Beacon on the Rock: The Dramatic History of Lighthouses from Ancient Greece to the Present Day

By Peter Williams | Go to book overview


Chapter 5 LIGHTHOUSE LORE

Lighthouse keeping has never been a job for an excitable person with a nervous disposition. One attribute of
paramount importance was to he able to take life as it came: another was to be able to tolerate one's fellow
man. Even on land stations with the company of families, keepers' very survival relied on helping each other
through emotional times. On the offshore lighthouses, two or three men lived a bachelor existence, cheek by
jowl for their month-long shifts, when minor idiosyncrasies and foibles that might be ignored ashore could
cause major conflict in their confined environment.

FAMILIES WERE OFTEN CLOSELY involved in lighthouse keeping. If the lighthouse was offshore, the family would be housed in a cottage provided by the lighthouse authority, usually in a small community of other keepers. On island and land stations the families could live at the lighthouse, though with school-age children this sometimes forced keepers to send their families to lodge in the nearest town. Teresa Ball lived in her lighthouse keeper's cottage at Hugh Town on St. Mary's, one of the Isles of Scilly southwest of England. Her husband, John, was the principal keeper on the Bishop Rock Lighthouse just half an hour's boat trip away. On December 19, 1898, Teresa had left her home to go to the mainland to look after her daughter-in-law, Mary-Ann, and Mary-Ann's new baby, Aubrey. Sadly, on that day her husband went missing in strange circumstances. He was accustomed on calm days to go outside onto the lighthouse landing to enjoy a pipe of tobacco, which he did on the fateful day. His fellow keepers became worried when he did not return to the mess room, as normal. Although weathet conditions were good, he had vanished! Teresa was not told of the disappearance until her return some days later. She was sure that he would turn up, for John was a reliable husband and a caring father. Every day for some weeks she sent her children, Charles and Edmund, to the beach in the hope that either they would find her husband safe or, as the days went by, his body would come ashore so that he could have a Christian burial. He was never found, and the mystety was never solved. Charles and Edmund, and the baby Aubrey, were in time all to become lighthouse keepers, not put off by the tragedy.


AND BABY CAME, TOO …

The loss of keepers or members of their families was not an unusual occurrence. For mothers there was always the fear that the children would fall over cliffs. Lighthouse children

-94-

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