Life of the Light

Wednesday 23rd January comments: The main Stevenson lighthouse was constructed in 1816 and powered by electricity from 1886 (the first Scottish lighthouse to be powered by electricity) and the Beacon fell into disrepair. However a third smaller lighthouse was constructed in 1843, called the Low Light which was built to provide (with the main lighthouse) a pair of lights which would become aligned to help ships avoid the North Carr rocks as ships sailed from Dundee. However this smaller lighthouse was only functional until 1887 as a Light Ship was placed over the Carr rocks and the islands smaller lighthouse became redundant.

There was also changed in the main lighthouse as the high cost of coal along with improvements in oil lights led to the decision to change the main lighthouse back from electricity to oil. In 1924 the lighthouse was converted back to oil and as a result only four men were needed to look after the light so the number of families living on the Isle dropped.

During this period, despite the presence of the light, accidents still occurred with some interesting stories amongst them. During the 19th century a total of thirty-nine ships were documented as having come to grief on the island. Over half of these ships were total wrecks whilst the rest were either salvaged or saved. In only two cases there was loss of life; two people drowned when the steamer Newcastle Packet ran aground near Kirkhaven (near the jetties) in heavy seas on 5th April 1889 and two were drowned when the steamliner George Aunger struck the North Ness in fog on 25th Aoril 1930.

Interestingly it was during the wrecking of the Newcastle Packet that assistant lighthouse keeper Burnett overshot the corner of the road on the north end of the island and fell on rocks below, injuring himself in the process. As a result, the corner section of the road is still affectionately known as Burnetts leap.

These were interesting times for the main lighthouse on the May but slowly and surely technology was advancing and the ways of the lighthouse keepers was about to change for ever…

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