the story of the Trinity House Yachts and Tenders.

Thomas Whitcombe's Seascape with a Trinity House Yacht and a man-o-war of the Blue Squadron off the Casquets, 1795, Copyright Trinity House

Thomas Whitcombe’s Seascape with a Trinity House Yacht and a man-o-war of the Blue Squadron off the Casquets, 1795, Copyright Trinity House

On This Day in Trinity House History – 23 January

1967

Shipwreck of the Constantia S at Casquets Lighthouse

The wreck of the Constantia S, off the Casquets Lighthouse in the Channel Islands, was written up in a 1967 edition of Trinity House’s Flash magazine:

Casquets Lighthouse

Casquets Lighthouse

“At 1015 on 23rd January, 1967, the Keepers at the Casquets Lighthouse observed that m.v. CONSTANTIA S, a Tanker of 5101 net registered tonnage on a voyage from Amsterdam with a cargo of fresh water for Gibraltar, was in danger of striking the rocks, and they immediately hoisted the signal flag ‘U’ (“you are standing into danger”) and signalled with their Aldis Lamp to warn the Tanker’s Master of the danger.

About twenty minutes later the Tanker, which was seemingly out of control, first struck the rock, after almost circling the Lighthouse, near to and E.N.E. of the Casquets South Landing, then drifted off and grounded at Point Colotte where the crew, with the exception of the Master, abandoned ship in two boats. The Master scrambled on to the rocks and was later rescued by a French Helicopter.

Meanwhile the Principal Keeper had reported the situation to St. Peter Port Radio in order to alert the Guernsey Lifeboat, and with his Assistant Keepers rushed to the North Landing with the Schermuly Rocket Gear, lifebelts and ropes after signalling to the boats that this was the safest place to land.

The tide was, however, too strong for the boats to make a landing and they drifted away in the tidal race to the S.E. of the lighthouse.

The weather at the time was wind S.W. force 6 to 8, squally, sea rough, and evidence of the extremely turbulent conditions was provided when the CONSTANTIA S eventually drifted from Point Colotte to the Fourquie Rocks east of the Lighthouse where she broke in two, the bow section sinking on the spot and the after part drifting away to the N.N.E.

Once again the traditions of the Trinity House Service, not only in providing aids to navigation but also in aiding those in distress, were upheld by Principal Keeper O.N. Murphy, and Assistant Keepers A.J. Marsh and J. Malins, by their alertness in warning the wrecked vessel, by maintaining radio contact with the shore and with the lifeboat and other rescue vessels, and standing by with their life-saving apparatus ready to rescue the shipwrecked sailors should they have attempted a landing.

Whilst all this was going on at the scene of the wreck, rescue operations were being organised ashore, and these involved Trinity House m.v. BURHOU, stationed at Alderney, which is 8½ miles from the Casquets, and the Trinity House Boatman Mr. N.J. Allen, although they are not officially part of the local life-saving organisation.

The message about the Tanker being in distress was first received by the Harbour Master at Alderney at about 1130 and he contacted Mr. Allen and alerted a scratch crew for the BURHOU which sailed shortly before noon and arrived off the wrecked tanker at about 1255.

Nick Allen, who knows these waters and their hazards like the back of his hand, took the BURHOU in close and ascertained from the Master of the CONSTANTIA S that the two boats had drifted to the southward. The BURHOU proceeded in search of the boats after a helicopter was observed to be approaching the rocks, thus ensuring that the Master, 61 years old Alexandria Ulasto, would be rescued.

The drifting boats were located about 2 miles south of the Casquets Lighthouse and the British Railways Mail Steamer SARNIA, the first vessel to reach them, managed to rescue the 10 men from the first boat.

Conditions in the vicinity were particularly bad owing to the close proximity of the Casquets S.S.W. Bank, creating a very heavy swell with rough seas, The SARNIA, a vessel of some 4,000 tons was rolling heavily, so much so that the men in the second boat were fearful of going alongside her for the rescue attempt and were relieved when T.H. m.v. BURHOU arrived on the scene.

Then began a feat of superb seamanship on the part of Skipper Nick Allen and his crew which, in spite of the prevailing conditions, resulted in the rescue of the CONSTANTIA S’s Second Officer and nineteen men, entirely without injury to personnel or damage to BURHOU.

When he had made sure that the whole of the Tanker’s crew were safe, Mr. Allen took the men he had rescued into Alderney where they landed at about 1415.

“The English Seamen were terrific” said the Greek Second Officer, Mr. Din Pouloysatis, and what more can we who were not there add to that, excepting perhaps to express our admiration for the courage of Nick Allen and his men for putting to sea without hesitation, and not even strictly within their normal line of duty, to save the lives of those in peril on the sea.

By order of the Board, Mr. Allen was sent a letter of commendation for his action and the high standard of seamanship displayed, which were in accordance with the highest traditions of the Trinity House Service.”