Friday, 10 October 2014


When I realised that Puffin could be called the sister ship of Cormorant, I studied the Board of Trade wreck report for Puffin even more closely. One item that I had missed was the statement “ ….facsimile masts had been used in the Cormorant ….(no wonder the two sets of measurements were so similar) and the Torch (I don’t remember coming across this name in my research on lightships).  So now we have three sister ships – Cormorant, Puffin and Torch. However, the name Torch puzzled me as all these Irish light vessels were usually named after seabirds, which showed a bit more imagination than the Trinity House plain numbering system! Never having heard of a Torch bird, I asked the Internet. Guess what – nobody else had heard of one either, so I trawled for Irish lightships (as I have done many times before) and found Torch – built by Milford Haven Co., in 1881 and with overall dimensions and construction the same as Cormorant, albeit costing £600 more. She was withdrawn from service in 1945, sold and scrapped.  
     Having three trails to follow in my search for likenesses of pre-1943 Cormorant does not make me feel more hopeful. But many lines catch more fish – or at least they should. In my search for Torch, I came across the genealogy of the Douglass family and W Douglass supervised the building of the Torch and the Puffin. You may remember that the 1880 Specification for a Lightship had W Douglass signing off the lantern mast details. It is the same man.
     William Douglass was born in London in 1831. Apprenticed to Robert Stephenson & Co, Newcastle-on-Tyne, he studied under Robert, the son of George Stephenson. In 1852 he replaced his brother James as Assistant Engineer to his father on the construction of Bishop Rock Lighthouse.
     On completion of the Little Basses Reef Lighthouse in 1878 William was appointed Engineer to the Commissioners of Irish Lights, succeeding John H. Morant. Thus, the Douglass brothers achieved the unique distinction of serving simultaneously as Engineer-in-Chief to two lighthouse authorities. Both made their distinctive contribution to their respective organisation. James introduced electricity as a lighthouse illuminant while William perfected the efficiency of oil and gas as illuminants.
     Over the next 22 years William's engineering design and administration output in the service of Irish Lights was equally as dynamic as the 26 years he spent in the construction of lighthouses for Trinity House. His tenure as the Commissioners' Engineer ended a relatively dormant engineering period in Irish Lights.
Many major works were carried out under the direction of William Douglass and from my point of view the following are pertinent:-
Built the beacon on Muglins Rock.
New lightship Torch built.
Calf Rock station demolished by a storm-erected a temporary light on Dursey Head.
New lightship Puffin built.

    So another line of enquiry opens up. I wonder if his descendants have any records of the great man’s achievements.