Sunday, 2 March 2014


More gems from the National Archives. On the 4th of  October 1910 the Irish Lights Office (ILO) asked the Board of Trade (BoT) to agree to the purchase of 16 fire extinguishers for use on their light vessels, at a total cost of £54 (£4,500 in today’s money). Presumably therefore there were 16 light vessels being operated by the ILO in 1910. The letter, signed by Mr H. Cook, the ILO Secretary, was couched in charming, Victorian language (Photo).

Three officials at the BoT agreed to sanction this expenditure, but one awkward chap in F Dept stuck his oar in saying that the Trinity House lightships (about 60 of them) did not have these extinguishers and that, “ …having investigated the specifications for the Irish lightships, I see that it provides for water tanks and various pumps (including fire engine pump and hose) for flooding and washing. Should we not ask what provision is made at present and why it is considered inadequate?”

So, on 10 October, the BoT asked the ILO for details of existing provision and reasons why that provision was considered inadequate. On 4 November the ILO’s Mr Cook replied “I am directed to state, for the information of the Board of Trade, that the wood light vessels are fitted with portable 3” fire pumps of Messrs Stone’s manufacture, with hose long enough to reach any part of the vessel. In the steel, wood-sheathed and iron ships, in addition to the portable 3” fire pumps, there is in each vessel a 6” Stone’s pump of the Downton type with sea cock connection and hose, fire buckets also are borne in each vessel”.

Unfortunately Mr Cook did not elaborate on the second part of the BoT’s query (reasons why this provision was inadequate) and merely stated that the Commissioners considered that it would be advisable to supplement these appliances with a suitable patent Fire Extinguisher.

The BoT then sought ‘professional’ advice by asking a Capt Monro for his opinion. The good Captain thought the proposal ‘quite reasonable’, but then hedged his bets. (Photo).

The killjoy from F Dept then stuck in another oar saying there was no record of any fire on board a light vessel and recommended asking Trinity House for their opinion.

On 23 November Trinity House reported on the observations of the Elder Brethren (sic),  saying that the provision on their light vessels was ‘regarded as sufficient for the purpose’ and went on to say that their appliances were practically the same as those on the Irish light vessels. Mr F Dept leapt in gleefully, saying that Trinity House had four times as many lightships as the ILO.  I think he went rather over the top by suggesting that extra fire extinguishers were not needed as the Irish lightships were stationed near the coast and were provided with life boats‼ (Photo)

 And so on 1 December 1910 the BoT informed the ILO the expenditure was not sanctioned.  There it rested until two years later when the ILO had another go. On 7 August 1912 the new Secretary of the ILO, Mr J Philps, wrote “I am directed by the Commissioners of Irish Lights to state that they are convinced of the importance of furnishing lighthouses and lightships with efficient fire appliances…..”.  Notice that lighthouses have crept in alongside lightships and the requested expenditure shot up to £278 (£19,000 today). 

The Elder Brethren at Trinity House were again consulted and replied listing the provision of Chemical Fire Extinguishers at their 70 lighthouses – the list shows the name of the lighthouse; the number of extinguishers at each; and the location of each extinguisher (in the lamp room, the tower base, the dwelling or ‘other’). No lightships were listed and TH recommended that the ILO should state their reasons if they wanted provision on their lightships. However their letter concluded with the words “… should they consider further safeguards necessary on board their lightships, a portable Chemical Fire Extinguisher would perhaps best meet their needs”.

There seemed to be a softening of the BoT approach and the expenditure on the Irish lighthouses was approved, but F Dept was still muttering in the background against the lightships. On 5 October the ILO was again invited to state why they thought current provision was inadequate. On 8 October the ILO responded, but without any justification apart from saying they considered the supply of these fire extinguishers ‘absolutely necessary’. The reaction in the BoT was negative all the way up the food chain until the memos reached a Mr Robertson on 25 October. Swimming against the tide (Tide? What tide?) he merely opinoned that the request should be grants (Photo)

He must have been fairly senior as there was no more dissent, not even from F Dept, and the ILO were given sanction to spend the extra £40 :10s on 28 October 1912.  Pity they did not go straight to Mr Robertson in October 1910.