Sambro Lighthouse

Lighthouse Details
44° 26' 12.0'' N    -63° 33' 48.0'' W
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44° 26' 12.0'' N    -63° 33' 48.0'' W    Google Map

Sambro Lighthouse In Winter
Sambro Lighthouse In Winter
For the first nine years after the founding of Halifax, no signal marked these hazards. This lack of a lighthouse was not for want of trying. As early as 1752, the Governor and Council organized a lottery to cover the cost of building a light on "Cape Sambrough," but had no success. Finally, on the first day of the first session of the General Assembly of Nova Scotia, October 2, 1758, an act was passed to establish a lighthouse on "Sambro Outer Island." They appropriated 1,000 pounds from the duties paid on spirituous liquors, and instituted a tax on vessels entering the harbour. Commissioners were appointed and matters were put quickly in hand. The site was chosen, the money voted, and by early November the work was begun. It is probable that a temporary light was established on the island.

There is evidence that the new light was operational in 1759. The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 14, 1759, contains the following note as part of a letter from Halifax, dated April 28, 1759:
"The Manager of the Light House is just come up. He lately went down to put it up; and has fixed it, with every thing that is convenient for Shipping: It was lighted the 23rd Instant; and as it is of Service to the Publick, to our Vessels as well as others, you will make it publick by publishing it in your Paper. It is situated one League S.W. of the Harbour, on Sambra Island. I thought it a new Thing, and of Service; so I have taken the Pains to give you Information of it."

The building was of stone, 60 feet high from the base to the weather vane crowning the lantern. The white fixed light was, thus, 115 feet above sea level.

Within a few years, word of inefficiency in the operation of the light reached the floor of the Legislative Assembly. The wreck of the sloop Granby, of Boston, in 1771, with the loss of all hands, blew the situation wide open. Apart from the loss of life, the Granby was carrying +3000 to pay the dockyard staff! Commodore Gambier, Commander in Chief of the Naval Station, reported that "the fatal accident happened for want of a light being properly kept in the lighthouse." He noted that H. M. Ships had, on occasion, to fire at the lighthouse in order to make the keepers show a light. Other vessels complained at being forced to pay for a light which "is a great annual expense to the Government and serves no other purpose than the shameful one of putting money in the pockets of a nominee of the Governor's."

An inquiry found that, indeed, the keeper was appointed by the Governor. He was allowed the duties paid by ships entering the port and procured only the cheapest materials. Fish oil fuelled the light and if it went out and no ships were in sight, it was left out. It must be noted that at this time the lighting method for lighthouses was in its infancy, and the burning of fish oil was not unusual. Open oil lamps, without reflectors, produced a dim light. The glass in the lanterns smoked up constantly at all times of the year and the vapour from the flame caused misting and icing in cold weather. Keeping the lights lit and as bright as possible was a formidable job.

Commodore Gambier recommended that the government take over operation of the Sambro Light. The Naval Store Officer in Halifax was to be in charge. Nothing was done about this, for in 1772, Matthew Pennell was in charge of the light. At that time, fountain lamps with flues to carry off the smoke were installed. After that, there was far less trouble with the darkening of the glass which obscured the light.

Contributor: Kathy Brown
Sources: The Sea Road to Halifax, Hugh F. Pullen; The Lighthouse, Dudley Whitney; Lighthouses and Lightships, Lee Chadwick; Rip Irwin, in conversation, and in articles in The Lightkeeper, newsletter of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society.