Lighthouse Development in Mozambique, 1908-1931

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In 1931, in conjunction with the Exposition Coloniale Internationale (International Colonial Exhibition) being held in Paris that year, a committee set up by the Portuguese authorities in Mozambique released a series of 18 monographs devoted to various aspects of the colony (soil and climate, agriculture, education, railways, etc.).

One of the monographs was entitled Portugal -- Colonie de Moçambique: Ports, Phares et Navigation Commerciale, written by Captain António da Silva Pais, head of the Maritime Department. As its title suggests, the 56-page booklet is divided into three chapters, devoted to ports, lighthouses and commercial navigation.

The lighthouse chapter describes the development of lighthouses in Mozambique between 1908 and 1931. Interestingly, this period of activity was matched by a similarly intensive episode of lighthouse construction in Portugal itself (including the Azores and Madeira).

The major part of the chapter appears below in an adaptation from the French text; four short sections dealing with such topics as dune stabilization, roads and telephone lines, expenditures in 1929 and the lighthouse tax have been omitted, as has a 20-page appendix containing a list of lights.1 The lighthouse photos reproduced from the book are complemented by images of Mozambique lighthouses from my collection.

Michel Forand

North Coast

Central Coast

South Coast
by Captain António da Silva Pais
translated from the French edition by Michel Forand

Plan for Illuminating the Coast of Mozambique

The illumination of a seacoast must follow a pre-established plan designed to produce a system that matches perfectly the requirements of shipping and navigation safety.

In December 1907, Schultz Xavier, a frigate captain and hydrographic engineer who was also the Commander of the Indian Ocean Naval Division, was asked to develop a general lighthouse plan for the coast of Mozambique.2

The only lighthouses in existence at the time had been established in answer to local conditions rather than in accordance with an overall plan; they were: Inhaca (1894), Barra (1900), Ponta Macuti (1904) and Goa Island (1876).3

Schultz Xavier set out the results of his study in a report released on February 4, 1908, entitled "Study of a Plan for Illuminating the Coast of Mozambique."

Hugo Lacerda, a frigate captain and hydrographic engineer who is an Admiral today [1931], was given the task of studying the conditions for implementing the plan. After travelling all along the coast, making the necessary observations and surveying the main locations in person, he presented the results of his work in a report released on October 30 of that year under the title "Study for the Implementation of the Coast Illumination Plan for Mozambique."

Admiral Lacerda agreed that the Schultz Xavier plan was broadly practicable but proposed some changes for reasons that were explained in his report.

General Freire de Andrade4 then decided that the Schultz Xavier project, as amended by Admiral Lacerda, would be the definitive plan for the establishment of lighthouses on the Mozambique seacoast. The different parts of the plan were to be implemented in the order that corresponded most closely to the interests and safety of navigation.

The general plan, which rigorously followed all the rational criteria universally acknowledged as ensuring that the illumination of a seacoast and its ports will be thorough and comprehensive, incorporated three existing lighthouses and provided for the establishment of 32 others.

Lighthouses Established to 1914

During the period from 1908 to 1914, construction projects were undertaken toward the establishment of the following lighthouses in the years shown:

A -- Vilhena (1908), serving as both a coastal light and a harbor beacon for ships seeking to enter the port of Quelimane.

B -- Ponta Zavora (1910), whose location is extremely important for coastal navigation, as vessels must, at this point on the coast, change course whether they are coming from the northern ports or from those south of the cape.

C -- Bazaruto (1913), located on Cape Bazaruto, at the northern tip of the island of the same name, a dominant landmark that needed to be illuminated for the safety of shipping between the port of Beira and the southern ports.

D -- Ponta Matirre (1913), just north of the mouth of the Tejungo River, acting as both a coastal light and a harbor light for vessels on their way to the port of Pebane.

E -- Monte Belo (1914), on the right side of the Limpopo River, near the bar. In addition to being a coastal light, this is also a harbor light, allowing ships calling at Inhampura and Chai-Chai to tack while waiting for the tide to change so they can cross the bar.

Lighthouses Established to 1924

The period described above, one of intense activity for lighthouse construction, was followed by a time of inactivity as a result of the special circumstances created by the First World War. As soon as the war was over, the sacred task of providing adequate illumination of the colony's coast resumed.

By Decree No. 278 of October 28, 1922, the colonial government reorganized all services related to the construction of coastal lighthouses and harbor lights. The creation of a single directorate, the Bureau of Lighthouses, generated great benefits non only because the implementation of the lighthouse plan could continue under its aegis but also, and especially, because the related provisions and rules resulted in greater savings, consistency and efficiency in the operation of such an important service as the illumination of a coast and its seaports.

In the period to 1924, four new lighthouses were built and an existing lighthouse was upgraded:

A -- Pinda (1923), located on the Nangata highlands, warns vessels against the Pinda shoals.

B -- Mafamede (1923), on Mafamede Island, has red sectors that warn vessels against Santo António Shoal and Puga Puga Island, and at the same time illuminates the approach to Angoche Bar.

C -- Sangage (1923) lights Angoche Bar and the northern side of the harbor, where strong currents made night navigation uncertain and difficult before this lighthouse was built.

D -- Bouches du Zambèze [Bôcas do Zambèze] (1924), near the eastern point of Timbué Island, illuminates the entire coastal region that encompasses the delta of the Zambezi River.

E -- Goa Island Lighthouse was upgraded in 1923 when the tower was raised by 12 metres and the former lantern was replaced with a more powerful apparatus.

Lighthouses Established or Improved to 1927

A -- Vilhena Lighthouse was improved in 1925 by the installation of an automated flashing light that increased its visible range from 17 to 26 miles.

B -- Monte Belo Lighthouse was improved in 1925 with an incandescent light that increased its visible range from 24 to 30 miles.

C -- Fogo Island (1926) was built on the island of the same name and given two red sectors, one showing over Silva Island and the other over Casuarina and Epidendron Islands, as well as a green sector showing over the rock at Point Macalonga.

D -- Infusse (1926), located approximately two miles from the mouth of the Infusse River, illuminates an area that is one of the most dangerous on the coast because of its sand banks and reefs.

E -- Ponta Caldeira (1927), south of Angoche, covers the greater part of the coast located between the lighthouses on Fogo and Mafamede Islands.

Lighthouses Established Since 1927

Based on the lighthouse construction plan and given the urgent need to provide aids to navigation in the different regions of the seacoast, the following lighthouses have been built:

A -- Barra Falsa is located on the point of the same name, near the small Pomene Bay, at the top of a dune that has been stabilized thanks to the planting of casuarinas. The lighthouse became operational in December 1930. The 100-mile distance between the arcs covered by the lights of Barra and Bazaruto lighthouses made it necessary to establish this lighthouse, which is located about halfway between them.

B -- Ponta Ingomaimo (Chiloane), located on the territory administered by the Mozambique Company,5 about halfway in the previously dark stretch between Bazaruto and Beira, shows dangerous sand banks in the area. It became active in January 1931.

Lighthouses Under Construction

The Nyassa Company, which formerly administered these territories,6 did not meet its obligations under the coast illumination plan for Mozambique, leaving the coastline almost entirely dark. The naval authorities were forced to find a solution to this situation when the Nyassa district was transferred to the direct control of the government in 1929. The colonial government immediately decided to build a lighthouse at Cabo Delgado to signal to vessels coming from the north that they were entering Mozambique waters. This lighthouse will come into operation toward the end of this year (1931).

Once the construction of the Cabo Delgado tower and the installation of its lighting equipment are completed, the main places along the coast of Mozambique will be lighted and the coast will have the best illumination in all of East Africa. However, the overall illumination plan will continue to be implemented gradually until it is completed. This will require the establishment of 15 additional lighthouses to ensure that the system will be fully continuous and also meeting an essential condition that a seacoast lighthouse system must satisfy -- namely, that it must not allow a vessel to be wrecked on the coast or on the obstacles lining the coast without being warned by one or several lights with enough advance notice that it can navigate so at to avoid those obstacles.

Lighthouse Personnel

Each lighthouse is served by one European head keeper, three native assistant keepers and one native helper. Automated lights have a smaller staff: Infusse Light has a European head keeper and one native assistant keeper, while Vilhena Light has a European head keeper, a native assistant keeper and a native helper. The Fogo Island Lighthouse is unwatched.

Translator's Notes

  1. The first chapter of the book describes Mozambique's three major ports at the time -- Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), Beira and Moçambique -- as well as a group of secondary ports (Vila João Belo, Inhambane, Chinde, Quelimane, Macuse and António Enes) and a further group of third-level ports (Vilanculos, Pebane, Moma, Porto Amélia, Ibo and Mocimboa da Praia), with a final section devoted to other harbors and anchorages. The chapter on commercial navigation contains statistics on merchandise traffic in the ports of Mozambique in 1929 as well as a section listing Portuguese and foreign shipping companies with regular service to the colony and another with a list of local steamer companies.
  2. Júlio Zeferino Schultz Xavier had previously been head of the lighthouse division (Director de Faróis) in Portugal and, in that capacity, had developed a lighthouse and illumination plan for the Portuguese coastline, which until then was often called the "dark coast."
  3. Captain Silva Pais did not mention two other Mozambique lighthouses that had been established before 1907 -- Ilha do Ibo in 1873 and Cabo Delgado in 1889. In 1907-08, however, these lighthouses were in territory leased to the Nyassa Company (see Note 6). He also did not mention Bazaruto Lighthouse, which had been established in 1897, but it is known that the lighthouse was inactive for a period of about 12 years before it was rebuilt in 1913. Also not mentioned are two small lighthouses at Beira and the Reuben Point lighthouse in Lourenço Marques (Maputo). Although, as far as is known, these lighthouses were still active in 1908 when the general lighthouse plan was developed, they were no longer listed by the time Silva Pais wrote his essay. It's possible they were not intended to survive the implementation of the plan.
  4. Governor-general of Mozambique from 1906 to 1910.
  5. In 1891, the Companhia de Moçambique, a primarily British company with headquarters in Beira, was given a charter granting it sovereignty rights for 50 years over territory corresponding to the modern-day provinces of Sofala and Manica. After the charter expired in 1941, the territory reverted to Portuguese control.
  6. The Nyassa Company, owned by British and French interests, had been granted a lease over the modern-day provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa in 1897. The concession ended in 1929 and Portugal assumed direct control over the territory.

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Posted June 17, 2005. Translation copyright 2005 Michel Forand. Site copyright 2005 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.