Tory Channel Leading Lights

Tory Channel

  • Tory Channel Leading Lights. Front light – view of Tory Channel and the Inter-island Ferry – Arahura.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Peter Cooke. Date: 24/11/2006.
  • Rear light – viewed from below.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Peter Cooke. Date: 24/11/2006.
  • Front light – showing door.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Peter Cooke. Date: 24/11/2006.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7701 Date Entered 22nd June 2007 Date of Effect 22nd June 2007


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the land comprised in Lighthouse Reserve NZ Gazette 1903, p.736 and later addition, and includes the two light structures (including fittings and fixtures), the former oil store shed on adjoining land, and the view shafts of Tory Channel from the Lights and of the Lights from Tory Channel. The registration excludes other structures on the land.

City/District Council

Marlborough District


Marlborough Region

Legal description

Sec 13 Blk V Arapawa SD (Lighthouse Reserve NZ Gazette 1903, p.736) and Lot 1 DP 3612 (RT MB2A/312), Marlborough Land District

Location description

In the eastern paddock (or Lighthouse Reserve), Whekenui (part of Okukari Bay), Arapawa Island, Tory Channel.


The Tory Channel Leading Lights were built in 1881 by the Marine Department to aid the passage of shipping through the Cook Strait entrance to Tory Channel. Use of the Channel had increased as the Sounds were settled, and as farming and extractive industries grew.

The Lights were housed in two identical timber pyramidal structures, approx 6.4m high and 3.3m square, with a window on the front face at a mezzanine level. The front light is about 7m above and 11m behind the high water mark, the rear light 27m above and 166m behind the high water mark. The two lights are 151m apart. When a ship's master aligns them the ship is able to make the passage.

They were de-manned in 1930 when the lights were changed from a kerosene lamp - requiring twice-daily attention - to gas. Electricity was introduced in 1945, in the form of batteries, and that method is still used today.

The Lights have maintained their original role with the advent of roll-on, roll-off ferries in the 1960s, which now carry a million people past them each year.

The Tory Channel Leading Lights are part of the coastal safety system erected by the Government in the 1880s, but have been excluded from the adoration accorded to 'proper' lighthouses. Yet, to the people of the Marlborough Sounds (and all Cook Strait ferry passengers) they are a vital part of the inter-island link and important in Tory Channel. They helped open up the Channel to shipping, settlement and industry, and their construction and servicing has contributed strongly to the identity of the area.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Lights are the only timber leading lights still operating on their original site. They may be the only nineteenth-century terrestrial timber leading lights still in service. Largely unmodified, only the illuminating equipment and power source inside is new, they have served uninterrupted on this site for their original purpose for 125 years.

The Lights played a significant role in the development of the Marlborough region as they helped open up the channel to shipping, settlement and industry.

The Lights also have a strong association with maritime safety. Shipwrecks in the locality seem to have diminished after they were put into service.

The Lights were designed under the supervision of John Blackett (1818-93), "an important individual in New Zealand's nineteenth-century engineering history". Unlike the more common landfall-type lighthouse, leading lights had a specialised navigating role in confined channels or harbour entrances. Leading lights worked with shipping much closer inshore, drawing vessels near to rocky shores, and therefore had a greater relationship to safety than landfall lights, which ships observed at a distance.

The Lights have a social connection to the life of residents in Tory Channel. A keeper maintained the lights for their first 49 years, the first of whom worked until his death in 1907 (and who did so despite blindness). The need of the second light keeper in 1920 was the only reason the telephone office in Okukari (in the keeper's house) was not disconnected. He had not only to report faults or breakdowns in the lights themselves but phone in shipping movements in and out of Tory Channel and along Cook Strait. The light keeping families also enjoyed use of the school at Whekenui, buoyed by children from the whaling families, until it closed in 1964. The front beacon has been included in a painting (by Captain Edwin Temple) that romanticises its presence in the bay.

They have a strong association with the lighthouse tenders and crews, from Stella, Hinemoa, Tutanekai, Matai, and more closely through the Picton-based launches Enterprise and Enterprise II, and Marlborough Harbour Board's launch Marlborough.

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

Strongly associated with growth around New Zealand coastlines, the development of the Marlborough Sounds, the maritime transport sector, maritime safety and local industries such as whaling and fishing. As well as large ship-owning concerns, many local entrepreneurs bought and operated small coastal vessels so the safety value of the Lights was universally appreciated.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

Linkage with two Tory Channel families (Godfrey and Kenny) as keepers, and the wider Okukari/ Whekenui communities. The wooden iron-bark ladders show the wear of 50 years of twice-daily use. The first keeper Godfrey is buried nearby and descendents of Kenny are well known throughout the area, having been involved in whaling and water taxi businesses for many decades.

(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua

Likely to be a site of pre-contact occupation and/or cultivation (Maori remains have been unearthed in Okukari). Maori settlement on the island dates back 600 years. The bay has a link in Maori lore to the visit of Kupe. The island is regarded as important for Maori navigating across the strait. Part of a Te Atiawa reserve set aside in the 1850s, the parcel of land was sold upon request to the Government for the Lights.

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

The local community has high regard for the safety aspects of the Lights and all contribute to search-and-rescue emergencies when they arise. "Despite the fact that more people see or are born to safety by these lights than most others, Tory Channel Leading Lights have been somewhat neglected in the public domain, often getting little mention in publications that do not consider them to be proper lighthouses". Local historian Heather Heberley is very strong on their importance.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

Local accommodation is available in the area at the Arapwawa Homestead. People take advantage of the accommodation to visit the Lights and other historical sites nearby. A wharf is available.

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

The Lights were designed to withstand heavy winds, and a coastal environment, and their design to do so has been successful with the Lights in continuous operation since 1882.

Leading lights had a specialised navigating role in confined channels or harbour entrances, working with shipping much closer inshore, drawing vessels near to rocky shores. Shipwrecks in the locality seem to have diminished after they were put into service.

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

The Tory Channel Leading Lights are the only timber leading lights still operating on their original site; there are remaining examples of timber coastal lights and harbour lights that predate them.

The lights may be the only nineteenth-century terrestrial timber leading lights still in service. Largely unmodified, only the illuminating equipment and power source inside is new, they have served uninterrupted on this site for their original purpose for 125 years.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The Lights are part of a wider network of navigational aids in the Sounds. An unlit, short-lived beacon at Cape Jackson was first erected in 1884, its replacement was lit in 1903; a light at Dieffenbach Point was lit in 1911; as technology developed points and prominentaries within the Sounds were progressively marked. At Tory Channel itself, the Leading Lights were significantly upgraded when the ro-ro ferries started in the 1960s, including radar transponder beacons in place by 1971. Together they form a significant part of the Sounds landscape, for which maritime safety is paramount.

The original oil store shed is no longer part of the Lights facilities, or on its original site on the reserve, but is immediately next door (on Lot 1 DP3612).

The road running through the reserve has association with farming (stock movement) and forestry going back to the Nineteenth Century.


The Tory Channel Leading Lights are part of the coastal safety system erected by the Government in the 1880s, but have been excluded from the adoration accorded to 'proper' lighthouses. Yet, to the people of the Marlborough Sounds (and all Cook Strait ferry passengers) they are a vital part of the inter-island link and important in Tory Channel. They helped open up the channel to shipping, settlement and industry, and their construction and servicing has contributed strongly to the identity of the area.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Blackett, John

John Blackett (1818-93) was one of New Zealand's leading nineteenth century civil engineers and the chief designer of many of the public works undertaken during the Vogel era. Born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, he served his apprenticeship with R. & W. Hawthorne, Engineers from 1834-40, and then became a draughtsman and office engineer with the Great Western Railway Company. In 1844 Blackett was made head engineer of a London firm of ship builders and railway contractors, and from 1846 he worked for a copper mining company in Wales. Blackett established his own practice in 1849 but two years later he emigrated to New Zealand and settled near New Plymouth. In 1856 Blackett moved to Nelson where he was appointed Provincial Engineer in 1859. Six years later he became the first Commissioner for the West Coast Goldfields.

After a decade of working in the civil service at a provincial level John Blackett was appointed Marine Engineer and Acting Engineer-in-Chief for the Colony on 1 October 1870. As Marine Engineer, he was responsible for the design of twenty-five lighthouses which were erected during one of the most prolific periods of lighthouse construction in New Zealand. This achievement is considered to be his most significant contribution to engineering in this country, although his work for the Public Works Department was also very important, particularly as it related to the development of the national rail network. Engineer-in-Charge of the North Island Public Works Department from 1878, Blackett was promoted to the office of Engineer-in-Chief of New Zealand in 1884. In this capacity he ran the Engineering Branch of the Public Works Department until 1890 when he was appointed Consulting and Inspecting Engineer for the Colony, resident in London. Blackett returned to New Zealand just before his death in 1893 and he is remembered for the skill with which he realised the ambitious public works programmes fostered by Vogel and his successors.

Scott, David

David Scott was added to the staff of the Marine Department in 1878. He was the department's second lighthouse artificier.

Parsonage, C.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Bitoss, Peter

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical and associated iwi/hapu/whanau

Te Atiawa (South Island)

Historical Narrative

The Tory Channel Leading Lights have served uninterrupted in their original location and for their original purpose for 125 years. They are structurally unmodified.

Though it was easily and frequently crossed, the dangerous nature of the Tory Channel, known to Maori as Raukawamoana has long been known. In Maori mythology the identity of the Sounds is associated with the tempestuousness of the seas. The name given to the island Arapawa, meaning 'turn towards the smoke', was a navigational instruction by which Maori masters knew when to make their dash across the strait. The broken-up nature of the Sounds is related in mythology to a waka, carrying the gods from the heavens, being wrecked upon this coast - with the many islands and fingers of land representing the smashed prow of the canoe. Kupe is said to have visited Tory Channel, naming it Kura te Au, the red channel (most likely because of the seasonal flourishes of red krill or crustacean larvae). He named the bay just inside the heads Whekenui after his fight with a big sea creature, the reddened water being redolent of its blood.

Tory Channel has been a route for European shipping since at least 1827, when John Guard established a whaling station just inside the heads, at Te Awaiti. "Te Awaiti ... might claim with some justification to be not only one of the earliest ports in New Zealand but also one of the longest surviving." Traffic out of the Sounds increased after Picton was established in 1848, the Government's Waipounamu purchase of 1853-56, and the rise of farming and extractive industries; for this Marine Department Captain Robert Johnson put Tory Channel on a list of five harbours to get a light in 1861 (as well as 13 landfall lighthouses). However preference for projects already planned by provincial councils led instead to the establishment of a light on Mana Island in 1865. The Marine Engineer James Bolton said that if a landfall light is not approved for Tory Channel, he favoured "the alternative of placing leading lights inside the entrance", tended by a local resident.

A number of wrecks are associated with Tory Channel at this time. The City of Newcastle wrecked on Wellington Head (now Perano Head) near the Tory Channel entrance on 14 November 1872. She was sheltering from a storm before hitting rocks. The Court of Inquiry into the wreck established that the master had confused the Mana and Wellington's Pencarrow lights, this being "the chief cause of the disaster". Masters seeking the entrance in low visibility came close to the rocks in Wellington Bay and listened for the distinctive noise emitted by a notable natural blowhole about half a mile north of East Head.

A survey of lighthouse requirements in Cook Strait followed the next year. From the deck of the Luna, Captain Johnson again suggested that a fixed red light at Tory Channel would be "a useful coastal light", red to distinguish it from other Cook Strait lights. The Marine Engineer, now John Blackett, investigated the engineering aspects and suggested the existing lighthouse at Taiaroa Head, Otago harbour entrance, be moved to the Tory Channel heads. This would have cost £1880 and is probably the reason it did not proceed, but a landfall light was approved for Tory Channel. The red “"antern and apparatus" were ordered from London in 1873 for this location. In the meantime Johnson and Blackett changed their minds, presumably under pressure from the Secretary of Marine William Seed who felt Tory Channel to be so dangerous that it would be unwise to attract more traffic into it. Instead they installed a new landfall light on The Brothers Island in 1877, and diverted the lantern (Chance brand), when it arrived, to a small lighthouse built in Hokitika in 1879 (where it became New Zealand's first light lit by gas). In Tory Channel, temporary daylight beacons or marks were erected in the year 1874/75.

Ships continued to wreck on this coast. The Canterbury wrecked just inside Tory Channel heads in March 1878, on her way out of the Sounds to Wellington. The schooner had anchored at Okukari Bay to sit out a storm, but was dashed on rocks in that bay (rocks that then took her name). Another schooner Rose of Eden followed in January and the 3-master Swallow in June 1879. Like City of Newcastle earlier, Swallow was en route north through Cook Strait, only to be wrecked off Tory Channel's East Head in a storm. Exiting Tory Channel continued to be dangerous, with the schooner Star of the Sea wrecking off West Head while outbound 20 months later.

Late in the 1870s the decision to erect permanent navigational lights at Tory Channel's entrance to Cook Strait had been made, and the piece of land chosen for the temporary beacons was identified as the most appropriate for them. By now it was not a lighthouse in the sense of a revolving light announcing the presence of land, but a pair of alignment markers (lights for nighttime, built into beacons visible in daylight) to aid passage through Tory Channel's narrow heads. The two lights were to be arranged (one behind and slightly above the other) so that when aligned they would draw a ship in through the centre of the entrance, after which the master would turn hard to port to carry on down Tory Channel. They were also used, in reverse, when leaving Tory Channel, and they had a daytime role as bright visible markers for the same purpose. The "small lights" for the Lights were ordered from England and had arrived by April 1880.

The land chosen to site the Lights was at Whekenui, directly inland of the heads. It was in a Te Atiawa reserve of 130 acres called 'Wekenui Native Reserve', which extended from south of Fishing Bay to the bluff between Whekenui and its neighbouring bay, Okukari. It had been created after the 1856 surveys in Tory Channel, but leased since 1865 to an absentee lessee (Mr English of Peterboro, England). The Native Department was "requested to instruct Mr A Mackay to arrange, if possible, to purchase the land in question - or failing that to get a long lease on it." Whatever arrangement had been made with the owners when the temporary beacons were erected in 1874/75 is not known, but it was probably a short-term lease. The Nelson Native Commissioner Alexander Mackay negotiated a sale with the owners, reporting on 22 April that they were "disposed to favour sale of five acres for 50 pounds" as long as their rental income from the rest of the reserve was not affected. This quantity and price was approved two days later. Mackay closed the deal with the two registered owners, Pouhira and Mere, daughters of the late Ropata Witikau (and the deed of sale was also signed by their husbands).

The lessee also had to give his consent and his lawyer, JC Andrew of Nelson, did so under power of attorney. He said he would allow the Lights to be erected for a peppercorn rental on condition that if they needed to be fenced it be at Government's expense and also that 35-year-old Charles Godfrey be appointed light keeper (Charles' mother Emma Godfrey of Okukari had written to Andrew requesting this, but it is not clear whether Charles Godfrey and his parents were tenants or just neighbours of Mr English).

By September 1880 Mackay confirmed that he had paid the owners for the five acres. At this stage a survey was requested of the Surveyor-General, the Government lighthouse tender Stella being offered to "take a surveyor there Monday next [13th]." The surveyor was told to mark off a rectangle from the beach up to behind the rear light and that "a site for a house and garden should be provided well clear of the lights."

The Minister for the Marine Department might have sighed relief that this sale had gone so well. An attempt six years earlier to erect a lighthouse on Centre Island in Foveaux Strait had not, the local Maori disputing the validity of the island's sale and occupying the site and buildings after work had begun (they were only "persuaded to leave with threat of force", and the light lit in September 1878). As work got underway in Tory Channel, another lighthouse station came under contention from Maori (and indeed Taranaki Maori related to those living in Tory Channel). After The Brothers light had been built, that from Mana Island was doused and in 1881 its tower moved to Cape Egmont. Re-erecting it there was delayed by resistance from local Maori, disaffected through land confiscations and surveying, and the light was only able to be completed and lit in August 1881 with the help of a detachment of Armed Constabulary who threw up a redoubt around it. This practice of using troops continued, with 112 Armed Constabulary being sent to Kawhia harbour two years later to oversee the re-erection of navigational beacons pulled down by Tawhiao, the Maori king. Raglan's beacons also date from this time.

In erecting the permanent Tory Channel Leading Lights the rear light was moved 10ft further north of the position occupied by the temporary rear beacon, to better align the centre of the channel. Instructions were given to John Blackett on 8 September 1880 to start work. Blackett was acting Marine Engineer for the Public Works Department (PWD) so it is presumed the plans were drawn over the next several months by PWD draughts men (it may also have been a reference to his son, John G Blackett, who was PWD's Resident Engineer for Nelson and Marlborough at this time). A plan or site map is registered with the PWD undatable plans index, no.510 (BPT 806) but is not locatable. The design of tower is not dissimilar to that in Hokitika (which received the lantern originally ordered for Tory Channel), being a four-sided pyramidal structure of similar footprint (but taller).

Timber was sourced from merchants in Wellington, who supplied rough totara for the structure, dressed totara (probably for the interior lining) and dressed kauri for the exterior (rusticated weather-boarding) and floor. All had to be heartwood. The Stella delivered this material in September to Nov 1881, when the Marine Department's lighthouse artificer David Scott began construction. Scott worked with the Marine Department for 31 years, erecting in that time very many of its notable lighthouses.

Scott reported slow progress by the end of October owing to rain and being:

"up to this time unable to obtain any more labourers. It was my intention to have erected the upper beacon first, but not having labourers to carry up the material I deemed it advisable to go on with the lower one. All outside woodwork of the beacon is completed [he said on 1 November 1881] with the exception of angle stops. Should the weather keep fine I hope to have the frame of the upper beacon erected by 8th Inst [Nov]".

As well as the two lights 21ft (6.4m) high and 10.9ft (3.3m) square at the base, they built a small store (8x10ft, 2.4x3m) for the kerosene burnt by the lamps. The cavity between the weatherboards and inner lining of the Lights was, in the lower few boards, filled with stones to weigh the structures down against the more severe winds known in the area. The pay sheet for October showed the carpenters employed to be C Parsonage and Peter Bitoss, with S Groves as cook and two labourers, WH Wilson and C Godfey. The carpenters finished their work on 6 December, with the whole job complete five days later, after which the men were sent home. C Godfrey, however, was the same local (now newly wed) who was to be employed as keeper, and his instructions (and presumably appointment) came over from Wellington on the 15th. After the Lights were built, Charles Godfrey had the site fenced by June 1882. In 1885 he requested of the Marine Department to be able to build a cottage in the Lights' paddock, saying "he would buy land from the Natives but none is for sale." He ran 600-700 sheep on a strip of land known as Bayonets Run between Whekenui and Okukari, and soon had built a house in the Okukari half of the bay. No cottage or house was ever built in the Reserve.

Charles Godfrey lit the Lights, defined as 5th Order Port Lights, every evening and doused them every morning for a quarter century. They became 'his' lights, as evinced from his reply to a criticism of poor flame: "I am sorry that my lights have been complained of," saying there despite some very "clare wheather [sic]... all round here was thick thick smoak [sic] for some days. I am living in the same bay as the lights are in and will take every care of them. I have painted the beacons." A problem he encountered was birds nesting inside the copper ventilating cowls, which encouraged the lamps to smoke. This "was in the past a source of worry to the keeper who...appealed in vain to the Department for wire netting to be sent with which to combat the nuisance." Having been born around 1845, his eyesight began to fail. In the late 1890s he carried on maintaining the lights with the aid of a boy, Joe Timms, age 6, who had been placed in the family's care. Joe went with the man he called Dadda on this twice-daily row across the bay to trim the wicks. In memoirs recorded for the Picton Museum Timms said he went up the ladder first, followed by Godfrey. After Godfrey lit the flame, Timms would observe it and say as required "Peek on your side, Dadda" and Godfrey would trim that side with his thumb, then "Peek on my side, Dadda". With this help Charles Godfrey maintained the lights though all weathers, despite blindness and being widowed, to within a week of his death on 30 Dec 1907. Buried under the macracarpa on the Heberely farm at Okukari, the headstone on his gravestone bears the following inscription:

Light in the Darkness Sailor

Brightly Gleams Our Father's Mercy

To Send a Gleam Across the Wave.

After Godfrey's death, George Kenny, also living at Okukari, was appointed keeper. His appointment may have been controversial. In a Question in the House in October 1913, Richard McCallum (MP for Wairau) complained of the "ineffective state" of the Lights, claiming they were so weak that they were "practically unobservable" one mile from shore. Preparing the Ministerial reply, the Secretary of the Marine Department George Allport said no masters had reported problems and, moreover, "It may be that the present representation comes from Mr Dry who wishes to supercede Mr Kenny the present light keeper." Captain Bollons of the Hinemoa checked the Lights on his next visit, with The Brothers' Principle Keeper, and found Kenny "was carrying rather too small a flame. He [Kenny] said this was necessary in order to avoid tailing and smoking, and was the height of flame always carried both by himself and the previous keeper Mr Godfrey." He was instructed how to give a more brilliant light, after which they were described as "brilliant and well separated" at five miles and "still visible to the unaided eye" at nine. Kenny illustrated the exposed nature of the locality when in 1920 he was "Sorry to report abnormal rain and fogs 16 hours[,] cannot land at Lighthouse or cross streams to show light without risk to life[.] here by myself." The Dominion, carried the news that 'Tory Channel Lights Out.' Kenny's sons Oswald and Max also tended the Lights, and the Kenny name is now plentiful in the Sounds and well associated with maritime life there.

The first suggestion of changing the kerosene-burning lamps to a more efficient fuel was in 1916. The proposed cost then of £462 was considered too high, but the principle of doing so remained. The idea was raised again in 1920, when the kerosene consumption by the two lamps was considered. At this stage the Post and Telegraph Department attempted (unsuccessfully) to close the Okukari telephone office in Kenny's house, saying it was "only used by the light keeper and his family". The fuel topic came up again in 1927 when the Secretary of the Marine Department suggested dispensing with the Lights altogether, to save money. He was met by a wave of protest from not only the Nautical Advisor Captain George Hooper but also ships' masters from the union, the Maritime Services Guild. Five senior masters waited on the Minister in June to urge him not only to abandon pans to dispense with the Lights, but to upgrade them and also establish a light on West Head. "It would be suicidal to abolish the Leading Lights," the Guild said, strongly urging their retention. Captain EJ McClellan of the regular Cook Strait ferry Tamahine also objected to the proposal, and summarised why the Lights should stay:

"Tory Channel is a dangerous channel with treacherous tidal currents which sometimes set across the narrow entrance and make imperative that the navigator should know at a glance at any time, the actual position of his ship by observing the leading beacon".

The Secretary buckled to the "unanimous opinion" in favour of retaining the Lights, but was also influenced by the economics of changing the fuel type used. Not only was a new light erected on West Head but the Leading Lights were upgraded to flashing lights burning acetylene gas.

The Nautical Advisor and the Guild also advocated automatic flashing lights for Tory Channel. After Cabinet approval in May 1929, the new equipment was installed. The 5-litre flame open burners were supplied by cylinders of acetylene gas (that would require changing after 7-9 months). While the back light's beam was shown over a 5° arc, that in front offered an 18° span, making it easier to pick up. The rear light was timed to blink on for 0.3 sec, then off for the same period (cycling every 0.6 seconds). The light in front showed its light for one second, then dark for one sec (a 2-second cycle). The Aga brand lights were supplied by the Acetone Illumination & Welding Co, Napier (sourced from Sweden), and were installed by the Marine Department's WA Fraser (who employed a member of the Perano family to help). They first blinked on 25 March 1930. On the trip delivering this equipment and the installation party the Tutanekai's master "had the [lights'] painting carried out by the crew as he considered that in the safety of ships the matter should not be delayed". They hadn't been painted in five years and were "suffering from neglect" despite being "well and faithfully built and...still in fair condition". George Kenny was given notice that his employment, as Lighthouse Attendant at £100 pa, would be terminated from 30 March. This ended half a century's association by a local keeper or attendant with the Lights.

Masters soon noticed the rear light was not blinking as expected, 100 times a minute. Fraser went out and adjusted the apparatus to give 80 blinks a minutes, the most the equipment could yield. On being asked why the lamp was not pre-set as specified (in Sweden) the suppliers said they made a mistake, having "left out a decimal point." After this change the Lights gained the nicknames 'Winkie' and 'Blinkie', because of their different rates of blink (the rear being the slower 'Winkie', with the faster 'Blinkie' in front). They have continued to blink, albeit with newer lamps and electronics, ever since - now to a range of 11 miles.

Also at this time the neighbour, the Perano brothers, entered the picture. In 1921 they had (according to their lawyer A Macnabb) "bought from the Natives their interest in the Wekenui Block" and three years later established a shore whaling operation from Fishing Bay. They now surrounded the Lighthouse Reserve. In 1928 Joe Perano requested to swap a 15ft strip of land on the south west boundary of the Lighthouse Reserve for a larger segment to its north, in order to establish a boatshed on the beach. While the swap was allowed, the Government would not sell the land between the low- and high-tide marks (it took this opportunity to proclaim as a road not only this beach but also the track cut through the reserve itself, up by the rear light). The Commissioner of Crown Lands reported that the road through the reserve "has been in constant use for at least 20 years and is the only practical access from Te Awaiti to Okukari, [and, on the north of Arapawa Island,] Whareunga and Otanerau." It had been used "as a stock driving track by many of the Sounds people other than those living nearby." The road also had a role in forestry. Formed to a width of about 6 feet "it had been surveyed at the time the road was taken through Wekenui Native Block, but was not legalised then..." Peranos ran the farm in Whekenui for many decades, proving to be very good neighbours to the Lights - lightering supplies ashore, alerting the Department when the Lights needed attention or fixing other problems without payment. They owned the neighbouring land until 1993, when bought by the current owners Mike and Antonia Radon.

As the small shed was no longer needed to store kerosene, it was offered to tender in the Picton newspaper, in mid-1930. David Perano bought the shed, and in September 2006 had it moved the few metres from the lighthouse reserve to the Perano property where it still stands today.

A major benefit followed on from the construction, during the war, of a coast defence battery - and that was the wharf built by the PWD in Whekenui Bay. Prior to this all landings or unloading had to be across the beach, but the wharf added in 1942 now made for easier access. The battery was built on the bluff to the south of the bay, for a single 6-inch MkVII gun on P3 naval mount. This and the camp for 60 personnel erected next door were in service only from January to October 1943, but briefly gave Whekenui a village atmosphere again.

The manner in which the Marine Department maintained the lights changed as a result of the exigencies of war. The regular lighthouse tender, Matai, whose crew had maintained the Lights since 1930, was requisitioned by the Navy for defence purposes early in the war. Her crew is believed to have kept up the maintenance by coming over from Wellington on the regular passenger service (and their graffiti in the rear light dates from this period). In Matai's absence the Department adapted its Picton-based pilot launch Enterprise to maintain the various lighthouses in the Sounds, as well as the Brothers and Stephens Island in Cook Strait. The Enterprise was returning from servicing the Tory Channel lights, for instance, when she collided with the Heberley's launch Crescent on Friday 12 July 1940. The Matai was briefly returned to this role after the war, but only for a few months, the local sourcing of this function proving to be more efficient. The Enterprise continued in this role (and Enterprise II since the 1960s).

Another outcome of this was the change again to the power source for the Lights. Loss of the lighthouse tender led to a desire to extend the regular servicing intervals for the Lights, and that meant replacing the gas burners and cylinders with electric lamps and batteries. This equipment arrived in February 1944 but it took over a year before West Head and the Leading Lights were electrified. The electric bulbs first shone, powered from three wet-cell batteries each, on 20 April 1945. Poles were erected in 1951 to run overhead wires between the two lights, allowing them to be run off one set of batteries. Mains power arrived on Arapawa Island in 1982 and on 14 October the Lights were converted to run on it. The AWA Power Converter installed did not function properly and after six months was removed and the Lights returned to battery power. The Lights are still run off batteries today, but now with mains-powered rechargers.

Since the Marine Department relinquished control, the Marlborough Harbour Board maintained the Lights from around 1973, then by the short-lived Marlborough Regional Council 1991/92, and since then by the Marlborough District Council, which out sources this work. They have had regular maintenance, for instance being repiled on concrete piles on 15 Oct 1973, and painted regularly.

To increase the visibility in daylight, a narrow orange strip had been painted on the front of each light. This was replaced in 1973 by orange-painted plywood. Six years later an experiment with a mirror-like reflective panel fitted on the front of each light above the window was tried, but didn't last.

Visitors have left graffiti inside the Lights (especially the rear light), including a couple of Marine Department men - both former crewman from the lighthouse tender Matai after it had been requisitioned for wartime service. 'J Pook, 14/12/41' is believed to be Jack Pook, who was an able seaman. The 2nd carpenter on Matai, 'Chippie' George Arbuthnott, added his name on the same date. Another moniker 'ABT' could be that of a member of the Temple family who lived in the bay in the 1890s. The large letters 'KM' added in red paint inside both lights are that of Ken McArthur, a long-term a crewman on the Marine Department's launch Enterprise that maintained the Lights for years from WWII. Other names are not identifiable. Local resident and writer Heather Heberley is a champion of the importance of the Lights to the history of the area.

When the 'ro-ro' ferries (roll-on, roll-off) started in 1962, more lights were erected in Tory Channel for their guidance. Since the fast ferries started in 1994, this has become one of the most travelled waterways in New Zealand. Tory Channel now conveys upwards of one million passengers a year. Despite the fact that more people see or are born to safety by these lights than most others, the Tory Channel Leading Lights have been somewhat neglected in the public domain, often getting little mention in publications that do not consider them to be proper lighthouses.

Physical Description

The Lights are located at Whekenui, directly inland of the Tory Channel's narrow heads. Situated on a rise from the Whekenui Bay waterline and surrounded by sparsely occupied hills, the Lights are separated by a rough road, with one light positioned behind and slightly above the other.

The Lights consist of two timber pyramidal structures, approx 6.4m high and 3.3m square, with a mezzanine level for the lighting apparatus.

The two structures are "similar in design, having four triangular walls, rising to an apex on which is fixed a copper ventilating cowl" [1930 description, Fraser to Sec Marine 7 April]. Inside, a mezzanine floor is about 3m from the floor, with a ladder rising through an opening (and another hatched opening for taking up materials). The light equipment sits on this mezzanine, shining out through a trapezoid window in the front wall.

Exterior wall in rusticated weatherboards, inner in tongue-and-groove.

The exterior corners are capped with conventional fascias, but strangely on opposing diagonal walls the fascia is much wider than elsewhere for the bottom 8-9ft.

Comparative information

Leading lights are different to lighthouses. In the nineteenth century lights were divided into a descending order of importance. First, second, and third order lights are high-power lights, used on the coast, with the first-order ones generally used as landfall lights. Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-order lights are progressively lower-powered lights for use in less demanding conditions in harbours, bays, rivers and so on. Leading lights are a category of harbour lights.

Although some coastal lighthouses have value as identifying navigational dangers (reefs, rocks etc) their primary purpose was in helping navigators identify their position on a coast and, as they sailed from one light's loom to the next, to check their time-keeping instruments and logs.

Leading lights were not designed to be seen from as far off as first, second, and third order lights, but gave a ship - once committed to the entrance - a bearing on which to safely make the passage. Leading lights have a specialised navigating role in confined channels or harbour entrances.

The Tory Channel Leading Lights are the only timber leading lights still operating on their original site; however timber coastal lights at Farewell Spit (1870), Cape Campbell (1870), Manukau Heads (1874), Cape Foulwind (1876), The Brothers (1877), Portland Island (1878), Moeraki (1878), Centre Island (1878), Puysegur Point (1879), Cape Maria van Diemen (1879), Akaroa Heads (1880), Cape Saunders (1880) and the harbour lights at Bean Rock (1870) and Ponui Passage (1871) predate them. However of those, the original structures have been replaced at Farewell Spit, Cape Campbell, Manukau Heads, Portland Island, Puysegur Point, Cape Maria van Diemen, Cape Saunders and Ponui Passage, while the Akaroa tower has been removed from the Heads to the foreshore at Akaroa.

There are no lighthouses or leading lights/beacons - of the same vintage as Tory Channel and still in operation on the same site - on the NZHPT Register. There are four older timber landfall or harbour lights on the Register (Akaroa Lighthouse (Akaroa), Blackett's Lighthouse (Timaru), Wairoa Lighthouse (ex Portland Lighthouse, Wairoa), Bean Rock Lighthouse (Auckland)), but all but one (Bean Rock Lighthouse) have been moved and no longer serve their original purpose. Only Bean Rock Lighthouse (1871, No.3295, Category I historic place) is still in its original position and still operational. Other old operating timber lighthouses such as The Brothers (1877), Moeraki (1878) and Centre Island (1878) are not registered.

There are no other leading lights in timber beacon structures of this nature in New Zealand.

Notable Features

Two lights in the locations as built, but the oil store has been sold and moved approx 50 metres onto a neighbouring property.

Construction Dates

1880 - 1881

Original Construction
1881 -
Construction begun 5 Sept 1881 (tenders for timber invited), construction completed 11 Dec 1881.

1930 -
Lights converted to acetylene gas and automated blinking

1945 -
Lights changed to electric wet-cell battery-powered

1982 -
Power source changed to mains-battery

Construction Details

Timber structure, copper vents and lightning conductor. Timber is heart totara, kauri and rimu.

Completion Date

7th May 2007

Report Written By

Peter Cooke

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

Marine Department files

Marine Department Finding Aids, Vol 5, App 3 Lighthouse Keepers, p17, Godfrey Charles, Tory Channel 9/01-1/03

Beaglehole, 2006

H Beaglehole, Lighting the Coast: a history of New Zealand's coastal lighthouse system, Canterbury UP, 2006

Churchman, 1989

G. Churchman, New Zealand Lighthouses, Wellington, 1989

Hippolite, 1998

J Hippolite, Arapawa - The Path of Smoke, Waitangi Tribunal, 1998, Wai124

Personal Communication

Personal Communication

Marlborough District Council Harbourmaster Alex van Wijngaarden, former Marine Department staff Brian Pickering (master Enterprise), Ken McKenzie, and Sam Pook

Ross, 1977

John Ross, Pride in Their Ports: The Story of the Minor Ports. Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1977

Ross, 1975

John Ross, Lighthouses of New Zealand, Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1975

Waitangi Tribunal

Waitangi Tribunal Report,

Phillipson, Dr GA, Rangahaua Whanui, District 13, the Northern South Island, Waitangi Tribunal, Part 1 1995, part 2 1996

Other Information

A fully referenced version of the registration report is available from the Central Regional Office.

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.