Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hannaford's Light

Thomas Brown Hannaford (c.1824-1890) was a professional rates collector and land agent in the 1860s, and a matrimonial agent up until his death. He was also, if the investigations made by the Observer are to be believed, the designer of the first cast-iron lighthouse, fashioned in New Zealand, on Cuvier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, 1889.

You wouldn’t know that, though. A staff member at the Marine Department, David Scott, has been given the credit on one website (Scott only superintended the actual construction on the island), and the term “Hannaford’s Light” is not known outside of old newspaper archives.

The eccentric Mr. Hannaford of Auckland

The earliest mention I've found for Thomas Brown Hannaford was someone who was a wharfinger on Southwark docks in England, 1853 (Daily News, London, 22 July 1853). The Auckland Hannaford's obituary, however, stated that “in early life” he “was clerk to the establishment of Morton, Peto, Brassey and Co., the great railway contractors”. (NZ Herald, 11 August 1890) He’d married for the first time in England, and then divorced, before embarking for the colonies. The Southern Cross from the 1860s to 1876 is peppered with references to him.

Hannaford was definitely living in Barrack Street in the central city as at 1860, then moved to Nelson Street by 1863. In November 1864, he was earning his crust by being an adjuster of “builders’ and creditors’ accounts, tradesmen’s bills, timber and other measurements” as well as being a debt and rent collector, based in an office above a bookseller’s in Shortland-street. The following month, he described himself as an accountant, “happy to collect debts of all descriptions, for parties both in town and country.” He was the rates collector for a number of local highway district authorities, such as those in Waitakerei East and Maungakaramea, from early 1865. Business was going well; in February 1865, he was in partnership with a Mr. R. H. Smith, still in the office over the bookseller’s shop, and dealing in land sales and even hotels. The partnership, however, broke up the following month, and Hannaford returned to debt-collecting and accounting, gradually re-establishing his land agency sideline.

By February 1867, he diversified further, and established a registry service, placing an advertisement for a woman who wanted to be a “dry nurse”. In the same month there appeared in the Southern Cross a notice, via his office, from a young woman keen to respond to a Waikato farmer’s appeal for a wife. Thus, Hannaford started upon the matrimonial and servants agency business he would engage in until just before he died.

Early in 1868, he moved his office to Queen Street opposite the-then site of the Auckland Savings Bank. From there, he operated his triple business enterprise: land agency, matrimonial and employment agency, and accounts. By June, he added another type of agency to his collection, that as mining agent. By September that year, he was on High Street.

“A rather ludicrous incident occurred last evening. It appears that Mr. Hannaford, who has offices over Oldham's store, in High-street, did not leave at the usual hour, and the consequence was that when Mr. Oldham locked up the outer doors Mr. Hannaford found himself a prisoner. Finding it impossible to get out in the usual manner, he threw up his window and shouted for assistance, when several persons came to his aid, and be was enabled to leave his office by means of a ladder, which was procured and placed against the window.”
(Southern Cross, 25 September 1868)

In June 1869 he became the city agent for the sale of John C. Wallis’ (of North Head Farm, North Shore) preserved milk, “Warranted to keep perfectly sweet for two years.”

In late 1871, Hannaford was before the Police Court on a charge, seemingly unusual for him.
"Thomas McKeon and Edward Donnelly were each fined 5s. and costs for being drunk. Thomas Brown Hannaford was charged with a like offence, but it was merged in the following charge :—Indecent Exposure.— Thomas Brown Hannaford was charged with a breach of the Municipal Police Act, section 5, subsection 46, for indecency in Queen-street on Saturday evening.— The charge was proved and he was sentenced to pay a fine of 40s. and costs, with an alternative of 14 days imprisonment with hard labour.— The alternative was chosen."
(SC, 9 December 1871)

By February 1874, he was associated with the Good Templars as a Brother, but was expelled in April.
“The Good Templars have lost one of their brightest converts. A Mr Hannaford, a commission agent, long known for his eccentricities, and, as he does not himself scruple to declare, his liability to a few glasses more than were good for him, joined them, and became one of their staunchest and most prominent supporters. He wrote songs and odes, made excellent and unsparing speeches, and became altogether a great light in the Order. But Mr Hannaford has also considerable literary ability, and exercised it in caustic criticism of the mode in which provisions were supplied to the brethren, by the brethren, at great public gatherings His description of a sandwich, and of the not over-cleanly hands from which it received the final "dab" before being served, was particularly racy.

“Since then, so report goes, there has been discord in some of the Lodges, culminating in the publication by Mr Hannaford of a "Good Templar's Prayer." The prayer is profane, but purports to be for the delivery of Good Templarism "from interested supporters who threaten to make the Temple a veritable den of thieves." The result has been the expulsion of Mr Hannaford by the Grand Lodge, whose orders have been followed by the other Lodges of the Province. Of course the affair is creating some sensation, and Mr Hannaford (not to be confounded, by-the-bye, with the other gentleman of that name, whose pictures are so much admired, and of whom he is no relation) is again in print to-day. Meantime there is rejoicing among the publicans and sinners, and “Good Templary” is likely to receive a severe blow. People are, in plain English, getting afraid of its narrow, ascetic, and tyrannical spirit, even when they heartily wish success to the cause which "Good Templary" was formed to advance.”
(Otago Witness 18 April 1874)

It appears they forgave him, in the end. He was performing songs at TemplarLodge meetings by the end of that year, and wore the regalia regularly.

In December 1874, there was the “Parent” affair, a lively exchange of letters in the Southern Cross, which began with the following report.
“At St. Matthew's school, of which Mr Sutton is the teacher, is a boy who in accordance with the rules of the school was put in a class for English grammar. The youth did not like the instruction, or rather did not care for the trouble of learning, and his mistaken mother was of the opinion that grammar was not wanted for her son. Doubtless she had thought that her course in life had been followed without that useful accomplishment, and she gives it under hand thus : — “Mr. Sutton, please excuse Sidney for is gamir.”

“Is it necessary to offer a word of comment on this wonderful note? Perhaps it is, and we would just advise Mr. Sutton not to "excuse Sidney for is gamir," and strongly urge Sidney to " go in" for it with all his heart, otherwise, if he does not, and if his knowledge of orthography, syntax, and prosody is no better than that if his indulgent but mistaken parent, we predict that in these days of educational competition Sidney runs a very fair chance of being only a hewer of wood and a drawer of water all the days of his life. No stronger argument could be employed in favour of insisting on a good elementary education being given to children, including, of course, English grammar in all its branches, than the very instructive, but very painful little note which we publish as a column warning to over-indulgent parents, and to lazy or careless little boys and girls.”
(SC, 15 December 1874)

“Sir, — Fair play is bonny play, and it would be anything but the former if I allowed the saddle to be placed on the wrong horse’s back, as it would be were I to allow my friend, Mr. Harold Sutton, to be under the imputation of having furnished the Cross with the note received by him from the doting mother of one of his pupils, which consisted of these remarkable lines: — " Mr. Sutton, please excuse Sydney for is Gamir. It is quite true Mr. Sutton handed it to me for perusal as calculated to provoke a smile, but he is not responsible for the fact of its appearing in your journal, or the remarks that interesting epistle called forth. The sin (if any) lies entirely at my door; and, therefore, if a " Parent," whose letter was published last evening, is burning to leave “some tokens of his opinions" on the master's back, on mine it should rightly fall; when, perhaps, if he does not prove to be a "big’un," he may find that two can play at that game. — I am, &c., T. B. HANNAFORD.”
(SC, 16 December 1874)

To the Editor: Sir,— Being the "Parent" referred to by your estimable correspondent Mr. T. B. Hannaford, I beg to assure him through your columns that I am still burning to leave tokens of opinion not on his back but upon that respectable looking "sneezer” of his, and shall be most happy to meet him at any time and place he is pleased to mention. I am not a 'big’un," but fancy I could polish off a dozen such as he before breakfast or I am not fit to be A Parent. [As this letter is provocative of a breach of the peace and as " Parent," very judiciously does not give his name, we should not have published it, but for the fact that it sets forth the necessity of the writer himself studying somewhat the "grammar" of social propriety. It is a poor example for any parent to show his children that he is fired with an ambition to commit a personal assault on another man's nose. —Ed.] “
(SC 17 December 1874)

“Sir— Your correspondent " Parent," in this morning's Cross, would at the first blush be taken for a very plucky little man, desirous of attacking a " big-un," but the "white feather" unmistakably crops out when it is remembered that the " big-un" he aims at is my nasal organ, which decidedly offers fair proportion for a good grip, whereas he may have little or nothing to lay hold upon! Had he proposed a pair of Wiseman’s whips, I would have thought better of his courage. It is very safe for any party to appear in print under a nom de plume. All your correspondent permits us to know of him is, that he is a parent; well, so was Charles the second!— I am, &c., T. B. Hannaford.

“To the Editor, Sir,— It will be gratifying to many of the " fancy " to learn that the seconds chosen to arrange the little difficulty between the fond parent and T. B. Hannaford have agreed that a meeting shall take place on the Barrack Green, behind the Mechanics' Institute, on Monday next, at 6.30 pm. As Hannaford is "all there" with his knuckledusters, and the fond parent is a prize Cornish wrestler, a splendid exhibition of force is expected. Meanwhile both are in really first class training, and may the best man win is the fervent hope of yours, Jim Mace.”
(SC 18 December 1874)

Self-promotion was certainly one of Hannaford’s strong points.
“There is just now quite a mania in Auckland for inserting " original " riddles in the newspapers. A Mr. T. B. Hannaford (who owns a labour office), has taken advantage of this mania to make the papers advertise his name free of charge. This is how ho does it. He sent to the Southern Cross the following, which was inserted as we reprint it: — "Why is the publisher of the Echo, when wounding one's feeling, to be specially avoided? Because he is Bent on mischief. — Contributed by T. B. Hannaford." Now Mr. Bent, the publisher of the Echo, does not like this, so gets the journal he is connected with to put in another; and here it is: " Who is the most foolish old woman in Auckland? Hannah Ford.” Both arc "far fetched," but it answers Mr. Hannaford's purpose, for his name thus becomes familiar to every one.”
(Taranaki Herald, 10 February 1875)

Suffering from deafness for several years, he apparently consulted an “aurist” in London around this time, and came away relatively cured. I say relatively, because right down to his death, his deafness continued to be a problem. Nevertheless, in both 1875 and 1883, he advertised “cures” for deafness in Auckland.
“We have received Mr T. B. Hannaford's " Infallible remedy for Deafness." Physician, heal thyself !"
(Observer, 6 October 1883)

The lighthouse idea

By the 1880s, Hannaford’s business was also where he lived, in Upper Queen Street. The matrimonial and employment agency was now his main claim to fame – until he had an idea about lighthouses. In late 1884, he forwarded a petition to Sir George Grey and the House of Representatives, “for a consideration of his scheme for the prevention of wrecks on the coast of New Zealand. The signatures to the petition are numerous, and represent most of the influential men of the city.” (Timaru Herald, 10 September 1884) However, the Petitions Committee had an unfavourable report from the Marine Department (of chief John Blackett was the Engineer-in-Chief) and Hannaford’s idea was dropped. (Te Aroha News, 18 October 1884). With typical “never-say-die” attitude, Hannaford kept at it, attempting to persuade the Auckland Harbour Board to erect one of his iron-bolt turret lighthouses, complete with windmill electrical apparatus, on Rangitoto Island, in place of a proposed stone beacon. (Evening Post, 26 November 1884) The answer was: no.

New Plymouth, next, in 1885. (Taranaki Herald, 11 June 1885) Again: no.

Then, the government announced that they had funding from a public works loan for a lighthouse on Cuvier Island, at the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf.
"The steamer Hinemoa which left here this afternoon for Auckland via the east coast, took Mr Blackett, Government marine engineer, to Cuvier Island, to decide on a site for a new lighthouse.”
(West Coast Times, 31 August 1886)

Hannaford saw his chance.
“Auckland: A public gathering last night at the Oddfellows' Hall, the Mayor presiding, inspected a model of Hannaford windmill bell tower iron lighthouse, and after hearing explanations of the invention, resolved respectfully to ask Government to give it a trial at their earliest convenience.”
(Evening Post, 16 August 1888)

Before a petition could be heard in Wellington, however, the news broke, from Auckland, that the first locally-constructed cast-iron tower lighthouse had been built.
AUCKLAND, Oct. 20. A. Beany, of the Arch Hill ironworks, has completed an iron tower 30 feet high for Cuvier Island lighthouse. It is in three tiers, and the aggregate weight exceeds 80 tons. This is the first work of the kind executed in the Colony, and is highly creditable to the local iron founding industry. The tower has been completed in four months, one month under contract time, to the entire satisfaction of the Government Inspector of Works.”
(Marlborough Express, 26 October 1888)

Trouble was – while it apparently resembled Hannaford’s design, minus the electricity generating windmill addition, the plans bore only the mark of the Marine Department and their engineers. Hannaford was outraged.
“Mr. T. B. Hannaford alleges that the Government have pirated his design for an iron lighthouse, after having refused to give him assistance to have it tested. On the Mayor's invitation a number of mechanical engineers, a deputation from the Trade and Labour Council, and others will, on Saturday, inspect an iron tower constructed for the Cuvier Island Lighthouse, with a view to settling the question."
(Evening Post, 22 November 1888)
“In response to an invitation from His Worship the Mayor, a number of gentlemen assembled at Mr. Beaney’s foundry, Great North Road, on Saturday afternoon … Mr. Devore did not himself attend, as he did not wish to appear in the light of a partisan …

“None of the gentlemen present would consent to preside, so that no regular meeting was held. In consequence of this there was no public expression of opinion. Still, from 100 to 150 people inspected the lighthouse, and Mr. Hannaford explained his plans to all who cared to listen … he contends that Mr. Blackett, Colonial Engineer, could not at the time these votes were passed on his estimates have had any idea of the construction of a cast-iron structure similar to that now constructed, and that in the meantime Mr. Hannaford’s plans and specifications for his patent had been lodged, and he had furnished Mr. Larnach, then Minister of Marine, with photographic views and sketches showing the construction and design of his tower.”
(Auckland Star, 26 November 1888)

Hannaford issued a new petition to the committee in Wellington, but in August 1889, they decided that Blackett had not copied his design, but had instead used plans on the same principle that the Marine Department already had. Hannaford decided, then, to petition that one of his designs be trialled. (Te Aroha News, 7 September 1889) However, such a trial was not to happen.

The Observer in Auckland, almost from the start of its run in 1880, had made light of Hannaford, his eccentricities, his matrimonial agency, and his dogged determination when he thought he was in the right. In 1881, he’d even tried to take the Observer’s publisher to court, only to find he was made to pay costs (and instead served more time in Mt Eden gaol in lieu). (Observer, 30 July 1881) But everything changed, abruptly, when word got out that Hannaford thought that the government had used his lighthouse plan without due credit or payment. The Observer turned from mockery of Hannaford, to ardent defence.
"T. B. Hannaford appears to be the "greenest" of the Verdant Green family. When he petitioned the House of Representatives re the piracy by the late Government of the most valuable feature in the "Hannaford Light," he most strenuously contended that the present Cabinet were wholly clean-handed in the matter; that when the present “Crew " took command of the ship the robbery was a full-blown iniquity, and from skipper downward, they were powerless to do him justice. Poor, venerable greenhorn! He will soon find out that the present occupants of the Ministerial benches are as villainous a set of political rascals as we're ever their predecessors, or we are greatly mistaken."
(Observer, 21 September 1889)

In a long article, after receiving letters from Hannaford pleading for their assistance, the Observer investigated and published a scathing opinion of the government, the Marine Department, and their dealings with an eccentric, partly-deaf matrimonial agent from Auckland.

“The King can do no wrong.” This arrogant assumption of infallibility on the part of absolute monarchs appears to have been adopted by the Government of New Zealand in its dealings with all those with whom it has any business relations. The Government apparently considers that it is superior to and independent of all law, and can afford to dispense with Will, Conscience, Honor, Honesty, and things of that description. And when we say the Government in this connection, we must be understood to mean the real Governors of this colony the heads of the Civil Service —whom we have previously designated our Uncivil Masters. To support this assertion, numerous instances might be adduced …

Perhaps the grossest instance of bare-faced robbery on the part of these Uncivil Masters of ours is to be found in their treatment of the inventor of the Hannaford Light; and as this is a deed of to-day, we intend to make some very free comments upon it, in the hope that the members of both Houses may be led to inquire for themselves and bring the Government officials to their bearings. As we have been from the first conversant with all the facts connected with Mr Hannaford's invention, and have intimate knowledge of the various steps taken by him to secure official recognition for it, we may be allowed to write with some authority on the subject now in hand.

The Hannaford Light invention embraces a number of improvements in the construction of cast-iron towers for beacons or lighthouses, including windmill attachment for generating electricity, to be stored and used in the form of light for the lantern and of power to turn the windmill in times of calm and ring a bell during fogs. It is unnecessary now to describe the minutiae of the invention. Suffice it is to say that Mr Hannaford has worked at it for many years, making it as nearly perfect as possible, and that not only are the foundations and framework of the structure designed with great skill, but the electric and other attachments are devised so as to be almost entirely automatic in their action. Furthermore, engineers and electricians have examined the plant and models, and have been unanimous in their praise and commendation.

The inventor committed only one blunder, but that has proved a serious one. He did not take steps to protect his invention by letters patent. Want of the necessary means to do this may have been the reason of this omission; if so, it is but another exemplification of the truth (as old as Solomon) that the wisdom of the poor man is not regarded. Mr Hannaford put his trust in Princes — a very wise proceeding if he had secured letters patent, for nothing can be done nowadays without the powerful influence of those in position. Whenever a Cabinet Minister, or Government official, or distinguished visitor of any kind happened to be in Auckland, he was invited to see the model and plans of the Hannaford light ; that windmill beacon was one of the recognised " lions " of Auckland ; and the inventor was ever ready to explain the principle and details fully and clearly. Long residence in this wicked world ought to have taught Mr Hannaford that, if there was anything good and original in his ideas, they would soon become common property, under the circumstances. But, with a childlike trust, he kept on ‘giving away' his invention. It would be easy to offer theories to account for this strange action. Perhaps Mr Hannaford thought Government officials and Cabinet Ministers were angels of light, incapable of stealing a poor man's ideas; perhaps he was unselfishly desirous of giving the world freely the fruits of his mental toils; or perhaps he was only the victim of one of those unfortunate lapses into blank idiocy to which all great men are said to be subject.

Whatever may have been the cause, the fact is undoubted that the inventor of the Hannaford Light confided in Government who abused his confidence in the most disgraceful manner. It was, and is, Hannaford's ambition to see one of his iron tower lighthouses erected in New Zealand waters; he claims that on Cuvier Island his iron tower has been erected, but he has been basely robbed of all credit in the matter through the treachery and dishonesty of officials in the Marine Department.

How this was done may most readily be seen by the consideration of the following facts : —

1. — In 1857, Mr Blackett, Engineer-in-Chief, designed two iron tower lighthouses, one of which was erected at Nelson and the other at Pencarrow Heads. These plans, there is reason to believe, were then pigeon-holed and forgotten, until subsequent circumstances led to their being dragged to the light for a special purpose.

2.— ln 1884, Mr Blackett designed a stone tower for Cuvier Island lighthouse, but (if we recollect aright) it was not erected because of its cost.

3. — In the meantime, certain Ministers and officials had visited Auckland and had been shown the model and plans of the Hannaford Light. Following upon this, we find that, in August, 1887, Mr Blackett threw aside his plans for the stone tower, and produced new plans for an iron tower on Cuvier Island. These new plans were almost an exact replica of the framework of the Hannaford Light.

4. — Upon being clearly satisfied as to the facts, Mr Hannaford wrote to the Ministry accusing Mr Blackett of pirating his lighthouse design, and he petitioned the House of Representatives to inquire into his charge of piracy. (We suppose, in the strict sense, there could be no ' piracy ' of ideas which were not patented, but none the less Mr Hannaford contended that he was able to prove most dishonourable filching of his ideas, communicated pro bono publico to public men.)

5.— The Marine Department officials were last year called upon by the Petitions Committee to explain their conduct. One of their number (Mr Blackett being absent in England) wrote simply stating that iron towers had existed long before the Hannaford Light ; but a vigilant watchdog on the Committee refused to be satisfied with this off-hand explanation, and the Committee finally called upon the official to attend and give evidence— producing plans, etc., of former lighthouses upon which the Cuvier Island iron tower was planned.

6. — Then the 1857 plans of Nelson and Pencarrow lights were dragged from their long slumber, and were gravely brought forward as being the original designs of which Cuvier Island tower was an elaboration The thing was as clear as mud ! Here were cast-iron towers planned and erected 32 years ago in New Zealand ; Cuvier Island design was also a cast-iron tower ; of course the idea of piracy was absurd.

7.— Despite these forcible arguments, the Petitions Committee last year, as on two previous occasions, recommended Hannaford's petition for aid in erecting one of his iron towers to the favourable consideration of the Government. For the third time, however, the Uncivil Masters of the Government (the officials of the Marine Department, who wish to conceal their own dishonesty) have thwarted the Committee's intention, although a majority of Ministers are understood to be favourable to erecting one of Hannaford's iron tower lighthouses.

8. —In February last, when the new lighthouse on Cuvier Island was formally inspected, a newspaper reporter was taken down, and an officially inspired account of the trip was published. In that account there is insinuated the official defence to the charge of stealing Hannaford's ideas, viz., that the exhibition of Mr Hannaford's plans led to the resuscitation of the original iron-tower drawings made by Mr Blackett in 1857. There is no explanation given, however, of how the 1887 plans are so unlike those of thirty years ago, and so very like Hannaford's !

We are assured that Mr Hannaford does not mean to let the matter rest here ; but will again approach Parliament in an endeavour to obtain the bare justice of recognition of his claim, to be the inventor of the improved iron-tower lighthouse. He has no legal claim to monetary compensation, owing to his failure to secure patent rights; but as an act of grace the Government ought to recognise in a substantial manner his labours in perfecting the lighthouse invention. The iron-tower design is so much more economical than the stone erections that, even for reminding the Government of the fact that iron could be used, some reward is justly due. If Mr Hannaford's invention were adopted in its entirety, the economy would be greater still, for the light would cost nothing after the initial expenditure for electrical apparatus, and the cost of supervision would be reduced to the merest nominal sum. Amongst those who have seen the Hannaford Light model, or have otherwise been interested in it, and have promised their help to obtain official recognition for it are : — Lord Brassey and Admiral Fairfax (Lords of the Admiralty), the Earl of Aberdeen, the Earl of Onslow, Lord Carrington (Governor of New South Wales), Sir Saul Samuel (Agent General of New South Wales), Sir John B. Thurston (Governor of Fiji), M. La Cascade, (late Governor of French Oceania), Hon. D. Gillies (Premier of Victoria), etc. Several of the Australian Governments have promised to adopt the Hannaford Light so soon as they have experimental proof of its power to do all that is claimed for it …

With the growth of our sea-borne commerce, there will of necessity be many new lighthouses required, and it is therefore of great public importance that an invention of such economic value as the Hannaford Light claims to be should be thoroughly investigated and tested by the Government, and it found satisfactory, the patent rights secured. This is a matter which no private individual or company ought to make a large profit out of ; but, after duo reward to the inventor, the public ought to enjoy the benefit of the scientific construction and illumination of lighthouses- Should this matter come before Parliament in the course of . the approaching session, we trust that members will look at it in a public-spirited manner and take some action to establish their reputation for justice, reason, and sound sense. We are convinced that Ministry and members alike are anxious to do what is right, and would do it, were they not deceived and bamboozled by the coterie of interested officials who think that all wisdom dwells in them, and who will not admit that any good thing can emanate from any other quarter. If Hannaford has been too foolishly confiding in the past, that is no reason why the Government should join in a conspiracy to defraud him of the credit to which he is entitled. And if it be the case that the red-tapeists have elaborated out of their own inner consciousness an iron lighthouse as good as Hannaford's, is that any reason why we should wait other thirty years for those stick-in-the-muds to elaborate electric-lighting appliances? Men of practical sense will reply with a thundering ' No, and will insist that, if an invention of great economic value is available, and on offer, it shall be proved and adopted, even though all the regular dustmen of the Marine Department should shout "Impossible!"
(Observer, 19 April 1890)

"Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers. The New Zealand Government know enough to pirate a good idea; but they have not the wisdom to profit from the teachings of experience. The new lighthouse on Cuvier Island is a copy of Mr. T. B. Hannaford's design, with one important exception. The top tier of the building, instead of being of iron, as in the Hannaford Light, is entirely of wood (perhaps to correspond with the brains of the Marine Department), and it will be no matter of surprise though it should be utterly destroyed by lire some night, through the bursting of a lamp or other simple accident. A few years ago, a wooden lighthouse at the mouth of the Patea River was destroyed by fire, and no one knows to this day how it happened. A word to the wise is enough; but of course this word to the Marine Department will fall on heedless (though quite long enough) ears!"
(Observer, 24 May 1890)

The Petitions Committee was adamant, however: Blackett, they said, had not used Hannaford’s plan. Even though this was the first cast-iron lighthouse fashioned in a New Zealand foundry and Blackett’s only other iron lighthouse design, at Nelson, was back in 1864, Hannaford’s case was finished. So, sadly, was Hannaford himself.

“Another old identity has passed away in the person of Mr. T. B. Hannaford, at the age of 66. He had been about 35 years in Auckland. During the last fortnight (of his life) he has been suffering from bronchitis, and was attended by Dr. Philson. On the 12th July he was up, but at an early hour on the 15th July he had a relapse, and died somewhat suddenly.

“Some years ago, Mt. Hannaford invented a windmill lighthouse, which he vainly endeavoured to get the Government to adopt. He complained subsequently that his idea had been pirated by the Government, and laid a petition before the Legislature in relation to his grievance, and was in high hopes of obtaining some compensation for the alleged infringement of his invention. About a week before his death he received some information from Wellington which dashed his hopes down, and he said to his wife, that “his heart was broken, he would never get over it …”
(NZ Herald Monthly Summary, 11 August 1890)

“Poor old Hannaford's petition to be compensated for Government pirating his lighthouse design was thrown out by the Petitions Committee. They are his virtual murderers, for the news broke his heart and caused his death.”
(Observer, 19 July 1890)

Was the design Hannaford’s?

Without an inspection of Blackett’s Marine Department plan, compared with that which Hackett submitted to the Petitions Committee – it will probably never be known for sure whether Hannaford was just an eccentric dreamer, or whether he really did lose credit for a design which was the first of seven cast-iron tower lighthouses in the country from 1889 until 1913. Certainly, the change to cast-iron for Cuvier Island lighthouse in 1889 from a wooden tower for Kaipara North Head in 1884 seems sudden. The Observer seemed very, very sure that an injustice had been done.

But John Blackett was a respected engineer, with a long career in New Zealand. He was due to retire in 1892, and was shipped off to London early in 1890 with the winding down of the Public Works Department to serve in the new position (some said one cooked up by “family interests”) of Inspector of Materials on a good salary paid by the Government. His post there was controversial (Evening Post, 30 July 1890), his salary questioned in the house. He was made redundant in 1891, resigned in March 1892, and died in Wellington in 1893.

Whatever is the truth behind the story of Hannaford’s Light – Thomas Brown Hannaford remains a lively and colourful part of Auckland’s rich history. He shouldn't be forgotten.

See also: "Lighting the Coast, A history of New Zealand's coastal lighthouse system", Helen Beaglehole, 2006, and Lighthouses, on Te Ara.


  1. Very interesting article about Mr Hannaford for whom one feels some sympathy. My Great great Grandfather Adam Beaney, who built the lighthouse at his foundry, must have had the plans. I wonder how or if the plans were attributed, it looks as if they must have been sent by the Government agency concerned but I wonder if there was any cause to consult with the engineer of the lighthouse plans during construction of it. Great blog, I have just discovered it.

  2. Hello, Penny, and thank you for your comment. I'd love to know more about Mr. Beaney and his foundry, if you have a chance. I'll send an email to you. Cheers!