Historical Snippets, WA History

How the Lighthouse Got its Stripes

The ‘Zephyr’ returned to Champion Bay in November 1870. They arrived in the evening, and without any light to guide their way, Captain Setten had to go through the “most anxious ordeal of heaving-to his ship till daylight…” On top of that, he dealt with a heavy southwest gale. He was one of many who pressed upon the need for a lighthouse at Point Moore.

Six years later, works were underway and halted in January 1877 until the arrival of the prefabricated iron tower from England. In June, the ‘Lady Louisa’ arrived at Champion Bay with all the materials on board. Men unloaded them from the ship and began construction. By mid-July, works halted again. An error was made during the construction of the lighthouse’s foundation and needed immediate rectification.

In a letter from Geraldton dated 25 July, the writer stated that having “carefully and scientifically” laid down the foundation, it had to be “carefully and scientifically” taken up. They wryly continued, “Whether Point Moore has shifted or not cannot be satisfactorily ascertained; but at the eleventh hour, when all the material for the work was on the ground, the discovery was made, that if built at the angle as at present defined, our friends at the Greenough Flats would have had a light to light them to bed!

Work continued throughout August and September. By November, a correspondent for The Western Australian Times remarked that work was progressing quickly in contrast to other Government projects. In the few months since the iron tower arrived, the man in charge had re-laid the foundation, began constructing the lighthouse, and was weeks away from completion. All praise was due to Mr Stokes.

Point Moore Lighthouse circa 1905. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (006158PD).

On 10 December, Governor Ord arrived in Geraldton to inspect the district. On the night of his arrival, he viewed the Point Moore Lighthouse. Manufactured by the Chance Brothers of Birmingham, it was described as a “most magnificent structure of iron” and “one of the finest of the kind in the world.

A Geraldton correspondent wrote to The Western Australian Times on 22 January 1878 and advised that the lighthouse was nearly finished. The tower was in place and the contractors were painting it white. In a few weeks, it would be ready to hand over to the Government.

Months later, the work was officially complete, and the light shone for the first time on 19 March. Three days later, it was said to be giving “universal satisfaction.” The cutter ‘Moonlight’ had returned to Geraldton from the Abrolhos and could see the light from 20 miles away. So new was the light that they at first thought it was a bushfire before the flash made them realise what it was.

The lighthouse was spoken of highly by the shipmasters arriving at Geraldton. Captain Millican of the ‘Hazel Home’ saw the light from 20 miles away the night before he arrived. By November, the praise had changed to criticism. Captain Harris of the ‘Charlotte Padbury’ mistook his bearings and hit a reef. He claimed the accident was due to the Point Moore Lighthouse and blamed the light as being defective. A later investigation by Captain Archdeacon found there was nothing wrong, and the report was “utterly without foundation.” Further talk with shipmasters, however, revealed another issue.

While I have provided you with some history relating to the construction of the Point Moore Lighthouse, I have not, as yet, provided you with the detail as to how the lighthouse got its stripes. Simply put, the original colour was not easily seen in the daytime. Shipmasters struggled to see the light-coloured lighthouse from a distance, and visibility was even worse during hazy weather. To rectify the situation, in January 1879, the Government repainted it. They adopted the suggestion of painting it in very conspicuous “alternate rings of red and white.

Initially, the colours were of some amusement to the people in town. The local joker known in newspapers as Tom Pindar joked that it resembled a barber’s pole. Some complaints about visibility continued, and even in 1882, there were questions about the choice of red and white. While there is no doubt it was painted to stand out, it was a writer for the Victorian Express who made an insightful statement (likely in jest) with respect to the colours. They wondered in 1879, “Was it simply for the purpose of obtaining a distinguishing photograph of the lighthouse that the Government have painted those red rings round it?



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