Bean Rock Lighthouse - first lit 24 July, 1871

Thursday, July 23, 2015
Bean Rock restored on Hikinui, November 1985


As the anniversary of Bean Rock lighthouse first being lit is upon us (on 24 July, 1871) and we host a special anniversary sailing, we take a look back at the both it's history and recent restoration work.

Bean Rock Lighthouse is the only surviving wave washed wooden cottage lighthouse in New Zealand. The rock that the lighthouse stands on is known in Māori as Te Toka-o-Kapetaua (Kapetaua’s rock) in memory of Kapetaua, an ancestor of Ngāti Pāoa, who was marooned there by his brother in law.

Bean Rock is named after Captain P. C. D. Bean, Master of HMS Herald, which surveyed the Waitemata Harbour in 1840.  The Thames gold rush saw the need for substantial lights to be built on Bean Rock and also in the Ponui Passage.

Both lighthouses were designed by engineer James Stewart, who arrived in New Zealand from Scotland in 1859, and construction began on the Bean Rock lighthouse in 1870. The work was completed in eight months by Auckland builder William Cameron at a cost of £3000.  The design was an open framework with a cottage on top.  Iron foundations, 10 inches in diameter were driven deep into the rock, then wooden kauri poles in a hexagonal pattern were erected around a central column. A fifth order lens, manufactured by Chance Bros of London, was installed with white, red and green lights to indicate safe channels.

Bean Rock lighthouse, pre-restoration in May, 1985

On 24 July 1871, the kerosene light was lit by Hugh Brown, the first keeper.  Mr. Brown stayed at the lighthouse for 19 years until his retirement in 1890. The keeper lived in three rooms: a living area which included a kitchen, a bedroom and the ‘long drop’ toilet to the sea below.  The keeper’s family lived at Devonport and transportation to and from the light was by rowing boat.

From 1909—1911, James Anderson was the lighthouse keeper. He would row a small boat to and from shore to visit his young family that lived in Devonport. It must not have been easy living away from them. His son Ivan would send him messages in Morse code with his torch from the house. Anderson spent long hours at Bean Rock carving fish and birds from paua, mussel and pearl shell.

The light was originally a fixed light and the keeper could look through a 5cm (2 inch) square window, next to his bed and see the reflection of the light.  In 1876, the Auckland Provincial Government handed the operation of the lighthouse over to the Marine Department.

In 1912, the New Zealand Marine Department installed its first automatic acetylene light at Bean Rock and the lighthouse became the first watched light to lose its resident keeper.  At the same time it was changed to a flashing light to stand out from the lights of the city. Also around this time, ownership was transferred to the Auckland Harbour Board.

A more powerful light was installed in 1924 and an undersea electric cable was laid from the Orakei Wharf in 1936.  Plans in the 1970s to replace the lighthouse with a concrete structure were met with local opposition but by the 1980s the Auckland Harbour Board and Historic Places Trust were seriously worried about the lighthouse as it needed extensive repairs. In 1985, the cottage structure was removed by crane from the pilings and moved ashore for renovation. At the same time the rotted kauri piles were replaced with Australian hardwood jarrah and sunk into a new concrete foundation.


Most recently, in the mid 1990s solar panels were installed to provide the power for the lighthouse.

The lighthouse also has an automatic fog horn and Bean Rock Lighthouse is now recognised as a Category One Historic Place.