The man who built lighthouses (and roads, bridges, railways and waterworks)
New Zealand has quite a number of beautiful lighthouses. Their solitary perch on remote headlands and often stunning views make them mysterious and romantic places.
The man responsible for many was John Blackett.
Blackett designed a style of lighthouse just for New Zealand. He was looking for a hardy design, easily built or moved and settled on the now iconic shape of a four, or six-sided lighthouse.
He was in particular working toward an inexpensive design that would nonetheless be durable.
His innovation was a double wall that could be filled with rubble to help stabilise the lighthouse in often trying conditions.
It meant that rather than stone being used in construction, wood could be used which was far less costly.
In 1874, with the design ready, a programme of public works was started and 16 manned coastal lighthouses and six manned harbour lights were built.
The lighthouse at Timaru, built in 1877, is a perfect example of the wooden design he so often used. The six sided lighthouse at Akaroa is also a good example.
The lighthouse at Timaru is called Blackett’s Lighthouse and was moved twice to preserve it; once to Maori Park in 1980 then in 2010 further down the road.
Blackett was born in Newcastle upon tyne on October 8, 1818, the son of coal agent John Blackett and Sarah Codlin.
He became a pupil with an engineering firm and then a draughtsman with the Great West Steamship Company.
On 19 February 1851 he married Mary Chrisp at Kirk Leavington, Yorkshire and they went on to have four children. After their marriage the couple sailed for New Zealand on the Simlah.
They landed in New Plymouth but ended up in Nelson where he was appointed the provincial engineer.
Lighthouses were not his only project though. Blackett was responsible for the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, wharves, public buildings and, in 1867, the Nelson city waterworks.
His bridge-building won him a silver medal from the commissioners of the New Zealand Exhibition in 1865. He also undertook the exploration necessary to develop the infrastructure needed to exploit the West Coast's gold and coal resources.
Blackett became New Zealand’s Marine Engineer in 1871 and then in 1884 Engineer in Chief for the country. Blackett then became Consulting Engineer of the New Zealand Government.
In 1890 he returned to England when another man took over the job but returned to New Zealand in 1891 to take up the job again when his replacement died. But Blackett's health was failing and he retired in 1892.
He died in Wellington on January 8, 1893 and is buried at Karori Cemetery. His legacy is seen on the many rocky shores of the country.
Photo by Grant Sheehan - from Leading Lights by Anna Gibbons.
Fran and Deb's updates