Before the construction of the lighthouse, the rock had caused many shipwrecks because, except for a few hours a day at low tide, it lies just below the surface of the sea. By the turn of the 19th century, it was estimated that, in a typical winter, as many as six ships were wrecked on the rock. (In one storm, seventy ships had been lost off the east coast of Scotland.)

The Bell Rock Lighthouse, off the coast of Angus, Scotland, is the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. It was built between 1807 and 1810 by Robert Stevensonon on the Bell Rock (also known as Inchcape) in the North Sea, 11 miles (18 km) east of the Firth of Tay. Standing 35 metres (115 ft) tall, its light is visible from 35 statute miles (56 km) inland.

The masonry work on which the lighthouse rests was constructed to such a high standard that it has not been replaced or adapted in 200 years. The lamps and reflectors were replaced in 1843; the original ones are now in the lighthouse at Cape Bona vista, Newfoundland, where they are currently on display.

The days of the lighthouse keeper are not however long gone. I find this an intriguing edit to the jargon about Artificial Intelligence.  Apparently there’s no replacing eyes and ears.

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, there are 51 staffed lighthouses left in Canada, as of October 2017: one in New Brunswick, 23 in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 27 in British Columbia. All of these lighthouses are staffed for operational reasons, except for the light on Machias Seal Island. This lighthouse, manned by the Canadian Coast Guard, is kept occupied for sovereignty purposes due to the disputed status of the island with the US. The Coast Guard further clarified in 2022 that there are 90 people employed as lighthouse keepers across the country, all of whom are considered to be employees of the federal government, and 54 of whom operate out of British Columbia.

I’ve read that “British Columbia is looking for lighthouse keepers — the perfect job if you like rugged coastlines, working with your hands and lots of time by yourself.” As much as my maritime passion inflames me I confess I am uncertain about embracing employment as a lighthouse keeper notwithstanding my foggy sea-going appearance.  For one thing about which I am absolutely assured, I would miss being able to drive my car every day. The automobile accounts for unparalleled and shameless commission to the elevation and diversity of mechanical perfection. It does in addition echo my erstwhile mathematical prowess, my once avid philosophic identity of axiomatic truths. It is a passion I liken to that for watches (curiously both complicated and battery powered).  Cars and watches represent the union of ethereal art and blunt materialism. It is the visual ticking of the watch hands (minutes, hours and seconds) and the audible counting of the clang of the ship’s bell, that inspire me especially. Not unlike a lighthouse, they are the signals of repetition and change, the constant movement and rotation like the altered and predictable gravity of the sea. the round-the-clock recurrence of identical shifts.

Note bene: Watercolour of the lighthouse by J. M. W. Turner (1819), Scottish National Gallery.