Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2013

The Lightkeeper Magazine

What Happened to Them?

By Timothy Harrison


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Inside cover of The Lightkeeper.

In the early 1900s, The Lighthouse Literature Mission in Belfast, Ireland published a magazine called The Lightkeeper, which appears to have been primarily distributed to lighthouse keepers around the world.

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Two page layout of lighthouse keeper photographs ...

Although we wrote about The Lightkeeper many years ago, we thought that now, with the advancement in technology and the number of people who are researching lighthouse history, another story might draw some increased interest in locating back issues of the magazine that stopped publishing nearly 100 years ago,

In many ways The Lightkeeper magazine was very similar to Lighthouse Digest, except their publication was sent almost entirely to lighthouse keepers around the world, which must have been quite an undertaking in those days. Founded by Samuel H. Strain in Belfast, Ireland, the idea behind The Lighthouse Literature Mission was to send free literature to lighthouse keepers and lightship crews to help them pass their lonely hours. To complement their mission, they published a magazine called The Lightkeeper. We believe the first issue was published in 1909.

The only issue in our collection is the Winter Edition of December, 1911 and it is packed with letters and photographs that lighthouse keepers mailed to them to tell their experiences of life at the lighthouses that they lived at. The publication also provided other interesting stories that Strain thought would be of special interest to the lighthouse keepers.

Many of the photographs that the lighthouse keepers sent to The Lightkeeper, including those of themselves, many of which were published in the magazine, in many cases may be the only known photographs of those keepers and a record of their memories.

The Lightkeeper produced a number of lighthouse post cards, probably from the photos that the keepers sent them, and in turn, they sold these post cards to help finance their mission. They also sold some prints. However, it seems they depended primarily on donations. The 1911 issue in our possession appealed for donations or The Lightkeeper magazine would have to be discontinued. Apparently they faced similar problems that we at Lighthouse Digest face today. They needed donations to survive and we need subscriptions to survive.

One letter from the lighthouse keeper at Little Denier Island Lighthouse in Newfoundland in a later edition, (we have a photo copy of the page) read:

We received two parcels of books and your kind letter, with thanks. Glad to say we are well and enjoying good health, thank God. Goods are very expensive in this country, but we bear it with patience – glad to say the last war news I got was very bright. Now sir, I must say heartily, thank Almighty God for placing you in the position you are in to help us poor exiles with so much reading material for so many lonely hours. We are always glad to receive a parcel come from you. My Mrs. often says, “What would we do now, if Mr. Strain did not send the nice books? It would be very lonely on Sunday.” I am sending you one dollar again, hoping that you will accept it, for war time, trusting that, please God, we may live to see better times, and be able to do more.

Very Truly Yours,

Henry Squire.

Little could the keeper and his wife have realized in those days that the books and post cards that meant so much them then, would probably not even be read by hardly anyone in today’s modern world where people read less and every month books are being destroyed by the thousands.

From what we have been able to determine, many lighthouse keepers wrote to The Lightkeeper magazine with letters of thanks, such as this one, and they often included stories and photographs of their lives at the lighthouses, which can easily be compared to the letters and photos we receive on a regular basis from the subscribers to Lighthouse Digest.

But, apparently, the support was not enough or the interest was too little for them to continue publishing the magazine. The events of World War I might also have impacted their demise. Like anything else, if not enough people help, or in our case, subscribe, a magazine, no matter how good it is, or how much good it accomplishes, cannot be sustained.

As with all history, if there are copies of The Lightkeeper around in private collections or tucked away in the files of some museum, and not shared with others, the history of the lighthouse keepers and their families cannot be told to others and properly saved for future generations.

Hopefully some of our sleuth subscribers will be able to help us locate copies of The Lightkeeper that we could either purchase or borrow to scan the pages and photographs so they we can share the stories and photos with others in future editions of Lighthouse Digest.

You can e-mail us at Editor@LighthouseDigest.com or write to us at Lighthouse Digest, P.O. Box 250, East Machias, ME 04630.

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2013 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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