Roman Rock

Roman Rock Lighthouse

Roman Rock Lighthouse, False Bay, built between 1861 &1865
(Image ST Museum)

One hundred and sixty years ago work began on building Roman Rock Lighthouse, one of the few worldwide which is situated on a rock in the ocean, the majority being on promontories which jut out into the ocean rather like Cape Point lighthouse.
The lighthouse was designed by Alexander Gordon of the British Lighthouse Authority.   The cost was to be between £3,000 and £3,500.   Cast iron segments were bolted together and the lowest rung secured to the rock.  The stone was quarried from Seaforth beach, from the rock behind and under the present restaurant, assembled there on site and numbered, before being ferried out to the required site.

Quarrying and cutting the granite rock at Seaforth
(Image ST Museum)

In 1857 the ship ROYAL SAXON arrived with the mechanism.   The erection of the tower took 4 years as fierce winds and seas allowed only 96 working days during this period.   From Jan 7 to June 8 1861 for instance it was only possible to work on 5 occasions.   The Clerk of Works was a Mr. Cousins.  This first mechanism had a focal plane of 16,5 m above high water with a range of 19,3 km.   It was not a great success as only 1 reflector was visible at a time. There were 8 reflectors in all and they made a revolution every 4minutes.
Two keepers manned the lighthouse and changed over every 7 days.  A third keeper remained on shore during that time.  It was a boring job and they earned the highest salaries in the service.  For instance the first lightkeeper Mr. J. Williams eared £110 per annum and his assistants £95 per annum. Their only pastime was fishing, but reeling in the fish in the teeth of a strong south-easter required skill!! In 1914 the mechanism was replaced and thereafter the tower was no longer manned.   It was powered by dissolved acetylene gas.   The gas cylinders were renewed every 3 – 4 months.  The automatic flash occurred every 6 seconds.  Part of the 1914 mechanism is on display at the Simon’s Town Museum.
In 1992 the South African Navy asked for it to be electrified as by now the bright lights of Simon’s Town and Kalk Bay over-shadowed it.  It now also has a back-up diesel engine and solar panels.   The old dome was replaced by a glass fibre one.  The dome was air-lifted to the lighthouse by a Sikorsky 861 helicopter and a base for the workmen was adjacent to Glencairn station.