AS01: Lighthouses of India

In the descriptions that follow, our knowledge of the early lightstructures is due mostly to the contemporary lists of Findlay [1].

It is not surprising to find that the first lighthouse on the west coast of India was built at the entrance to Bombay (now Mumbai), the chief seaport of western India, and a great city with a sheltered harbour covering 70 square miles. Originally owned by Portugal, Bombay passed into British hands by the royal marriage of Charles II to Princess Catherine of Braganza. This single event was to have very great consequences for the future prosperity of Great Britain for, arguably, it gave Britain the most significant toehold in what was to become the most precious jewel in the crown of the British Empire. In 1668, Charles transferred ownership of Bombay to the East India Company and under the leadership of Gerald Aungier, Bombay prospered greatly. During the British wars with France in 1744-8 and 1756-63, Bombay was developed as a naval base, but the greatest spur to its development occurred as a result of the Chinese famine of 1770. More Chinese land was required for growing rice, at the expense of cotton, so the Bombay cotton mills were rapidly expanded to cope with the Chinese demands for cotton. The industry grew at a tremendous pace.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 also greatly increased the volume of trade passing through Bombay.

The need for a navigation light for the port was first met in 1842 by the mooring of a lightvessel off Colaba Point (18o50’N 72o47.5’E). Findlay describes it thus:

“In 7 fms. (12.8 m), 4½ miles (7.2 km) S.S.W. from Colaba Point. A blue light every hour and false fire every ½ hour.”

The meaning of the phrase “false fire” is unclear. Five years later, in 1847, a lighthouse was constructed on Colaba Point (18o53.7’N 72o47.7’E), this time with a light of a modern revolving design that gave a bright flash every two minutes. The white tower was 89 feet (27 m) tall, and the elevation of the light itself was a total of 132 feet (40 m), giving it a range of 17 miles (27.3 km).

Four more years were to pass before lighthouse construction began in the regions beyond Bombay at Karachi (Kurrachee) in 1851. Today, of course, Karachi is a major seaport of Pakistan. At this time, the settlement was part of British India, having been taken in 1847. Karachi was an important strategic location on the northwestern side of the Indus Delta, one of the world’s great navigable rivers that led not only to Hydrabad and the surrounding hinterland, but offered rapid access deep into northwestern India. The British constructed a lighthouse as part of their fortifications at Manora Point (24o47.3N 66o58.3E), which marked the western side of the entrance to the Bay leading to Karachi. The fixed light was visible for 16 miles (25.7 km) from its height of 120 feet (36.4 m). In the same year, another lightstructure was built on Piram Island (F0448) in the Cambay Gulf. Its fixed light was visible for 12 miles (19.3 km) from an elevation of 66 feet (20 m). A year later another light was shown for the first time from Taptee (today, known as Hazira lighthouse on Suvali Point, F0476) on the north shore at the mouth of the river. The light was visible for 10 miles (16 km) from a height of sixty feet (18.2 m).

In 1856 a spate of lighthouse building took place, with structures being completed at Mandvi (F0357), a small light at Ghogha Bandar (F0452), Koon Bunder (22o17’N 72o18.3’E), Devajagan (F0468, also called Tankaria) and Bleagura Dandee (F0472). A fort had been constructed at Mandvi, in the strategic entrance to the Gulf of Kachchh (Kutch) and the lighthouse provided on the southwest bastion at a height of 80 feet (24 m). Koon Bunder was located on the west bank of the Sabermutty River and the light was shown from September 1 to June 15. Bleagura Dandee was a minor light, whilst Taptee light was on the north shore of the river.

South of Bombay, the next important settlement was the famous fortified enclave of Goa. Aguada Fort is still to be found on a hill behind the town and it was here at the great height of 280 feet (85 m) that the light shone from the lighthouse, which still exists (F0606). Findlay reported that the flash interval was a long seven minutes, although he seemed unsure of this fact.

The shores of southwest India are known as the Malabar Coast. They had seen a lot of settlement over the centuries of exploration and consequently a number of quite early lighthouses were constructed at Tellicherry (1835 with a second light added in 1847), Cochin (F0698, 1839), Cannanore (F0672, 1843), Calicut (F0686, 1847), Mangalore (F0668, 1851), Kumta (also written Coumta, F0642, 1855) and Allepey (F0706, 1862). Seas around these shores were susceptible to the southwest monsoon, during which time lights were not shown. The lighthouse at Allepey was a substantial red brick tower, 85 feet (25.8 m) in height that remains in use today. Calicut was one of the first points of contact between Europe and India, for it was here that Vasco da Gama called in 1498. The city was already a centre for the spice trade, as well as textiles, tea and nuts, and had given its name to the type of cotton (calico) that was traded here. The light at Calicut was exhibited from the greater height of 105 feet (31.9 m), five feet (1.5 m) higher than from Allepey, but the latter was a second order light visible to 15 miles (24.1 km) compared to only 12 miles (19.3 km) from Calicut. In 1799, like the other trading centres of the Malibar Coast, the British acquired Mangalore at the mouth of the Netraviti River. It was important for most of the usual commodities, as well as coffee and timber, but also as a centre for traditional shipbuilding for the Sultans of Mysore.

A few thousand years ago, the sea level was low enough for Ceylon to be part of the Indian land mass. (It is worthy of note that earliest Indian history tells of a great flood, in much the same way as is told in the Bible [2]. We might speculate that such an event at the earliest points in our human history may be linked with the now proven rise in world sea levels.) Even today, the Gulf of Mannar, which separates the two countries, has two narrow spits of land that form a broken barrier across the Gulf. The island of Mannar in Ceylon is linked to Pamban Island of India by Adam’s Bridge, a row of coral islands protected on either side by reefs. The seas at this point were much used by ships passing around the southern tip of India and heading for the northern shores of the Bay of Bengal, and the land that stretched northwards from Mannar became known as the Coromandel Coast.

The British established lights here during the early phase of Indian lighthouse construction. At Tuticorin and Palk Bay, two lighthouses were built in 1845. Findlay described the first as a fixed light shown from an obelisk, 37 feet (11.2 m) high, situated on Hare Island (8o47.3’N 78o10.9’E), which was given as 2½ miles east of Tuticorin. Whether its description as an obelisk implies that it was a lightstructure rather than a lighthouse is not known, but the probability is that, because of the types of design prevalent at the time, it was, indeed, a lighthouse. Today, the description is given under F0734. The Palk Bay lighthouse was a round tower, 41 feet (12.4 m) high situated one mile (1.6 km) east of Paumben Pass (9o17.5’N 79o12.6’E). Its fixed light was visible for 12 miles (19.3 km) from a height of 84 feet (25.5 m). Farther north, a lighthouse was constructed at Nagappattinam (listed by Findlay as Negapatam, F0914) a year later in 1846. The similar fixed light was shown from a height of 100 feet (30.4 m), but was lowered to 88 feet (26.7 m) during a northeast monsoon. A small distance north again, we come to Karikal (10o55’N 79o44’E) where a fixed light was shown from 1853 onwards.

Pondicherry is a region of southern India that was once the chief French settlement in India. The Pondicherry lighthouse (F0926) was the first on the Coromandel Coast, built in 1836 and it is interesting to speculate whether this French initiative was responsible for the building of further lights along the coast. It was visible for 15 miles (24.1 km) from a height of 131 feet (39.8 m). The lighthouse in Madras (F0936) followed some years later in 1844. Findlay records that it showed both a fixed light and a flashing light every two minutes. This was from a column 125 feet (37.95 m) high on the Esplanade north of the fort. It is reported to have been visible at a distance of 24 miles (38.6 km) – a great distance in those times.

The Armegon Shoal (F0951) was a hazard to ships sailing north from Madras and was marked by a lighthouse in 1853. Its location was given as 13o52.8’N 80o12’E. The fixed light was visible at 15 miles and was 95 feet (28.9 m) above sea level. North from the Armegon Shoal, a lighthouse showing a fixed light visible for 12 miles was built in 1851 at Masulipatam, 2 miles northwest of Point Divy and located at 15o58.9’N 81o9.5’E. The height of the light was 95 feet (28.9 m).

The second lighthouse in India was established at Cape Godavari (also recorded as Gordeware Point) in 1817, located at 16o 49.1N 82o18.4’E. This was an important point marking entry to the region of the sacred Godavari River and was one of the earliest European settlements in India. Flowing through Andhra Pradesh, the river flows southeast through eastern India where Rajamundry was to become a major city. The river enters the ocean at two mouths, one at Cape Godavari and the other at Point Narasapatnam. The Godavari lighthouse was a white stone tower, sixty feet (18.2 m) in height and situated at a point 1½ miles (2.4 km) west by north on Hope Island in Coringah Bay.

In 1849, a lighthouse called Santapilly (F0980) was built ¾ mile (1.2 km) inshore on Conada Hill where the height of the light was given as 150 feet (45.7 m). The location was 18o3.5’N 83o36.6’E and the light was fixed and visible for 14 miles.

In 1838 a lighthouse was constructed two miles southwest of False Point (F1006) as a fixed bright light visible for 18 miles, the increased range due to its height of 120 feet (36.6 m) above sea level.

At Pilot Ridge, a lightvessel was first moored in 1851 in 21½ fathoms (39.3 m) during the southwest monsoon. It showed a blue light and a maroon light every 30 minutes.

To the east of India lies the great Bay of Bengal, and in the far north lies the city of Calcutta on the banks of the Hughli River. By 1810, the British were long established as rulers of Bengal – a large region rich in natural resources that were to provide Britain with a source of great income for over a century. The first lighthouse in South East Asia was built here in 1810 at Cowcolly or Kedgeree, two miles southwest of the point at the eastern side of the entrance to the river. There are so many river mouths and other inlets in this area that it is possible that the British decided to mark the entrance to the Hughli more as an identification than to mark a particular hazard. Sadly, the Cowcolly lighthouse is not listed as active today and whether it still exists is not known.

The location of Calcutta well inland from the northern Indian Ocean, albeit on a navigable river, was a major driving force in the early establishment of a lighthouse here, rather than at Bombay, for example, where the first light was established in 1842 in a lightvessel. Since the Hughli River was to become such an important navigable channel, it is unsurprising that a number of other lights were eventually established along it. An iron lighthouse, 82 feet (25 m) high was built at Middleton Point on Saugor Island (F1028) in 1852. The light was a bright revolving light that flashed every 20 seconds and was visible for 15 miles, the standard range for lights of this kind at the time.

Lightships were popular in these times, not just because they were easily established, but because they were easily moveable in the larger river channels that were always susceptible to silting-up. There were many occasions when permanently established lightstructures were rendered redundant because the course of a river had changed. In 1861, according to Findlay, there were at least two in the Hughli River. The most important would seem to be located in the eastern Channel at 21o4’N 88o14’E, established in 1843 with a single fixed white light. This entry in Findlay’s list is most interesting for we see an indication of how the particular conditions created by the monsoon climate affected the operation of such navigational aids. The lightvessel was moved to different locations during the year. Findlay’s entry reads:

“From October to March in 7½ fms. (13.7 m) at entrance to E. channel, with maroon or torch every ½ hour, and blue lt. every hour. From March 15 to Sept. 15 is removed to lat. 21o N., with blue lt. every ½ hour and maroon every ¼ hour.”

A second lightvessel is reported at 21o26.3’N 88o6.7’E in the Gaspar Channel showing “blue and maroons alternately” – a most unusual description of lights. In 1857, a second lightvessel was moored in the Mutlah River at 21o 6’N 88o48’E. Besides its bright revolving light, visible for 7 miles, Findlay reports that it fired rockets at 8 p.m., midnight and 4 a.m. from March 16 to October 16.In the descriptions that follow, our knowledge of the early lightstructures is due mostly to the contemporary lists of Findlay [1].

It is not surprising to find that the first lighthouse on the west coast of India was built at the entrance to Bombay (now Mumbai), the chief seaport of western India, and a great city with a sheltered harbour covering 70 square miles. Originally owned by Portugal, Bombay passed into British hands by the royal marriage of Charles II to Princess Catherine of Braganza. This single event was to have very great consequences for the future prosperity of Great Britain for, arguably, it gave Britain the most significant toehold in what was to become the most precious jewel in the crown of the British Empire. In 1668, Charles transferred ownership of Bombay to the East India Company and under the leadership of Gerald Aungier, Bombay prospered greatly. During the British wars with France in 1744-8 and 1756-63, Bombay was developed as a naval base, but the greatest spur to its development occurred as a result of the Chinese famine of 1770. More Chinese land was required for growing rice, at the expense of cotton, so the Bombay cotton mills were rapidly expanded to cope with the Chinese demands for cotton. The industry grew at a tremendous pace.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 also greatly increased the volume of trade passing through Bombay.

The need for a navigation light for the port was first met in 1842 by the mooring of a lightvessel off Colaba Point (18o50’N 72o47.5’E). Findlay describes it thus:

“In 7 fms. (12.8 m), 4½ miles (7.2 km) S.S.W. from Colaba Point. A blue light every hour and false fire every ½ hour.”

The meaning of the phrase “false fire” is unclear. Five years later, in 1847, a lighthouse was constructed on Colaba Point (18o53.7’N 72o47.7’E), this time with a light of a modern revolving design that gave a bright flash every two minutes. The white tower was 89 feet (27 m) tall, and the elevation of the light itself was a total of 132 feet (40 m), giving it a range of 17 miles (27.3 km).

Four more years were to pass before lighthouse construction began in the regions beyond Bombay at Karachi (Kurrachee) in 1851. Today, of course, Karachi is a major seaport of Pakistan. At this time, the settlement was part of British India, having been taken in 1847. Karachi was an important strategic location on the northwestern side of the Indus Delta, one of the world’s great navigable rivers that led not only to Hydrabad and the surrounding hinterland, but offered rapid access deep into northwestern India. The British constructed a lighthouse as part of their fortifications at Manora Point (24o47.3N 66o58.3E), which marked the western side of the entrance to the Bay leading to Karachi. The fixed light was visible for 16 miles (25.7 km) from its height of 120 feet (36.4 m). In the same year, another lightstructure was built on Piram Island (F0448) in the Cambay Gulf. Its fixed light was visible for 12 miles (19.3 km) from an elevation of 66 feet (20 m). A year later another light was shown for the first time from Taptee (today, known as Hazira lighthouse on Suvali Point, F0476) on the north shore at the mouth of the river. The light was visible for 10 miles (16 km) from a height of sixty feet (18.2 m).

In 1856 a spate of lighthouse building took place, with structures being completed at Mandvi (F0357), a small light at Ghogha Bandar (F0452), Koon Bunder (22o17’N 72o18.3’E), Devajagan (F0468, also called Tankaria) and Bleagura Dandee (F0472). A fort had been constructed at Mandvi, in the strategic entrance to the Gulf of Kachchh (Kutch) and the lighthouse provided on the southwest bastion at a height of 80 feet (24 m). Koon Bunder was located on the west bank of the Sabermutty River and the light was shown from September 1 to June 15. Bleagura Dandee was a minor light, whilst Taptee light was on the north shore of the river.

South of Bombay, the next important settlement was the famous fortified enclave of Goa. Aguada Fort is still to be found on a hill behind the town and it was here at the great height of 280 feet (85 m) that the light shone from the lighthouse, which still exists (F0606). Findlay reported that the flash interval was a long seven minutes, although he seemed unsure of this fact.

The shores of southwest India are known as the Malabar Coast. They had seen a lot of settlement over the centuries of exploration and consequently a number of quite early lighthouses were constructed at Tellicherry (1835 with a second light added in 1847), Cochin (F0698, 1839), Cannanore (F0672, 1843), Calicut (F0686, 1847), Mangalore (F0668, 1851), Kumta (also written Coumta, F0642, 1855) and Allepey (F0706, 1862). Seas around these shores were susceptible to the southwest monsoon, during which time lights were not shown. The lighthouse at Allepey was a substantial red brick tower, 85 feet (25.8 m) in height that remains in use today. Calicut was one of the first points of contact between Europe and India, for it was here that Vasco da Gama called in 1498. The city was already a centre for the spice trade, as well as textiles, tea and nuts, and had given its name to the type of cotton (calico) that was traded here. The light at Calicut was exhibited from the greater height of 105 feet (31.9 m), five feet (1.5 m) higher than from Allepey, but the latter was a second order light visible to 15 miles (24.1 km) compared to only 12 miles (19.3 km) from Calicut. In 1799, like the other trading centres of the Malibar Coast, the British acquired Mangalore at the mouth of the Netraviti River. It was important for most of the usual commodities, as well as coffee and timber, but also as a centre for traditional shipbuilding for the Sultans of Mysore.

A few thousand years ago, the sea level was low enough for Ceylon to be part of the Indian land mass. (It is worthy of note that earliest Indian history tells of a great flood, in much the same way as is told in the Bible [2]. We might speculate that such an event at the earliest points in our human history may be linked with the now proven rise in world sea levels.) Even today, the Gulf of Mannar, which separates the two countries, has two narrow spits of land that form a broken barrier across the Gulf. The island of Mannar in Ceylon is linked to Pamban Island of India by Adam’s Bridge, a row of coral islands protected on either side by reefs. The seas at this point were much used by ships passing around the southern tip of India and heading for the northern shores of the Bay of Bengal, and the land that stretched northwards from Mannar became known as the Coromandel Coast.

The British established lights here during the early phase of Indian lighthouse construction. At Tuticorin and Palk Bay, two lighthouses were built in 1845. Findlay described the first as a fixed light shown from an obelisk, 37 feet (11.2 m) high, situated on Hare Island (8o47.3’N 78o10.9’E), which was given as 2½ miles east of Tuticorin. Whether its description as an obelisk implies that it was a lightstructure rather than a lighthouse is not known, but the probability is that, because of the types of design prevalent at the time, it was, indeed, a lighthouse. Today, the description is given under F0734. The Palk Bay lighthouse was a round tower, 41 feet (12.4 m) high situated one mile (1.6 km) east of Paumben Pass (9o17.5’N 79o12.6’E). Its fixed light was visible for 12 miles (19.3 km) from a height of 84 feet (25.5 m). Farther north, a lighthouse was constructed at Nagappattinam (listed by Findlay as Negapatam, F0914) a year later in 1846. The similar fixed light was shown from a height of 100 feet (30.4 m), but was lowered to 88 feet (26.7 m) during a northeast monsoon. A small distance north again, we come to Karikal (10o55’N 79o44’E) where a fixed light was shown from 1853 onwards.

Pondicherry is a region of southern India that was once the chief French settlement in India. The Pondicherry lighthouse (F0926) was the first on the Coromandel Coast, built in 1836 and it is interesting to speculate whether this French initiative was responsible for the building of further lights along the coast. It was visible for 15 miles (24.1 km) from a height of 131 feet (39.8 m). The lighthouse in Madras (F0936) followed some years later in 1844. Findlay records that it showed both a fixed light and a flashing light every two minutes. This was from a column 125 feet (37.95 m) high on the Esplanade north of the fort. It is reported to have been visible at a distance of 24 miles (38.6 km) – a great distance in those times.

The Armegon Shoal (F0951) was a hazard to ships sailing north from Madras and was marked by a lighthouse in 1853. Its location was given as 13o52.8’N 80o12’E. The fixed light was visible at 15 miles and was 95 feet (28.9 m) above sea level. North from the Armegon Shoal, a lighthouse showing a fixed light visible for 12 miles was built in 1851 at Masulipatam, 2 miles northwest of Point Divy and located at 15o58.9’N 81o9.5’E. The height of the light was 95 feet (28.9 m).

The second lighthouse in India was established at Cape Godavari (also recorded as Gordeware Point) in 1817, located at 16o 49.1N 82o18.4’E. This was an important point marking entry to the region of the sacred Godavari River and was one of the earliest European settlements in India. Flowing through Andhra Pradesh, the river flows southeast through eastern India where Rajamundry was to become a major city. The river enters the ocean at two mouths, one at Cape Godavari and the other at Point Narasapatnam. The Godavari lighthouse was a white stone tower, sixty feet (18.2 m) in height and situated at a point 1½ miles (2.4 km) west by north on Hope Island in Coringah Bay.

In 1849, a lighthouse called Santapilly (F0980) was built ¾ mile (1.2 km) inshore on Conada Hill where the height of the light was given as 150 feet (45.7 m). The location was 18o3.5’N 83o36.6’E and the light was fixed and visible for 14 miles.

In 1838 a lighthouse was constructed two miles southwest of False Point (F1006) as a fixed bright light visible for 18 miles, the increased range due to its height of 120 feet (36.6 m) above sea level.

At Pilot Ridge, a lightvessel was first moored in 1851 in 21½ fathoms (39.3 m) during the southwest monsoon. It showed a blue light and a maroon light every 30 minutes.

To the east of India lies the great Bay of Bengal, and in the far north lies the city of Calcutta on the banks of the Hughli River. By 1810, the British were long established as rulers of Bengal – a large region rich in natural resources that were to provide Britain with a source of great income for over a century. The first lighthouse in South East Asia was built here in 1810 at Cowcolly or Kedgeree, two miles southwest of the point at the eastern side of the entrance to the river. There are so many river mouths and other inlets in this area that it is possible that the British decided to mark the entrance to the Hughli more as an identification than to mark a particular hazard. Sadly, the Cowcolly lighthouse is not listed as active today and whether it still exists is not known.

The location of Calcutta well inland from the northern Indian Ocean, albeit on a navigable river, was a major driving force in the early establishment of a lighthouse here, rather than at Bombay, for example, where the first light was established in 1842 in a lightvessel. Since the Hughli River was to become such an important navigable channel, it is unsurprising that a number of other lights were eventually established along it. An iron lighthouse, 82 feet (25 m) high was built at Middleton Point on Saugor Island (F1028) in 1852. The light was a bright revolving light that flashed every 20 seconds and was visible for 15 miles, the standard range for lights of this kind at the time.

Lightships were popular in these times, not just because they were easily established, but because they were easily moveable in the larger river channels that were always susceptible to silting-up. There were many occasions when permanently established lightstructures were rendered redundant because the course of a river had changed. In 1861, according to Findlay, there were at least two in the Hughli River. The most important would seem to be located in the eastern Channel at 21o4’N 88o14’E, established in 1843 with a single fixed white light. This entry in Findlay’s list is most interesting for we see an indication of how the particular conditions created by the monsoon climate affected the operation of such navigational aids. The lightvessel was moved to different locations during the year. Findlay’s entry reads:

“From October to March in 7½ fms. (13.7 m) at entrance to E. channel, with maroon or torch every ½ hour, and blue lt. every hour. From March 15 to Sept. 15 is removed to lat. 21o N., with blue lt. every ½ hour and maroon every ¼ hour.”

A second lightvessel is reported at 21o26.3’N 88o6.7’E in the Gaspar Channel showing “blue and maroons alternately” – a most unusual description of lights. In 1857, a second lightvessel was moored in the Mutlah River at 21o 6’N 88o48’E. Besides its bright revolving light, visible for 7 miles, Findlay reports that it fired rockets at 8 p.m., midnight and 4 a.m. from March 16 to October 16.