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The Eddystone Lighthouse Story

old nautical map atlantic

Portolan Map Covering the Atlantic Ocean by the English, French, Spanish and Portugese Coastline, 1698. This map  oriented to the East.

Because of the colonies in Africa, Asia and America, the intensity of transatlantic trade had increased considerably by the end of the 17th century. This made the coastline of England, France, Spain and Portugal very busy due to the maritime traffic. The development of seafaring brought the need for new tools in navigation and safety at sea. That is why many lighthouses were built in this area.

The first recorded instance of an offshore lighthouse was in 1698, which was built on Eddystone Rocks, located about 14 kilometres offshore from the major harbour of Plymouth. The rocks are also marked on this map. There is a moving story of Mr Henry Winstanley connected to this lighthouse. Winstanley was a man with many interests such as mechanics or mathematics. He became a merchant and purchased five ships for such entrepreneurial activities. After two of the ships were wrecked on Eddystone Rocks, Winstanley complained, claiming that ships should be protected from such dangerous rocks, but nothing was done as the reef was considered impossible to mark. As a result, he decided to build a lighthouse himself, which took him two years to finish. He had to face unexpected obstacles during the construction. As this was in the period when England was at war with France, he was taken captive by a French privateer while on the construction site and taken to France. The construction had been destroyed. However, the French King Louis XIV ordered his immediate release, stating: “France is at war with England, not with humanity”. Winstanley returned to the Eddystone reef and finished the construction in 1698. He remained as the lighthouse keeper for the next five years. During the time he ran the lighthouse, no ships were wrecked on Eddystone rock. He died in the lighthouse in 1703 during a particularly strong storm.

For the full story, read “Henry Winstanley and the Eddystone Lighthouse” by Adam Hart-Davis or “Fearless” by Elvira Woodruf.

Buy restored reproduction of this map printed on a high quality handmade paper here.