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James Melville Balfour Service's to NewZealand Lighthouses: 1866 - 1870

James Balfour...After his appointment to the Otago Provincial Council elapsed on October the 11th 1866 he was appointed as "Marine Engineer for the Colony of New Zealand.This new appointment carried with it a the title of Superintendent of Lighthouses,no doubt to his considerable experience with the very well known Scottish family of Lighthouse builders and general civil engineers, D&T.Stevensons of Edinburgh.This company was to become the main suppliers of lanterns and other associated equipment to the NewZealand lighthouse service.

When Balfour took up the job there were seven lighthouse's on the coast of New Zealand.It was noted at the time that there were 500 shipwrecks that had been recorded on the coasts,so it was obvious that some urgency was required to get a good reliable light service up and running.It wasnt long that it came to his notice there were no proper rules and duties pertaining to the efficient operation of the lights, these were soon introduced.The rules were based as in the Scottish light service.

Unfortuntary and no doubt to the consternation of some keepers the rules as required tended to be very set in a disciplinanary fashion.With in these one of the requirments was that the principle keeper was on a Sunday, to gather the keepers and families to listen in and partake in prayers along with readings from the bible.At all times they were required to be in a clean sober well kept family life, any disregard to the rules word of notice was given .

At this time a pecking order if you like was introduced with in the light house keeper's ranks...first up was the Probationers followed by a Second Assistant,First Assistant,and then if you had by this stage proved your self you were promoted to Principle Keeper ,his authority was final.

The keepers were to keep watches in the lantern room from a half and hour before and after sunrise/sunset,if found sleeping whilst on watch it was a dismissal with NO claim on any wages.In a situation of a solo light house keeper he was to sleep in the tower, but had to awake when required to tend to the light.

Very strict instructions were set down re attending to the lantern,reflectors, lenses, lamps and the wicks,these had to be trimmed as and when required.Refectors had to be polished to a very high standard,but special care had to be taken with the glass prisims and lenses.The lenses used were mainly from the Chace Glass Works of Bath,as these were a very important part of the lantern these were to be ONLY cleaned and polished with a Chamois leather.Dusting was to be carried out only with a feather duster.

Lanterns as fitted in that era burnt COLZA oil a highly refined extaction of rape seed.hence the use of wicks and the attention that they required.These lamps had a bad habit of burning with a very smokey apperance if the wicks were not trimmed correctly,so it wasnt long and the lantern became very sotty and the light soon lost its brillance.

As other lights around the world were using Paraffin (Kerosine),reports mentioned that Paraffin burnt at a much better light also that it was cheaper alternative.Balfour soon proposed to carry out trials at DOG ISLAND the only first order light at that stage in NewZealand,by all acounts these trials were very succesful.

Balfour was a man who believed in looking after his charges and they in turn repayed him with their dedication to the job although the regulations were strict, the job of maintaining the tower and its lantern,the living quarters,tending the gardens, live stock did not leave much time for the keepers and their families they were repayed by the man (Balfour) who believed in the importance of the the person and the job that they were required to do .He made provision for their Holidays,a week was allocated for each every six months.

Around that period Balfour was concerned with what building materials were available to build towers.preferably what was handy on or near the site .In some cases he ordered Iron tower sections to be cast in England then to be shipped out to NewZealand for reassembly.As stone was a common material to be found at most sites the local stone was not always handy to the site of the tower,cost of transport and the roading that was required didnt help the costings.Even so when stone was used, the workmanship was not up to the standard that was required due to the lack of suitable expertise in stone masonary, a case in point was DOG ISLAND .

New Zealand the early days was very ubunadant in timber, this in turn made available craftsmen who were able to asist Balfour in the construction of wooden towers .Eventualy many of these towers were replaced ,but several of these are still in existance today.The first of Balfour's wooden towers was constructed at Fare-well Spit in 1870,by1891 the tower structure was found to be showing the signs of decay so plans were drawn up for a replacment tower to be built,this time of a iron open latice work.Finaly the old light was extinguished on the 17th January 1897 and two days later the new light was lit for the first time .Note ...The replacment tower was built further to sea ward than the old wooden light tower.

Whilst on the subject of Fare-well Spit it is noted that due to the very desolate area as expected on a sand spit nothing of note was growing there,that is untill one of the keepers a Mr Harwood managed to to arrange that each time the supply ship called it would drop off a small amount of soil.Eventualy the keeper managed to stock up enough soil to enble some Macrocarpa trees to be planted.

Balfour went on to be involved with other lighthouses among them was NUGGET POINT ..1870, Cape Campbell..1870, Ponui Passage..1871, Bean Rock..1872 ,...But Balfour was not to see the commissioning of the lighthouses he was involved in as on th 18th December 1869 he meet with a untimely end when he was drowned in Timaru harbour at a very young age of 38 .His loss was meet with great saddnes through out maritime circles in what was then a very young country of NewZealand.So much so flags on both Government buildings and ships in port flew at half mast

Balfour now rests at the Dunedin South Cemetery flanked by two stone replica lighthouse's