The history of Brothers Island Lighthouse
The Brothers Island Lighthouse, built in 1877, replaced the light on Mana Island, which sailors often confused with the light at Pencarrow Head.
The lighthouse was built on the larger of the two islands. The tower was built on the highest tip to provide all round visibility of the light.
The island is an extremely isolated and desolate rock, which made building the lighthouse a challenge. There was not enough soil for the workmen to pitch their tents. They were forced to build huts for their accommodation. There was no drinking water on the island and all water, food and supplies had to be shipped in. It took 60 days to land the first shipment of building supplies because of gales and rough seas.
Brothers Island was the last manned lighthouse in New Zealand.
Operation of the Brothers Island light
The light began operation with oil-powered illumination in September 1877. It was converted to diesel-generated electricity in 1954.
The station was automated and the last keepers were withdrawn in 1990.
The original light beacon has now been replaced with a 50 watt tungsten halogen beacon which is powered from batteries that are charged by solar panels.
The light is monitored remotely from Maritime New Zealand’s Wellington office.
Life at Brothers Island light station
Brothers Island was the least popular of all New Zealand’s manned lighthouses. New Zealand’s only rock station, it was notorious for sending keepers “rock happy” because of the isolation.
This station was deemed unsuitable for women and children because of the hazardous landing and the confined living conditions.
Keepers were completely dependent on the mainland for their supplies, including water. Even when supplies arrived unsoiled, by the third month the meals had become very limited.
The letter books to the Marine Department, written by the keepers, are full of complaints about the poor quality of the supplies.
Despite the difficult living conditions, some keepers enjoyed the peacefulness of life at the Brothers. For many it was a good training ground for a life in the lighthouse service.
Originally the island was manned by four keepers but this was later reduced to three and then finally two. When the keepers were not rostered out to the Island, they would work at the marine department in Wellington.