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H.M.S. Mastiff, Alloa, 30th March, 1848. MR. EDITOR.-In the course of my visit to the Orkneys last summer, for the completion of the survey of that group of islands, in H.M.S. Mastiff, while engaged in my duties on the Island of North Ronaldsha, I was much interested by witnessing the great number of vessels passing round the island; and considering that they were likely to be as numerous by night as by day, the fact of there being no light on it to guide them round it, appeared to me most extraordinary.
On looking into the subject I found that there once was a light, and the tower of it still stands, and does serve as a beacon; but that in consequence of numerous wrecks taking place on Sanda, the island south of it, a light was established on the Start Point of that island, and the light of North Ronaldsha was discontinued. Doubting very much the good policy of that measure, and being indeed fully impressed with its impropriety, I lost no time in calling the attention of the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses to the subject. I transmit herewith a copy of the correspondence which ensued, the result of which I am most happy to say is quite favorable to my views, that the grand turning point of our islands for shipping passing and repassing between the Atlantic and the German Ocean should be lighted. The proposal at present remains with the Trinity House of London, which Board I can scarcely doubt will view the subject in a similar way that every one here has done, who is conversant with the dangers of North Ronaldsha.
As a gratifying conclusion to this communication, I trust you will allow me to add my humble testimony to the kind and ready attention with which my representations were received by the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners, their Engineer, and Secretary. The question was immediately taken up, the great importance of it was duly considered, and its precedence to other works allowed and established. This you might observe, is nothing more than the duty of a Board, the members of which receive some handsor.e salary for their trouble. But it is very little known that the Board of Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses is not one of this category: it is an unpaid Board, the members of which (saving the Secretary and Engineer,) give their time and attention to their duties gratis! " in salutem omnium," as their motto says, for the dispensing of safety to the mariner. This is a distinction highly honorable to the gentlemen of the Northern Board, and although it might be urged against them they are not seamen, yet they are clear sighted men, cool headed, and of good judgment, and well able to give that close attention to reasons which seamen place before them, and determine for the best. For such reasons above all they are entitled to the thanks of their country, as well as seamen generally, and I trust you will assist me in making this known.
Your obedient servant,
A. B. BECHER, Com. R.N.
Northern Light Office, Edinburgh, 10th Jan., 1848. SIR.-In terms of the conversation, which took place on Saturday last, as to the proposed renovation of the Start Point Lighthouse, I have been directed by the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses to communicate with you farther on the subject. You are aware that this Board have, on the suggestion of their engineer, resolved to delay any proceeding at the Start Point, in the view of making the light more effective, until they should obtain farther information on the subject, of the best mode of lighting the northern isles of Orkney. They have reason to believe that you, and the other officers of H.M.S. Mastiff, have, in the course of your survey, formed decided opinions as to the maritime wants of that line of coast, and they have directed me to request that you would favour them with your own opinion, and that of the other gentlemen engaged in the survey of the Orkneys as to the following points.
1. What is the best position for a light in the north isles of the Orkneys, having in view solely the general interests of navigation, and without reference to the existence of the light at Start Point?
2. Considering the lowness of the Sanda land, and its easterly projection, the set and strength of the tides, and the number of shipwrecks which occur on the Start Point, after the light was exhibited in North Ronaldsha, does any modification of the opinion to be given in answer to the preceding question, appear to be required?
3. If North Ronaldsha should be considered as the most desirable site for the great sea lighthouse, would it be necessary to retain the light on Start Point, as well from a consideration of the reasons which induced the Commissioners to remove the light from North Ronaldsha to that place in 1806, as from the long familiarity of seamen with the present light on Start Point?
4. Would a subsidiary light answer at North Ronaldsha, in conjunction with an improved light at Start Point? This question more particularly implies a consideration of the circumstance, that the present characteristic appearance of the Start Point light, with which seamen are familiar, admits of a great increase of power and range without any change of character, so that the light would equally, with one on North Ronaldsha, serve as a distant guide for our sea vessels, while a new subsidiary light on North Ronaldsha, would indicate precisely the mariner's position as to the northern extremity of the Archipelago?
5. Would notices repeated for several years, render any change of the existing light, whether as to its character, or its entire cessation, a safe or advisable measure?
6. As several efficient distinctions might be adopted between two lights on that coast, does it appear desirable, or otherwise, to add a second light at North Ronaldsha, which is only 9 miles off from Start Point?
I hope you will excuse me for directing your attention to the preceding questions; and I beg you will not consider that the Commissioners have any desire either to limit your replies by these interrogatories, or to trouble you to follow them closely; they are, in fact, merely intended to indicate to you the form which the investigation has assumed at this Board.
I am, Sir, &c.,
ALEX. CUNNINGHAM, Sec. Cupt. Becher, R.N., H.M.S Mastiff, Kincardine.
H.M.S. Mastiff, Alloa, Frith of Forth, Jan. 28th, 1848. SIR,—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter, of the 10th inst., forwarding to me certain questions on the subject of lighting the northern isles of Orkney; and requesting the opinions of the officers of the Mastiff, along with my own, on that subject.
In answering the above questions, for the sake of perspicuity, I will transfer them to this communication, and follow them with the answers, which after due consideration, I have been led to adopt; adding thereto, in conclusion, such other remarks as may appear to suggest themselves; and the letters of Lieut. Thomas, and Mr. Wells, the master of this ship, whose long experience of the navigation of the Orkney Islands, may, probably, render their opinions of more importance than my own.
1. What is the best position for a light in the northern isles of Orkney, having in view solely the general interests of navigation, and without reference to the existence of the light at Start Point?"
North Ronaldsha being the northernmost land of Orkney, round which vessels pass and repass, both east and west, appears to me as the most proper place for a good sea-light for the northern isles of Orkney.
“ 2. Considering the lowness of the Sanda land, and its easterly projection, the set and strength of the tides, and the number of shipwrecks which occurred on the Start Point, after the light was exhibited on North Ronaldsha; does any modification of the opinion to be given in answer to the preceding question appear to be required?"
The extraordinary low and flat character of the Sanda land, particularly about the Start Point, on which a light now stands, and the peculiar set and great strength of the tides in its vicinity, adding to its danger, are sufficient reasons why it should be avoided by seamen; a good light on North Ronaldsha, would assist them in doing so.
By a register of wrecks which I obtained at Sanda last summer, it appears that since January, 1806, when the Start light was established, there have been
Wrecked on Sanda . . • 26 vessels.
Total . . +7 Since June, 1809, when the light on North Ronaldsha was suppressed, leaving the Start light as the only one on the northern isles of Orkney, there have been
Total . . 42* From which it does not appear that such diminution of wrecks as might have been expected, has taken place by the removal of the light from North Ronaldsha to the Start; but that the number of wrecks on North Ronaldsha, in proportion to its extent of coast line, is far greater than those of Sanda.
“ 3. If North Ronaldsha should be considered as the most desirable site for the great sea light; would it be necessary to retain the light at Start Point; as well as from a consideration of the various reasons which induced the Commissioners to remove the light from North Ronaldsha to that place, in 1806, as from the long familiarity of seamen with the present light on Start Point?”.
The familiarity of seamen with the Start light, should secure its continuance, even in case of a light being re-established on North Ronaldsha; and as this is a revolving light, if one is placed on North Ronaldsha, it should be a fixed light, and they could not then be mistaken for each other. With the Start light, and one on Dennis-Ness of North Ronald. sha, by cross bearings, ships could always determine their correct positions, an advantage which, to outward bound ships, for a good departure, would be of immense value, and should go far towards deciding in favour of a light on that island.
“4. Would a subsidiary light answer at North Ronaldsha, in conjunction with an improved light at Start Point? This question more particularly implies a consideration of the circumstance, that the present characteristic appearance of the Start light, with which seamen are familiar, admits of a great exercise of power and range, without any change of character; so that the light would, equally with the one on North Ronaldsha, serve as a distant guide for over-sea vessels, while a new subsidiary light on North Ronaldsha, would indicate precisely the mariner's position, as to the northern extremity of the Archipelago.”
I think it would be injudicious to place a secondary, or subsidiary light on North Ronaldsha, a point which a seaman should have the chance of seeing as soon as possible. The present light on the Start might serve as a subsidiary light. Vessels from the westward must risk too near an approach to the Runabrake, and the western shores of North Ronaldsha, to come within ten miles of the Start light, so that it is of no great service to them. But were a light on North Ronaldsha, vessels might safely run for it, when two or three miles to the northward of its parallel, without danger, and with the certainty of making it. In fact, if two lights be determined on, they should be on Dennis-Ness of North Ronaldsha and the Start Point of Sanda, and that of Dennis-Ness, should be a light of the most superior kind: but if one light only be determined on, that at the Start should remain.
* A list of these wrecks will be found in our April Number, p. 298.-ED.
“ 5. Would notices, repeated several years, render any change of the existing light, whether as to its character, or its entire cessation, a safe or advisable measure.”
It would certainly be a safer measure, to make no change in the existing light, than to do otherwise, although any ill effect resulting from a change in the establishment, or character of lights, ought to be avoided, by notices of such intended change, being sent throughout the world by every proper channel, and allowing them due time for arrival and circulation.
“6. As several efficient distinctions might be adopted between two lights on that coast, does it appear desirable, or otherwise, to add a second light at North Ronaldsha, which is only nine miles off from Start Point?"
Considering that the Start light should not be disturbed, rather than leave North Ronaldsha without a light, it is desirable there should be two lights, although they would not be seven miles apart from each other.
In conclusion, it may be observed:
1st.—That the greatest number of wrecks on Sanda, to which I have alluded, have occurred on the northern shores of that island, besides a greater number of wrecks in proportion to its size and extent, still occurring on North Ronaldsha.
Žndly.—That the point of Dennis-Ness, the site of the present beacon on North Ronaldsha, is the easternmost land of Orkney, having been found by the recent survey to bear true N. 0° 40' 55" E. of the Start of Sanda, the distance from the Start placing it about 150 yards east of the meridian of the latter.
The whole subject might, no doubt, offer further arguments for reasoning upon; but the foregoing have appeared to me sufficient to arrive at the conclusion, that the best position for the light on the northern isles of Orkney, is on Dennis-Ness of North Ronaldsha; that the present light on the Start, as a sea-light, is deprived of half its value, being of no use to vessels coming from the westward; but from having been long established, it should remain as a revolving light, whether it be determined to have a light on North Ronaldsha or not; and that a light on Dennis-Ness (which should be a fixed light, *) along with the present revolving light on the Start, would be preferable, for the reasons which have been already stated.
I have the honor to be, &c.,'
A. B. BECHER,
Commanding H.M.S. Mastiff. To A. Cunningham, Esq., Northern Light Office.
H.M. Cutter, Woodlark, Alloa, 25th Jan., 1848. SIR.–Agreeably to your request, I beg to offer the following remarks in reply to some questions proposed for your consideration by the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses.
* Since determined to be a flashing light, that of Sunburgh Head, of Shetland, being a fixed light, for which it might be mistaken.