Boulder Bank Lighthouse

Boulder Bank, Nelson

  • Boulder Bank Lighthouse, Nelson. CC BY-SA 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: dws~11 - Wikimedia Commons . Taken By: dws~11. Date: 21/04/2004.
  • Boulder Bank Lighthouse, Nelson. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Peter Kurdulija. Taken By: Peter Kurdulija. Date: 19/11/2017.
  • Boulder Bank Lighthouse, Nelson. Aerial view. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Nelson City Council. Date: 13/05/2005.
  • Boulder Bank Lighthouse, Nelson. The Kidson family and their dwellings outside the Lighthouse c.1890 Ref: 10x8-0989-G.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library. Taken By: Tyree Brothers.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 41 Date Entered 23rd June 1983 Date of Effect 23rd June 1983


City/District Council

Nelson City


Nelson Region

Legal description

Sec 1132 City of Nelson Lighthouse Reserve BoulderBank

Location description

Eastern end of Boulder Bank close to the cut, Nelson Haven. Proposed for inclusion in the Nelson Boulder Bank Historic Area (Register no. 7821).


The information below is from the Nelson Boulder Bank Registration Report, 29 August 2013.

Nelson's Boulder Bank lighthouse was the second permanent lighthouse to be built in New Zealand. It is located near the southern end of the Bank.

As the European settlement of Nelson grew, so did the importance of its port. However, the narrow entrance into the harbour made it difficult to enter and ships masters were strongly advised to use a pilot. Several simple beacons were installed, including one on the Boulder Bank, but these did not prevent vessels from running aground. In 1859, a Special Committee of the Nelson Provincial Council, chaired by Alfred Domett, made plans for a permanent lighthouse on the Boulder Bank.

Later that year, the Nelson Provincial Council negotiated with James Stuart Tytler of Edinburgh (formerly of Nelson) to send lighthouse sections from England at the cost of £2824. Working with Slaughter Grunning and Co. Tytler sourced the lighthouse sections, cast in iron, by Messrs. Stothert and Pitt, engineers of Bath. The components were shipped to Nelson aboard the 'Glenshee'. On 4 August 1862, the oil-fired lamp was lit for the first time by the head lighthouse keeper and brother of the harbour master, W.E. Cross. Cross was later replaced by John Kidson, who remained in the position for the next twenty seven years.

In 1862 the government set up the Chief Marine Board to oversee the construction of lighthouses. This was superseded by the Marine Board of New Zealand in 1864 and a few years later by the New Zealand Marine Department. From 1888, when the flagpole was relocated from Britannia Heights to the Boulder Bank, the duties of the lighthouse keepers were extended to signalling the state of the tides. The fuel used to light the lantern changed over time, from colza oil to paraffin and later kerosene. A new lantern was installed when the change was made to kerosene.

The Boulder Bank lighthouse remained a manned light until 1915, when it was converted to acetylene and became one of the earliest automated lights in New Zealand. No longer needed, the lighthouse keepers left the Bank in 1916, at which time most of their residential structures were relocated to the mainland. In 1924 the status of the lighthouse was downgraded to that of a harbour light, and its ownership was placed in the hands of the Nelson Harbour Board.

During the Second World War, in 1942, the lighthouse light was extinguished due to the perceived threat of a Japanese invasion. The light was re-established in May 1943. In 1950, the order of flashes on the lamp was altered. The lighthouse was finally decommissioned in 1982, at which time it was the longest operating lighthouse in the country. It was replaced by a new automatic beacon on reclaimed land in Port Nelson. For many years the light was on hand to be used to supplement other harbour lights if required, for example if an earthquake severed the electricity supply to the electric shore light.

Today the lighthouse remains under the ownership of Port Nelson Ltd and is popular with tourists who visit the lighthouse on boat trips or by walking the length of the Bank. The lighthouse is in very good condition. It was given a major refurbishment in 1985 and the lantern mechanism given a make-over in 2008. The lighthouse now stands alone on the Bank, with the foundations of the original gable structure at its base still intact.

Around the base of the lighthouse there are archaeological remains of the buildings that used to surround the lighthouse. These remains consist of building foundations, bricks; garden areas as well material cultural remains such as glass, ceramics and coins. The lighthouse was registered by the NZHPT in 1983.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This assessment was prepared on 29 April 2003 with reference to the criteria of the Historic Places Act 1993.

The Nelson lighthouse has outstanding historical significance. It was built by the Nelson Provincial Council before the government passed the Marine Board Act in December, 1862, placing the new board in charge of future lighthouse development. Its early construction shows the importance of maritime transport to the early settlement of Nelson. The lighthouse has been associated with the development of Nelson and its harbour for over 130 years.

The boulder bank lighthouse has physical significance, as it was the second permanent lighthouse erected in New Zealand. It was required before technology was available in New Zealand to construct it, so the lighthouse sections had to be shipped from England. It was also one of the first lighthouses in New Zealand to become automated.

The lighthouse has been a prominent feature for over 130 years and gives identity to the Nelson community.

This assessment was prepared on 29 April 2003 with reference to the criteria of the Historic Places Act 1993.

(a)The extent to which the place reflect important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Boulder Bank Lighthouse is important to New Zealand's maritime history. It was the second lighthouse in New Zealand to be erected and became one of the first lighthouses to be automated.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

The methods of construction, material used (local and imported), site chosen to locate the lighthouse and technology available indicates the thinking associated with establishing the second lighthouse in New Zealand. Also the archaeological remains of the houses and garden created by the keepers and their families have the potential to greaten our understanding of life at a lighthouse. This combined with primary records provide invaluable knowledge of life at the lighthouse.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

The lighthouse has been a prominent feature from the Nelson harbour for 130 years and gives identity to Nelsonians. It 'represents continuity to a constantly changing environment'. [Bowman,I. p.27] The community is associated with the lighthouse through social events such as weddings and boat trips to the boulder bank in summer.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The lighthouse represents the changes in the technology of marine safety from a manually maintained oil fired light to automatic unmanned gas operation. Lack of electrification has enhanced it usefulness as an emergency back up light. It is technologically significant, as it is an example of still operational pre-electronic mechanism.

(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement

The lighthouse was established in 1862, only twenty years after the colonial settlement of Nelson.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

Boulder Bank lighthouse has the distinction of being the second permanent lighthouse to be erected in New Zealand. Also its present condition is good and mostly authentic to its 1915 state. Modern unmanned lighthouses are electrically powered so the gas powered lantern mechanism at Boulder Bank which is still present and in working condition is rare.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Messrs. Stothert and Pitt, Engineers of Bath

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

The lighthouse is octagonal in plan. It is 18.3 metres tall. The main structure is composed of painted cast-iron section bolted together with a hollow central section. The lighthouse is divided into four floors with stairs joining each level. Coated timber for durability was used for much of the interior ceilings/ floors and windows, the stairs are timber match-lined. The windows at lantern level are bronze framed with painted and clear glazing. There is a copper dome roofing the tower which is capped with a wind vane. Below this is a painted steel balcony, painted steel fins, and the painted steel and glass lantern. The tower has granite foundations 12.19 metres (40ft) deep.

The lighthouse has been little altered since 1915. Adaptations, designed to deter vandals, include a secure lock on the main door and mesh over the windows.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1862 -

1916 -
Relocation of lighthouse keepers' cottages to Nelson

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

29th July 2013

Report Written By

Alys Mendus, K. Warren, A. Dangerfield, K. Hurren, A. Tipene, A. Dodd and B. Wagstaff

Information Sources

Allan, 1954

Ruth Allan, The History of Port Nelson, Whitcombe and Tombes, Wellington, 1954

Nelson Gazette

Nelson Gazette

1 May 1861 Vol. IX p.2, 13 April 1863 pp.13-14, 1865 p.59

Cawthron Institute

Cawthron Institute

'History and Natural History of the Boulder Bank, Nelson Haven, Nelson, New Zealand', 1976

Nelson Provincial Museum

Nelson Provincial Museum

R Coleman, 'The Nelson Lighthouse: extract from notes by Mrs.W Coleman (Ruby Kidson).'Held by Nelson Provincial Museum, reference 'UMS 243'; Kidson, John (1836-1892) 'Diary, 1880', held in Nelson Provincial Museum Archives, reference 'QMS KID'

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Ian Bowman, 'Nelson Lighthouse: a plan for its conservation' for Port Nelson Limited, 1997

Other Information

Fully referenced reports on the Boulder Bank Lighthouse and the Nelson Boulder Bank Historic Area are available from the NZHPT Central Region Office. The summary report is by K. Warren, A. Dangerfield, K. Hurren, A. Tipene, A. Dodd and B. Wagstaff and is from the Nelson Boulder Bank Registration Report (29 July 2013). The remainder of the report was prepared by Alys Mendus, 29 April 2003.

The surrounding Boulder Bank is managed by the Department of Conservation.

The Boulder Bank is 55m wide at high tide and varies from 6-25m high. It is 13.5km long from the cut to the glen. It was formed by the movement of granite and other igneous rocks eroding from Mackays bluff by sea currents moving southwards from the end of the Pleistocene era (10 000 years ago).

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.