24th April 1874
Corbière lighthouse is lit for the first time
Corbière’s 19m-tall lighthouse sits on a tidal island, which lifts the light a further 17m above the high tide mark. The island is part of a reef, which has been responsible for many wrecks, so the lighthouse itself was long overdue by the time of its completion in 1874.
On 24 April, its paraffin-fuelled light was lit for the first time, as a test in advance of its official opening. A committee of 20 officials headed out in a boat, the Toby, to check that the beam was clearly visible, but nobody from the harbour committee went with them. They declared it a great success. When seen from the side, the light had appeared red as it was passing through coloured glass, but as they moved out into clearer water, and more directly in front of it, it was brilliant, bright white.
A minor disaster
They had agreed that if all was well they’d send up a flare as a signal that the light could be extinguished, but this actually ended up shooting straight into the water, burning the hand of the man who had lit it in the process.
Corbière lighthouse’s construction was slightly behind schedule at this point although, once underway, building work had been proceeding faster than anyone had expected – especially considering the additional difficulty of working across a tidal causeway – and it had been expected to be completed in January. It was now April but, after so many years without any marker to warn passing craft of the danger, an additional three or four months made little difference, and it still meant the whole job was completed in less than a year.
First in the UK
Corbière lighthouse was built at the same time as the new harbour at St Helier – and by the same engineer, a certain Mr Bell. It was the first concrete lighthouse built anywhere in the British Isles and, as it was poured onto its foundations on-site rather than built using a series of concrete blocks that were carted across from a site on the main part of Jersey, it was exceptionally strong and far reaching. Even from its first opening, the beam, which was automated in 1976, had a range of 18 nautical miles.
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