Pencarrow Lighthouse (Former)
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
18th March 1982
Date of Effect
18th March 1982
Sec 3 Blk V Pencarrow SD (Historic Reserve NZ Gazette 1979, p.211), Wellington Land District
Pencarrow Lighthouse is located approximately 8 kilometres south of Eastbourne.
The cast iron Pencarrow Lighthouse was the first permanent lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. It is situated on a strategic promontory at the entrance to Wellington Harbour, once occupied by Maori. As shipping increased during the 1840s, many vessels, unfamiliar with the hazards of the harbour, foundered on the rocks at the entrance. Although several attempts were made to construct some sort of beacon to assist shipping, it was not until 1851, under the direction of Governor Sir George Grey, that plans were made to build a permanent structure.
Following the establishment of provincial government in 1853, the task of constructing the new lighthouse fell to the Wellington Provincial Council. The lighthouse was designed by Edward Roberts, who had been sent to New Zealand in 1847 to assist with the construction and maintenance of military works, and was then seconded as Colonial Engineer. The lighthouse sections were cast in England by the Woodside Ironworks, Dudley, and arrived in New Zealand in June 1858. They were assembled on site by Edward George Wright, who had been especially sent out from England for this task. On 1 January 1859 the lighthouse shone for the first time, amid great celebration. In charge of running the lighthouse was Mary Jane Bennett, the wife of the previous keeper, George White Bennett, who had drowned in the harbour in June 1855 when the pilot boat capsized. In 1863 the lighthouse came under the direction of the Marine Department. It remained operational until 18 June 1935, when it was replaced by an automated light erected at Baring Head east of Pencarrow. The Pencarrow lighthouse was offered to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1966, and the Trust has maintained the building ever since. It is now a popular destination for hikers and bikers, and is surrounded by a recreational reserve.
The lighthouse is an octagonal tapering cast-iron tower 11.5m high, with a continuous parapet below the tall lantern windows. The pointed top of the tower is capped by a weathervane. Small windows with very thick glass light the internal circular staircase. The lantern mechanism has been removed and [was shipped to the lighthouse at Godley Head].
The Pencarrow Lighthouse is of great heritage significance as it was the first permanent lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. It is a reminder of the importance of the maritime transport to the early settlement of Wellington and the hazards faced by shipping entering Wellington Harbour. It was, for a time, operated by New Zealand's first and only woman lighthouse keeper, Mary Jane Bennett. It is one of the few remaining substantial structures erected by the Wellington Provincial Council, a political body that exerted its influence on the Wellington region from 1853 to 1876.
Historical Significance or Value
The Pencarrow Lighthouse has outstanding historical significance as it is one of the few remaining substantial built structures erected by the Wellington Provincial Council, a political body which administered the Wellington region from 1853 to 1876. Its first keeper appointed was the first and only woman lighthouse keeper in New Zealand. The lighthouse was cast in England by the Woodside Ironworks, Dudley, a firm also responsible for the casting of the iron for the Crystal Palace, London (1851). The lighthouse reflects the importance of maritime transport to the early settlement of Wellington and the hazards faced by vessels trying to enter Wellington Harbour. Its erection in 1859 probably saved many lives.
The Pencarrow Lighthouse has special physical significance, as it was the first permanent lighthouse erected in New Zealand. It is a striking landmark, being the sole structure on a prominent headland at the entrance of Wellington Harbour.
The lighthouse has been a prominent landmark on the Wellington coastline for nearly 150 years. It is a popular destination for hikers and bikers, and is surrounded by a recreational reserve.
(a) The extent to which the place reflect important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Pencarrow Lighthouse is one of the few remaining structures built by the Wellington Provincial Council, a political body that exerted a key influence on the Wellington region from 1853 to 1876. It is also one of the few structures in Wellington dating from the 1850s.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The Pencarrow Lighthouse is the only New Zealand lighthouse to have been operated by a woman. It was designed by Edward Roberts, Colonial Engineer, who also devised plans for some of the earliest official reclamations of Wellington Harbour.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place
The lighthouse has been a prominent feature of the Wellington coastline for nearly 150 years. It is a popular destination for hikers and bikers.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The lighthouse offers the opportunity for the public to learn about the maritime history of Wellington. Its proximity to later navigational structures and the remains of the lighthouse keepers' dwellings, provide opportunities for the public to understand the development of navigational technology from the mid 19th century to present day.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
This is first permanent iron lighthouse erected in New Zealand. It was operated for over 76 years, and even after its replacement in 1935 continued to act as a navigational aid.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
Pencarrow Lighthouse has the distinction of being the first permanent lighthouse to be erected in New Zealand.
Edward Roberts was a civilian member of the Royal Engineers. He was sent to New Zealand in 1847 to aid in the construction and maintenance of military works. In 1950 he won a competition with his plans to save the first Hutt River Bridge. When the latter was damaged/destroyed in the earthquake of 1855, he also won the competition to design a new bridge. In January 1851 he was seconded to the New Zealand Government as Colonial Engineer. In this role Roberts prepared plans for the improvements to Wellington Harbour, including the earliest reclamation, and drew up plans for a lighthouse at Pencarrow. In February 1852 Roberts called tenders for a goal in Wellington. He was recalled to England in 1856 but undertook to supervise the manufacture of the Pencarrow Lighthouse for the Wellington Provincial Council. Little is known of his later career. (See Furkert, 1953, pp. 251-252.)
In 1853 he sent his plans for the Pencarrow Lighthouse to England to obtain quotes on the necessary materials. In 1856 he returned to England, this time on the Provincial Government (est.1853) payroll. Roberts supervised the manufacture of the lighthouse. However, the construction of the lighthouse in New Zealand was undertaken by E. G. Wright, who came to New Zealand especially for the purpose. It is not known what happened to E. G. Roberts after this time, although it is assumed that he returned to his Royal Engineer duties and never returned to New Zealand.
Wright, Edward G (1831-1902)
Edward George Wright was born in England in 1831. In 1847 he joined Fox, Henderson and Company, a firm of engineers and contractors and in 1853 he was appointed engineer in charge of the construction of Rome's gasworks. He later worked in England on the naval dockyards.
In 1857 Wright and his family emigrated to New Zealand following his engagement by the Wellington Provincial Government to oversee the construction of the Pencarrow Lighthouse. When the lighthouse was completed in 1859, Wright took up the position of director of harbour improvements and public works at Hawke's Bay. In 1862 he moved to Christchurch setting up in business as a private engineer and contractor. In that same year Wright help found the Christchurch Gas Coal and Coke Company, and, as its first engineer, was responsible for the switch from oil to gas for lighting Christchurch. He was the company's chairman from 1877 until his death in 1902. Wright was also responsible for building many of Canterbury's roads and bridges, as well as the West Coast Road, and the Ashburton to Rangitata section of the South Island main trunk line.
Wright became a large landowner in the Ashburton area and in 1879 became the member of the House of Representatives for Coleridge (1879-81) and, later, Ashburton (1881-84, 1890-93 and 1896-99). He was also involved in a number of local bodies and other organisations, including a member of the Lyttelton Harbour Board, the Ashburton County Council, North Canterbury Education Board and the Christchurch Drainage Board. He died at his Windermere property on 12 August 1902.
The Pencarrow Lighthouse has been a feature of the Wellington coastline since late 1858. It is located on the eastern side of Wellington Harbour, on a strategic promontory that was once occupied by Maori. This early settlement overlooked the entrance to the harbour and the coastal track connecting Heretaunga (Hutt Valley) to the Wairarapa. With the arrival of European settlers in 1840 this track became a key route for New Zealand Company surveyors, explorers and pastoralists searching for new land to settle. In 1843 the first flocks of sheep to be introduced to the Wairarapa were driven around this headland route.
As shipping increased during the 1840s, many vessels, unfamiliar with the hazards of the harbour, foundered on the rocks. It became clear to the Wellington settlers that a permanent form of beacon was needed. Between 1843 and 1851 several attempts to build a beacon at Pencarrow proved unsuccessful and ships continued to be wrecked on the rocks. By 1851 the public demand for a lighthouse had increased, spurred by the loss off Cape Terawhiti of the barque Maria and 30 of its passengers and crew. Following representations to Governor Sir George Grey, it was decided to build a permanent lighthouse at the harbour entrance. It was also decided that in the interim a dwelling house would be built for the lighthouse keeper at Pencarrow Head. It would have a 'semi-circular window attached to it, in which lights will be placed, forming it is hoped a sufficient temporary harbour light.' This house was designed by Edward Roberts (Royal Engineer) and it is believed to have been in use by 1852-1853. George White Bennett, a settler who farmed at Lowry Bay and who had previously worked as a clerk in Wellington, was appointed the lighthouse keeper.
The task of designing the permanent lighthouse was also given to Edward Roberts. However, arguments between the Wellington Provincial Council and central government delayed construction. Finally, in 1857, the Superintendent of the Wellington Province, Isaac Earl Featherston, instructed Roberts (who by this time had returned to England) to seek tenders for the casting of the lighthouse. In July 1857 Roberts reported the accepted tender of Messrs Cochrane and Company of Woodside Iron Works, Dudley. Once cast, the prefabricated lighthouse was dispatched in 480 separate packages, and left England on board the barque Ambrosia in February 1858. The Ambrosia arrived in Wellington on 21 June 1858. The sections of the lighthouse were transported to the site by barge and then hauled into position, possibly by a steam-powered engine. George Edward Wright, who had been selected by the contractor, supervised the construction.
The lighthouse officially came into operation on 1 January 1859 amid great celebration. In charge of its running was Mary Jane Bennett, the wife of the previous lighthouse keeper, who had drowned in the harbour in June 1855 when the pilot boat capsized. Initially the light was of the second order (cadioptric system) with ellipses at intervals of two minutes, but this was later changed in favour of a fixed light.
For its first four years the Wellington Provincial Council administered the lighthouse. In 1862 the Marine Board Act transferred the control of harbours and shipping in New Zealand from the Colonial Secretary to a Chief Marine Board. This board was also responsible for the construction and maintenance of lighthouses on the coast. Responsibility for the Pencarrow Lighthouse was passed to the board in 1863. Shortly after the transfer, it was found that the land was still owned by Maori, as it had been awarded to them by Colonel McCleverty following the adjustment of land claims. In the 1870s Major Charles Heaphy, commissioner for native reserves, undertook the negotiations to acquire the land for the government and to settle the rent for the period that it had already been occupied.
During the 1870s new residences were built for the lighthouse keepers. In 1893 an explosive-type fog signal was established beside the light. This was used until 1927 when it was replaced by a compressed-air diaphone signal. Because the cliff-top site meant that fog would occasionally obscure the light even though visibility at water level remained unimpaired, another light was installed by the Wellington Harbour Board below the lighthouse at the bottom of the cliffs in 1906. The Pencarrow Lighthouse remained operational until June 1935, when it was replaced by an automated light at Baring Head (east of Pencarrow). However, the structure at Pencarrow was maintained as a navigational aid and the lighthouse keepers were retained to operate the fog signal apparatus.
In January 1959 a plaque was erected on the site, marking 100 years since the light first shone. It was unveiled by the Minister of Marine, Hon. W. A. Fox, and the event was recorded by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service. The ceremony was attended by a number of guests including A. C. Bennett, the grandson of the first lighthouse keepers. The event also celebrated the site being the first in Wellington to be officially marked by the recently formed National Historic Places Trust. In 1960 the Marine Department transferred the land to the Lands and Survey Department, but retained the lighthouse for navigational purposes.
In 1966 the Marine Department finally decided that the tower was no longer required, as 'there are enough aids in navigation available in the approaches to Wellington Harbour to safely guide vessels in and out.' In November 1966 the National Historic Places Trust accepted the offer of the Marine Department to transfer ownership of the Pencarrow Lighthouse to the Trust. The Minister of Marine consented to the transfer in the following month.
Since 1966 the Pencarrow Lighthouse has been managed by what is now the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. The lighthouse is a popular destination for hikers and cyclists enjoying the coastline scenery and remains a landmark for shipping entering and departing Wellington Harbour.
The lighthouse is octagonal in plan. It measures 5 metres across its base and is 11.5 metres tall. The main structure is composed of cast-iron sections bolted together, with a hollow central column designed as both a support for the radially attached metal floor joists and a casing for the weights of the revolving apparatus. Around the central column is a light iron staircase leading to the upper floor. From this room, originally a bedroom for the keeper, a wrought-iron ladder provides access to the light room. The lantern section is glazed on six sides, with the remaining two unglazed sides clad in sheet metal. The roof is sheathed in copper sheet. The light mechanisms and associated equipment have been removed from the lighthouse. The pointed top of the tower is capped by a weathervane.
The lighthouse has undergone a number of modifications over the years, primarily to mitigate the effects of vandalism.
January 1859 - June 1935
The lighthouse is constructed out of a cast iron frame, with a copper dome sheath.
Public NZAA Number
15th August 2001
Report Written By
Grahame Anderson, Fresh about Cook Strait, an appreciation of Wellington Harbour, Wellington, 1984
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Ellen Ellis, 'Mary Jane Bennett', Vol. One, Wellington, 1996
The original site on which the lighthouse is located was 36 acres [14.57 hectares] with ½ an acre taken up by the actual lighthouse. The remaining land area was farmed by the lighthouse staff during the period that the light was manned. Traces of the lighthouse keepers' dwellings and a small tramway used to cart supplies up the cliff to the lighthouse are still evident. There is also a grave of a child of a lighthouse keeper on the adjacent recreational reserve.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.