Silent Sentinal Shining a Light on Grand Turk History
In the early years of the 1800s ship commerce increased throughout the Caribbean.
To access Cuba and the Gulf ships had to pass the Turks Islands and traverse the dangerous Turks Island Passage. Poor maps, uncharted reefs, and strong currents in the area resulted in numerous shipwrecks. On 1 February 1851, President Fred Forth wrote to Governor Sir Charles Grey in Jamaica raising the issue of a Grand Turk lighthouse:
“…the want of a lighthouse on grand Turk, most seriously felt after the previous loss in 1849 of 12 vessels loaded with merchandise appears, to have had the effect of reducing amount of tonnage of the shipping…”
This began a series of letters between the administrators on Grand Turk and Jamaica and a visit by Earl of Dundonald, Vice Admiral and Commander in chief:
“There is no question of the advantage, nay of the necessity, of a light in order to guard against the frequent shipwrecks which now occur ….” (1 April 1851)
Eventually the much-needed lighthouse was commissioned. Erected in 1852, the 60 ft. lighthouse was designed by Alexander Gordon and built by Chance Brothers in England. It was shipped in pieces and assembled on Grand Turk.
The Grand Turk lighthouse is a rare and wonderful historic structure. Safety concerns render tours of the interior impracticable. Fortunately, the stunning Fresnel lens and intricate clockwork mechanism, removed when the lighthouse was electrified decades ago, were saved by the Museum along with many of the elements of the original Argand lamps that produced the light.
In 2014 the Museum recreated the light-room featuring a slowly rotating lens mounted atop its pedestal, driven by gravity, and regulated by its original clockwork!