Matiu-Somes Island

Matiu-Somes Island is located in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington Harbour.

Matiu-Somes Island Lighthouse
Matiu-Somes Island Lighthouse

Technical details

Location: Latitude 41º16′ South, Longitude 174º52′ East
Elevation: 29 metres above sea level
Construction: Brick Tower
Tower height: 4 metres
Light configuration: Unknown
Light flash character: Unknown
Power source: Mains Electricity
Range: 16 nautical miles (30 kilometres)
Date light first lit: 1866
Automated: 1924
De-manned: 1924

History of Matiu-Somes Lighthouse

Matiu Island in Wellington Harbour was probably named by the Maori explorer Kupe.

European settlers renamed the island Somes after Joseph Somes of The New Zealand Company. The island was used for both humans and animals as a quarantine station from the 1870’s. Later during World War 1 & 2 it was used as an internment camp for Germans, Italians and Japanese.

Nearby Mokopuna Island (Leper Island) was used as a quarantine area for Kim Lee who was suspected of having leprosy in 1905. The keeper sent food across to the island via a flying fox. Kim Lee died alone several months later and his leprosy was never confirmed.

After Pencarrow lighthouse was constructed in 1859, it became necessary to add another lighthouse within Wellington harbour and Somes Island was chosen.

The lighthouse was first lit on 17 February, 1866. It was similar to Pencarrow, a octagonal cast iron tower, standing 14 feet tall. The tower and lantern were imported from Britain. At the time it was one of only eight lighthouses around the country and was the first inner harbour light. The light was a fixed white beam that shone down the harbour channel with green or red light to either side. Colza (rapeseed) oil was used until about 1878, then paraffin oil (kerosene) was used.

By 1895 it was found that a more powerful light was needed. This would require a new tower and lighting equipment. The new and present tower, entering service on 21 February, 1900, is round and constructed of brick.

The old tower was moved to Tuhawaiki (Jacks) Point.

The light station was a two keeper station until 1924 when the keepers were withdrawn and the light automated. The keepers lived with their families in a six room cottage next to the lighthouse. The cottage and out buildings have since been torn down. Supplies were landed in the bay and hauled up a tramway to the light. An incandescent burner, which vaporized oil under pressure was installed during the 1910’s. In 1924 the light was converted to use acetone acetylene as a fuel and was automated. The light was converted to electricity after Word War Two.

The Wellington Provincial Government was responsible for the lighthouse until 1874 when The Marine Department took control. In 1923 the responsibility was transferred to the Wellington Harbour Board. The light which is still operational is now run by the Wellington Regional Council.

The island is now operated by the Department of Conservation as a nature reserve and many animals have been introduced.[1]

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