Every lighthouse has what I call a Roll of Honor. It is a list of keepers and attendants who have protected and cared for the lighthouse tower over the years. Eshaness Lighthouse is fairly young as lighthouses go, being built in 1929. Since Eshaness had only one keeper, two local men were hired as occasional keepers. The information on those men is sketchy but we know that Gideon Wishart was one of the early ones, followed by Laurence Sheyne. Robert Johnson became occasional keeper in 1963 and remained in that position until 1974. In 1974, after the lighthouse was automated, he became the first attendant-keeper and held that post until 1994 when he passed away. That same year, Leslie Johnson followed his father into the position of attendant-keeper.
Leslie is the last person on the Eshaness Roll of Honor. On June 30, 2004, the Northern Lighthouse Board ended the position of attendant-keeper at Eshaness, bringing to end another era in lighthouse management. Two electrical engineers replaced the local attendant at five major lights in Shetland, including Eshaness. The engineers are also technicians for many other lighthouses throughout Northern Scotland.
This was a sad event for all who love the Eshaness Lighthouse. We all knew that something like this would happen eventually, as the technology became more sophisticated and the number of ships in the seas around Shetland meant less revenue. Whether the new system will work is yet to be seen as there have been many instances when technology failed and it was imperative that someone close at hand needed to intervene.
I personally mourn the end of the roll of honor. More than anything, I weep at the termination of someone from the local area, being guardian of our tower. It is a sad event for all who love Eshaness Lighthouse. I believe local community involvement in a lighthouse is the only way to protect it. We have formed Friends of Eshaness, a group of local people, which we hope the Northern Lighthouse Board would allow to make the tower available to the people of Shetland through tours and presentations.
For the lighthouse tower made of cold, hard stone, changes on the Roll of Honor make little difference. To the people on the list who devoted so much time and effort to the Eshaness Lighthouse tower and those of us who love this place, it is shattering.
I want to close by dedicating this story to Leslie Johnson, the last person on the Roll of Honor. For me, never having had the opportunity to know any of the others, Leslie is special. I have watched him tend the tower, known him personally and feel so fortunate to be able to call him friend.
ROLL OF HONOR
Jan. 20, 1929 - Jan. 18,1937 - David Mowat retired from Eshaness
Jan. 7, 1937 - May 7,1937 - Alex McRae died while the keeper
June 4, 1937 - Feb. 29,1938 - Laurence Twiatt retired from Eshaness
Feb. 21, 1938 - June 27,1945 - John Matheison retired from Eshaness
June 26, 1945 - May 31,1956 - Edmund Black retired from Eshaness
June 1, 1956 - Sept. 25,1967 - George Cusiter retired from Eshaness
Sept. 25, 1967 - Aug. 31,1970 - H. Manson retired from Eshaness
Sept. 1, 1970 - Dec. 31,1974 - W.S. Gifford retired when the station was demanned
This story appeared in the
Aug/Sep 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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