James Balfour (engineer)
|Born||2 June 1831|
|Died||19 December 1869 (aged 38)|
|Relatives||James Balfour (great-grandfather) |
Robert Whytt (great-grandfather)
George William Balfour (brother)
|Projects||Dog Island Lighthouse|
James Melville Balfour (2 June 1831 – 19 December 1869) was a Scottish-born New Zealand marine engineer. He is best remembered for the network of lighthouses that he designed. Balfour was a highly energetic man, who despite drowning after only six years in the country, has left an impressive list of projects either designed or constructed by him. He was initially employed by the Otago Provincial Council before his appointment by the Government of New Zealand as the colonial marine engineer.
Early life and family
Balfour was born in the manse of Colinton Parish Church south-west of Edinburgh, Scotland on 2 June 1831. He was the youngest son of Rev. Lewis Balfour (1777–1860), D.D., who for 37 years was minister for the Colinton parish. The philosopher James Balfour was his father's paternal grandfather, and the physician Robert Whytt was his father's maternal grandfather. His father had married Anne Mackintosh on 24 February 1806. Among his siblings were the physician and heart specialist George William Balfour (1823–1903), and Margaret Isabella "Maggie" Balfour (1829–1897) who in 1848 married the lighthouse builder Thomas Stevenson.
He received his education at Edinburgh High School and the University of Edinburgh. He studied civil engineering and for his training, he attended workshops in Scotland and, to study optics, in Germany. He did an apprenticeship with famous lighthouse builders, the brothers Thomas and David Stevenson, David being his sister's husband, and he worked in the lighthouse department of the firm.
Career in New Zealand
The Balfour family arrived in Port Chalmers on board the Sir Ralph Abercromby on 14 September 1863. Both Balfour and his friend and colleague, Thomas Paterson, had accepted appointments by the Otago Provincial Council for engineering positions. Balfour came as a marine engineer, while Paterson was a bridge, railway and road engineer. Paterson was half a year older than Balfour, and they had attended the same school in Edinburgh. Balfour brought with him from Scotland the lamp equipment he had designed for the proposed lighthouses at Cape Saunders and Taiaroa Head.
Balfour is described as having had "enormous energy", and within half a year, he had commenced a large number of projects. His contract with the provincial council was terminated at the end of 1866 (it is not clear whether this was Balfour's choice), and he then became colonial marine engineer on appointment by the government in Wellington.
Balfour's friend Paterson drowned in mid-December 1869 when his coach overturned while crossing the Kakanui River. Upon hearing of his friend's death, Balfour made immediate arrangements to travel to his funeral. On 19 December 1869, eight passengers transferred by whale boat from Timaru Harbour during heavy sea to the SS Maori, which was anchored some distance offshore. The whale boat got into trouble, but the passengers could be transferred into a life boat sent by the SS Maori. A wave washed the lifeboat against the SS Maori, and caused it to overturn. Two of the passengers drowned including Balfour.
Balfour's name is listed on the wall of the family vault in Colinton.
List of projects
Below is a list of lighthouses either designed by Balfour, or designed and supervised. Some of these are registered by Heritage New Zealand (formerly known as the New Zealand Historic Places Trust).
|Photo||Name of lighthouse||Location||Coordinates||Description||Date lit||Heritage registration|
|Taiaroa Head Lighthouse||Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula||One of Balfour's first priorities was the design of this lighthouse to give safe passage to Port Chalmers. Oldest operational lighthouse in the South Island.||2 January 1865||Category 1; number 2220|
|Dog Island Lighthouse||Dog Island in Foveaux Strait||Another priority project for Balfour to provide safe passage through Foveaux Strait and to Bluff Harbour. Tallest lighthouse in the country, and one of the most distinctive. Operational.||5 August 1865||Category 1; number 395|
|Farewell Spit Lighthouse||Farewell Spit||Designed by Balfour and under construction when he died, Farewell Spit lighthouse was a navigational help to address frequent groundings at this low-lying but long sandbank. The open-frame timber tower was replaced with an adjacent iron structure in 1897. Operational.||17 June 1870||Not registered|
|Nugget Point Lighthouse||Nugget Point on The Catlins coast||Designed by Balfour and under construction when he died, Nugget Point lighthouse was needed for safe passage to Port Molyneux situated at the mouth of the Clutha River, then a busy port. Operational.||4 July 1870||Not registered|
|Cape Campbell Lighthouse||Cape Campbell, Marlborough Region||Designed by Balfour and under construction when he died, Cape Campbell lighthouse was needed as a navigational help. The wooden tower did not hold up well, and the decaying structure was replaced in 1905. Operational.||1 August 1870||Not registered|
|Ponui Passage Lighthouse||between Ponui Island and Pakihi Island in the Hauraki Gulf||One of two wave-washed lighthouses built in New Zealand. Balfour recommended the location and provided a conceptual design, with James Stewart undertaking the detailed design. Prior to the removal of the lighthouse keeper's cottage in 1938, the structure was very similar in appearance to the Bean Rock Lighthouse. Since demolished and replaced with a beacon.||1871||Demolished|
|Bean Rock Lighthouse||on a reef at the entrance of Waitemata Harbour||One of two wave-washed lighthouses built in New Zealand. Balfour recommended the location and provided a conceptual design, with James Stewart undertaking the detailed design. Operational.||24 July 1871||Category 1; number 3295|
|Cape Saunders Lighthouse||at Matakitaki Point near Cape Saunders on Otago Peninsula||Originally planned by Balfour to be built at Cape Saunders, after many delays it was designed by John Blackett for nearby Matakitaki Point. Replaced in 2006 with an aluminium tower.||1 January 1880||Not registered|
The name of a small town in Southland originally known as Longridge was changed to Balfour to avoid confusion other New Zealand localities of that name. It is uncertain whether the new name refers to an employee of the Waimea Company who lived locally, or the provincial engineer.
When Eleanor Catton started working on her novel The Luminaries, she used the Papers Past website of the National Library of New Zealand to find suitable names for her characters, set during the time of the West Coast Gold Rush (1864–1867). Balfour was active on the West Coast during that time, and it is assumed that Catton adopted his surname for the character of the shipping agent Thomas Balfour, who represents Sagittarius in the Man Booker Prize-winning novel.
Notes and references
- Grace's Guide: Balfour.
- The Star obituary 1869, p. 3.
- Scholefield 1940, p. 32.
- Beaglehole 2013.
- Lee 1912.
- James – Telling History.
- Port Chalmers 1863, p. 4.
- Grace's Guide: Paterson.
- Southern Cross drownings 1869, p. 3.
- The Press drowning 1869, p. 2.
- Taiaroa Head.
- Dog Island.
- Farewell Spit.
- Nugget Point.
- Cape Campbell.
- Ponui Passage.
- Bean Rock.
- Cape Saunders.
- Reed 2010, p. 39.
- Mussen 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to James Balfour (engineer).|
- Lee, Sidney, ed. (1912). . Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). 1. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Reed, A. W. (2010). Peter Dowling (ed.). Place Names of New Zealand. Rosedale, North Shore: Raupo. ISBN 978-0-14-320410-7.
- Scholefield, Guy, ed. (1940). A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography : A–L (PDF). I. Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- "Port Chalmers". Otago Daily Times (542). 14 September 1863. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- "Sad Accident at Timaru". The Press. XV (2084). 20 December 1869. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- "Fatal Accidents in the South". Daily Southern Cross. XXV (3851). 24 December 1869. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- "The Late Mr Balfour". The Star (503). 29 December 1869. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
- Mussen, Deidre (26 March 2013). "Catton's novel brings old family links to life". The Press. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- Aspden, R J. "Balfour, James Melville". Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- Beaglehole, Helen (9 July 2013). "Lighthouses – A national system". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
- James, Dr. Maureen. "Marie Clothilde Balfour – Biography". Telling History. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- "James Melville Balfour". Grace's Guide. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- "Thomas Paterson (1830–1869)". Grace's Guide. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
- Phillips, Mark. "New Zealand Lighthouses". newzealandlighthouses.com. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
- "Bean Rock Lighthouse (1871)". 30 December 2009. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
- "Cape Campbell (1870) (1905)". 28 November 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- "Cape Saunders (1880)". Retrieved 15 January 2015.
- "Dog Island (1865)". 29 December 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- "Farewell Spit (1869)". 18 June 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- "Nugget Point (1870)". Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- "Ponui Passage (1871)". 12 December 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- "Taiaroa Head (1865)". 5 February 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
- Whitehouse, Olwyn. "Shipping News 1863". rootsweb. New Zealand Bound. Retrieved 6 January 2015.