Saturday, 18 October 2014


In response to me plea for a helper in Dublin, David Ryan has volunteered to trawl through the collection in the National Library which was deposited there by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. Already he has found a photo of Cormorant and one of Torch dated 1908, when CIL sent a team around photographing all their lightships and lighthouses. There are a lot more albums to search through, but as each copy costs 30 euros, I am going to have to be selective if David finds any more.
  Anyway, back to the exciting finds. Cormorant and Torch (and the ill-fated Puffin) were all built with a slender main mast carrying the ‘hoistable’ lantern, with a fore and a mizzen mast as well. This is what I have been asking David to look for. Well shiver me timbers and bamboozle me barnacles, look what he found.

    Torch on station at the Three Barrels Rock and Cormorant on station at the Kish Bank – both with fixed lanterns and no foremast!  “Quelle surprise!”  Although these photos pose questions, they do also answer a few. Referring to recent posts about sails, Torch has a furled sail on the mizzen, which looks as though it is loose-footed (no boom at the bottom). The high-res photo shows that Cormorant has the same. Both ships are flying an ensign, but the one on Torch is fixed to the stay and wrapped around it! Cormorant has a normal staff on the stern.  The back end (tack or clew?) of the sails are fixed to what would have been a bowsprit at the other end, but must be the boomkin mentioned in the 1880 spec.  Torch has a fog-horn, but Cormorant has a bell. But enough of the detail for now – shall we just speculate why these 1908 photos are different from what we expected?
   When the Puffin was lost with all hands in 1896, the enquiry decided that her mast (‘hoistable’) had been wrenched off, taking a large section of deck with it, precipitating the catastrophe. A two-ton lantern 30ft above the deck would not have helped matters.  So perhaps it was decided that the design was unsafe and all the lightships of the ‘hoistable’ design were converted to fixed lanterns.  There may of course have been other changes made at the time, so the details mentioned above may have changed from the 1880 spec.
    This would undoubtedly have been a Board decision at both CIL and Trinity House. I intend to search for Board minutes of this period, but I am not hopeful any still exist. CIL have already told me that they do not have any, but perhaps they passed them on to the National Library with all those photo albums and they are another thing David can look for. I will ask Trinity House also.