Lighthouse park a beacon on the past

Among East End’s points of interest is Lighthouse Park, where a flight of stairs lead to a small site highlighting an invention that helped seafarers safely navigate the waters around the Cayman Islands.

Seafarers once relied on beacons like these to navigate.
Seafarers once relied on beacons like these to navigate.

National Trust literature notes that in the past, East End was known as the “Graveyard of the Caribbean.” In 1794, a great maritime tragedy known as “The Wreck of the Ten Sail” occurred, in which 10 merchant vessels led by the HMS Convert went aground in rough seas off Grand Cayman’s East End. At that time, there were very few inhabitants at that end of the island (just three families are named in a census taken 10 years later) but they, and residents of Bodden Town, helped save the crews of the wrecked ships and only eight lives were lost.

The Trust adds that the Eastern Channel in Gun Bay historically served as a port of entry for East End, which saw steady activity.

“William Conwell Watler was the man in charge. He gave clearance to vessels leaving and arriving in East End on fishing and turtling expeditions, and to ships bringing in freight and mail. In those days, the exports of the islands were mainly thatch rope, mahogany and turtle products, which went chiefly to Jamaica.”

The current lighthouse stands about half a mile from Gun Bluff, where a 60-foot ship’s mast stood on the bluff and a light keeper, William James Watler, was employed to ensure that a kerosene lantern was hoisted to the top of the mast at 6 p.m. and lowered at 6 a.m. every day.

“A fine ‘not exceeding forty shillings’ was to be imposed on him if it was discovered that he had been lax in his duties. The light could be seen 10 miles out to sea,” notes the Trust.

In 1918 a replacement lighthouse was put up at Gorling Bluff constructed of a steel cylinder mast that supported a wheel-like wooden frame, which held a kerosene lamp with three wicks. Two attendants were appointed to maintain the lighthouse – Austin B. Connolly and police captain Elliott Conolly. The lighthouse served the community until 1937, when five automatic navigational lights were installed around Grand Cayman. The replacement lights are in operation to this day and administered by the Cayman Islands Port Authority.

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