This wonderful 1882 image by Burton Brothers photographers shows Whakaraupō/Lyttelton Harbour’s lighthouse on the eastern mole, at the entry to the inner harbour. Plans were approved by the Lyttelton Harbour Board in July 1878; from its first days of service it was an essential element in the port's navigational infrastructure.
Like many early lighthouses in New Zealand, the lens was made by Chance Brothers in England. The light was powered by paraffin or acetylene and the relatively feeble output was the reason behind the multi-segment, prism design of the dioptric lens. The light source was electrified around 1920 when electricity supply became available in Lyttelton.
The devastating earthquakes of 2010 - 2011 caused irreparable damage to the eastern mole, resulting in the lighthouse’s dramatic 15 degree lean. There was significant damage to port infrastructure generally; however, despite the immense challenges port wide, the Lyttelton Port Company worked quickly to remove the lighthouse from its vulnerable position. In May 2011 it was carefully transported across the inner harbour to temporary safekeeping on more stable ground below the tunnel entrance. Neil McLennan, Engineering Adviser for the Lyttelton Port Company, explains that the management team always anticipated the lighthouse would be returned to its original position - “We all understood that it was part of our Port heritage, important to the Lyttelton community and that we needed to take care of it”.
As a timber structure, the lighthouse itself had survived relatively unscathed, apart from some damage to a lens and some age related issues. In October 2020, after a sensitive restoration and ready for a fresh coat of paint, the lighthouse was moved by truck down Norwich Quay to its original position. The construction of the cruise berth, which is designed to withstand significant seismic events, provided the sturdy base for the old lighthouse to see out another century. The soft, glowing light now able to be seen from the lighthouse at night, is similar to that which would have shone in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
With many thanks to Neil McLennan for his generous input and images.
The lighthouse on the end of Gladstone Pier in the 1890s. Burton Brothers, 1890-1899
Te Ūaka The Lyttelton Museum ref 14986.62
Contemporary photos - Neil McLennan