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Bishop Rock
Photo with kind permission of Trinity House.

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POSITION 49 52'.5  N 06 26'.6 W
Location:  Extreme westerly rock - Isles of Scilly
Admiralty List of Lights Ref:  002
Present Tower Built:  1887
Tower Composition:  Granite
Sir James Nicholas Douglass (1826-98)
Focal Height of Light:  144 ft 3 ins (44 m ) above mean high water
First Lit:  25th October 1887
Automated: 12th December 1992
Monarch at Time of Construction:  Queen Victoria (1837-1901)

Who Named The Rock?

It is believed that the Bishop Rock was official named during the late 15th and early 16th century by local fishermen from the Isles of Scilly. This was based upon its original shape of a Bishop's Mitre and its distinctive dark pink colour.

First Recorded Ship Wreck

Royal Oak on the 18th January 1666 (See Shipwrecks Close To Lighthouses)

Worse British Navy Tragedy

On the 22nd October 1707 a fleet of warships under the command of Admiral Sir Cloudisley Shovell, became lost as it approached the Isles of Scilly.
In total H.M.S. ships Romney, Association were total wrecks with a loss of nearly 2000 lives.

Tragic Loss of the
Schiller (See Shipwrecks Close To Lighthouses)

Event happened on the 7th May 1875. Lost in fog this 3421 ton passenger liner, built by Napiers of Glasgow, hit the Retarriers Rocks close to the Bishop Rock lighthouse. From a complement of 355 people on board only 42 survived.

First Bishop Rock lighthouse            (Click here for index)

Pile lighthouse designed by
James Walker and his partner John Burges in April 1847. It was constructed between the summer of 1848 and was completed (apart from its lantern and light) by the 5th February 1850. On this night while the workers were ashore, the Isles of Scilly was subjected to near hurricane force conditions. The projects engineer Nicholas Douglass (father of Sir James Nicholas Douglass) and his workforce could not return to the lighthouse for ten days. But when they did all that was left were the snapped off remains of the central stanchion and its iron legs.

Second Bishop Rock Lighthouse     (Click here for index)

Between 1851 and 1858 a new granite tower was constructed. Nicholas Douglass was the superintendent engineer. His son James was the projects assistant engineer, with James McConnochie the resident engineer-in-charge.
The tower was built to a height of 110 ft ( 33.5m) above mean high water.
It was first lit on the 1st September 1858.


Made of solid copper by
W. Wilkins and Son Ltd., Foundry Lane, London. It was 14 ft (4.27m) in diameter and 28 ft (8.53m) to the top of its domed roof. The glazing consisted of multi-panels of flat plate glass about 1/2 in (15 mm) thick.

Light Source

Fountain type oil burner with 4 circular wicks, manufactured and supplied by W. Wilkins and Son Ltd., Foundry Lane, London.


Its optical apparatus consisted of dioptric lenses with 8 reflectors and 19 prisms ( 13 above and 6 below the refractors)

Optical Manufacturers

Le Paute of Paris

Visible Range of Light by Shipping on a Clear Night

Between 14 & 16 nautical miles

Cost of Project


Commemoration Plaque Details

Made of Bronze with following inscription:

"This tower was erected by the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond, in London.
The first stone was laid on the 14th July 1852, in the sixteenth year of the reign of Her Majesty
Queen Victoria.
His Grace the Duke of Wellington, Master.
Captain John Henry Pelly, Bart., Deputy Master.
The Lowest stone was afterwards laid in the chasm of the rock, at one foot below low water spring tides, on the 30th July, 1852.
The stonework of the tower was finished on the 28th August, 1857.
His Royal Highness the Prince Albert Consort, Master.
Captain John Shepard, Deputy Master.
The successful termination of this most difficult undertaking was accomplished without loss of life or serious accident to any person employed.
James Walker Engineer    N. Douglass Superintendent."

Bishop Rock, Facing the Atlantic Storms

Picture by Frank Gibson around 1948/50 at a time when the keepers were marooned on the Bishop Rock for nearly three months.

In 1860 a devise was bolted to the Bishop Rock lighthouse to measure the force of the Atlantic waves. It was similar to a Thomas Stevenson designed apparatus which consisted of a railway sleeper with its two buffer plungers attached to the granite masonry. A hydraulic line was fixed between the two plungers and also linked to a pressure gauge. This gauge in turn had a locking cog assembly which calibrated the highest recording. It was stated that the Bishop Rock had a reading of '7010 pounds per square foot'. This compared to the previously highest reading at Scotland's Bell Rock lighthouse, taken on the 29th March 1845, when the reading was '6083 pounds per square foot'. { Please note that during the early years of the Victorian period calibration for pressure was not always at p.s.i (pounds per square inch) }.

Bishop Rock Third Tower        (Click here for index)

Following tremendous storms during the winter of 1881 it was found that large sections of the granite masonry had been washed away by the sea.
Trinity House declared the tower to be unsafe and for a temporary period the lighthouse was held together by wide iron bands.
During the spring of 1883 James Nicholas Douglass had completed the designs for a new tower, with his son
William Tregarthen Douglass being appointed as the resident engineer for the project.
This new tower was built around the existing structure to increase the base dimensions. The tower was also increased in height to about 144 ft (44m) above the mean spring water level.

First Stone laid

25th May 1883

Demolition of upper portion of former tower

11th May 1886 at the 62nd course of masonry

New works completed (construction of tower)

30th August 1886


Total volume of granite = 3220 tons
Overall height of tower from foundations to top of lantern = 160 ft (49m)
Focal plane of light = 144 ft (44m)


Helical design by
James Nicholas Douglass. Manufactured by Chance Brothers, Smethick, Birmingham, England.

Optical Assembly

Consisted of 2 layered tiers of lenses, each containing 10 lenses set at an angle of 36 degrees (horizontal) and 80 degrees (vertical. Each lens consisted of a central bull's eye optic with 17 ring prisms above and below. Designed by Chief Engineer for
Chance Brothers F.A. Richey (known as 'Uncle Bill').

Light Source

2 no. eight wick
Douglass oil burners. On a clear night only one lamp would be lit which produced an illumination of 40,000 candle power (candelas) through the optic. Visible distance by shipping about 20 nautical miles. In foggy or heavy mist conditions both lamps were lit which gave a combined illumination of about 230,000 candle power (candelas).

Light characteristic

Duration was a sequence of 4.75 second flash, followed by a 4.25 second eclipse, followed by a flash of 4.75 seconds then an eclipse of 46.25 seconds.


15th December 1992

ISBN 1901043053 Bishop Rock by Martin Boyle