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Restoration of Old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, Selangor:
Prospects for Heritage Tourism
(Paper presented at The 3rd Tourism Outlook Conference & Global Event Congress II, 16-18 July 2007, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
Associate Professor Dr. A Ghafar Ahmad
School of Housing, Building and Planning
Universiti Sains Malaysia
11800 Penang, Malaysia
Email : email@example.com http://www.hbp.usm.my/conservation
For fishing enthusiasts and recreational sailors along Port Klang, Selangor, Malaysia, there are two imposing structures that cannot be missed. One appears smaller and older, while the other looks much bigger and more modern. They are known as the “old” and “new” One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, built in 1907 and 1999, respectively. Standing about 500 meters apart from each other in the Straits of Malacca, these lighthouse structures act like a gateway to Malaysia’s busiest Port Klang. The new lighthouse equipped with modern navigational technology has started operation in 1999, while the old one has been deactivated since then. In recognition of the historical and architectural significance of lighthouses in the country’s development, the Government of Malaysia, through the Department of Marine Malaysia and other agencies such as the Department of Public Works Malaysia and the then Department of Museums and Antiquities Malaysia, has carried out a restoration project of the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse in 2003 at the cost of RM3.36 million. The lighthouse project has portrayed a fine example of restoration work which involved restoring and repairing dilapidated building structures and elements such as foundation piles, walls, doors, windows, staircases, flat roof, timber decking, copper dome and floor tiles. Although the restoration project has long been completed in 2005, the future of the old lighthouse has remained uncertain as its new function has yet to be determined. A successful lighthouse restoration project typically requires a team effort to address diversified matters, ranging from the lighthouse structure itself to the educational and cultural heritage associated with artifacts and real-life history of light keepers. This paper discusses the restoration of the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, Selangor in an effort to retain its historical and architectural significance. The paper also highlights the importance of preserving, protecting and promoting the lighthouse legacy in Malaysia for heritage tourism, as well as the need to create community consciousness that treasures this priceless heritage asset.
For fishing enthusiasts and those sailing along the sea near Port Klang, Selangor, Malaysia, there are two imposing structures that cannot be missed. One seems smaller and older, while the other looks bigger and more modern. These structures are known as the “old” and “new” One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, built in 1907 and 1999, respectively. Standing about 500 meters apart from each other in the middle of the Straits of Malacca, these lighthouse structures act like a gateway to Malaysia’s busiest seaport, Port Klang. The new lighthouse has been in operation since 1999, while the old one was left abandoned for a period of time. In lieu of the historical and architectural significance of lighthouses in the nation’s development, the Government of Malaysia, through the Department of Marine Malaysia and related authorities such as the Department of Public Works Malaysia and the then Department of Museums and Antiquities Malaysia, has conducted a restoration project of the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse in 2003. The project involved restoring and repairing dilapidated building structures and elements such as foundation piles, walls, doors, windows, staircases, flat roof, timber decking, copper dome and floor tiles. Although restoration work was completed in 2005, the future of the old lighthouse has remained vague and its new function undecided. A successful lighthouse restoration project often necessitates a team effort to tackle diversified matters, ranging from the lighthouse structure itself to the educational and cultural heritage associated with artifacts and real-life history of light keepers. This paper highlights the restoration of the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, Selangor in an effort to safeguard its historical and architectural significance. The paper also emphasizes the need to preserve, protect and promote the legacy of lighthouses in the country in the interest of heritage tourism, as well as to increase community awareness in treasuring invaluable heritage assets.
Figure 1: Location of the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse in the Straits of Malacca
Figure 2: One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, old (left) and new (right)
2.0 What is a Lighthouse?
A lighthouse has various definitions, but it usually refers to a structure or tower built in strategic locations to elevate lights that serve as a guide for mariners or ships at sea. It is located either on top of a hill or cliff, small island, coastal shore or in the sea. Lighthouses have been used to mark dangerous territories and coastlines, hazardous shoals away from the coast as well as to allow safe entries into harbours. They usually have keepers who provide rescue services if necessary.
The history of lighthouses began in ancient times. For example, the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt was a tower built in the 3rd century BC to serve as the port’s lighthouse . It was among the tallest man-made structures during that time and was once claimed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The medieval Iranians had built large minaret towers that served as lighthouses at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. While the medieval mosque in Canton, China also had a minaret that functioned as a lighthouse. The Chinese Song Dynasty in the 12th century had built a pagoda tower near Qiantang River in Hangzhou to serve as a lighthouse for sailors.
Lighthouses have undergone immense technological changes from traditional to modern lighthouses. In the old days, lighthouses normally used kerosene or carbide lamps and lenses that were rotated by clockwork assembly wound by the lighthouse keepers. However, improvements in maritime navigation and safety including Global Positioning System (GPS) have phased out the non-automated lighthouses. Today’s modern lighthouses are better equipped with electric or solar-powered pilot lights that can be observed from a distance of about 23 nautical miles. Most lighthouses are brightly painted with distinct colours of horizontal bands so that they can be easily recognised during daylight. Their pilot lights are also brighter during shorter time intervals. Other lighthouses have been equipped with sophisticated communication facilities for surveillance and security purposes.
3.0 Adaptive Re-use of Lighthouse
A lighthouse has been perceived as a unique structure in the context of its geographical location, architectural style and historical setting. Due to advancements in navigational aids, the number of operational lighthouses worldwide has declined to less than 1,500 units . Many countries have duly recognised lighthouses as part of their national heritage including the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA) which has the world’s largest number of lighthouses as well as the most architecturally diverse . In the USA, lighthouses are maintained by the United States Coast Guard; while in the United Kingdom, they are looked after by Trinity House for those in England and Wales; and by the Northern Lighthouse Board for Scotland. In Australia, lighthouses are managed by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, whilst in Malaysia, the Department of Marine is the body responsible for the management and restoration of all lighthouses in Peninsular Malaysia.
In some countries, lighthouses symbolise the pride of a nation, particularly in the evolution of modern navigational system and the advent of marine technology. Some lighthouses have been listed as national heritage which have further encouraged their preservation and maintenance. Such effort has resulted in several lighthouses being converted into new functions, serving both the local community and the heritage tourism industry by allowing visitors to step in and experience the life of a lighthouse. A good example is the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Bristol, Maine, USA which had been restored and converted into a Fisherman’s Museum in 2003. Visitors may look at the displays and learn how science has created and improved the light for navigation aids as well as explore the underlying humanitarian mission of a lighthouse .
Another fine example is the St. Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay, United Kingdom, built in 1898. Situated on a hazardous coastline, the lighthouse has been in operation until 1984 before it was superseded by modern navigational techniques . It has since been restored and converted into a visitor centre furnished with a library, museum and shop. It is operated under the local North Tyneside Council. Visitors may climb up the 137-steps to the top of the lighthouse to watch a spectacular view of the North East coast. Visitors who reach the top of the lighthouse would be given a certificate of achievement signed by the lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse has become a popular destination among the tourists because at every low tide they could walk across the causeway connecting the beach to the lighthouse.
Figure 3: St. Mary’s Lighthouse, Whitley Bay, UK at low tide. The lighthouse has been converted into a visitor centre with a library, museum and shop
4.0 Trading Routes in the Straits of Malacca
The Straits of Malacca stretches more than 800 kilometres between Peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatera. The Straits is funnel-shaped at 65km wide in the south and 249km in the north . It is considered as the world’s second longest straits. It opens westward to the Indian Ocean and at its south-eastern end joins the Singapore Straits, leading towards South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean in the east. Due to its strategic location, the Straits of Malacca has been one of the world’s main waterways. The Straits carries about 50,000 vessels per year, comprising between one-fifth and one quarter of the world’s sea trade .
From the 7th to the 11th centuries, the Straits of Malacca had established itself as an important shipping and trading routes under the Srivijaya Empire, which had ruled over the northern Malay Peninsula. Srivijaya had attained substantial maritime power in the region due to its capacity to control local native pirates . Later, in the 15th century, the Malay Sultanate of Malacca had governed the port city of Melaka in the southern part of the Straits. Sea piracy had continued to be the main threat to trading ships passing along the Straits of Malacca.
Western maritime powers also had vested interests in the Straits of Malacca. The Portuguese took power over the Straits following their invasion of Melaka in 1511. During their reign until 1641, the Portuguese had imposed a tax system on all trading ships passing through the Straits of Malacca, a practice which has markedly influenced the maritime history of the Straits . Besides the Portuguese, the Straits of Malacca also succumbed under the rules of the Dutch in 1641-1795 and the British in 1795-1957. Due to incessant sea piracy activities in the Straits, the Dutch and the British, the two dominant colonial powers in the Southeast Asia region, had teamed up to combat sea piracy in the Straits in the 1830s. A total of 34 shipwrecks were found along the Straits of Malacca, some of which were dated in the 1880s.
5.0 Lighthouses in Peninsular Malaysia
Over the decades, many lighthouses have been built along the Straits of Malacca, primarily due to its strategic location for trading routes and maritime activities. The development of lighthouse in Peninsular Malaysia began in 1826 during the British occupation. Between 1863 and 1907, as many as eight lighthouses were erected under British rule. After Malaysia gained her independence in 1957, an additional seven lighthouses were built, including two in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
By 1948, all lighthouses in Peninsular Malaysia had been placed under the auspices of the Department of Marine, with its first headquarters being based in Georgetown, Penang. After 1957, the headquarters were moved to Port Klang, Selangor and have remained in operation to this day. Most lighthouses in Peninsular Malaysia are found either at the seashore, on hilltops, on the islands or along the coast of the Straits of Malacca. The present lighthouses are equipped with modern, sophisticated lanterns or pilot lights using electronic ignition or solar energy that can be detected within a distance of 25 nautical miles. Today, a total of 15 lighthouses are in existence in Peninsular Malaysia located along the country’s west coastline. These lighthouses are known as “The Straits Settlement Lighthouses” . They are as follows, with the name of the state where they are located and the date of construction:-
1. Tanjung Tuan Lighthouse, Malacca (1863)
2. Pulau Undan Lighthouse, Malacca (1880)
3. Fort Cornwallis Lighthouse, Penang (1882)
4. Muka Head Lighthouse, Penang (1883)
5. Pulau Rimau Lighthouse, Penang (1885)
6. Pulau Angsa Lighthouse, Selangor (1887)
7. Kuala Selangor Lighthouse, Selangor (1907)
8. Old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, Selangor (1907)
9. Bukit Jugra Lighthouse, Selangor (1976)
10. Bukit Segenting Lighthouse, Johore (1976)
11. Tanjung Gelang Lighthouse, Pahang (1977)
12. Bukit Puteri Lighthouse, Terengganu (1986)
13. Tanjung Piai Lighthouse, Johore (1986)
14. Mudah Selatan Lighthouse, Johore (1999)
15. New One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, Selangor (1999)
6.0 One Fathom Bank Lighthouse
The history of the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse began in the mid 19th century when General Thomson, a hydrograph surveyor, reported the existence of a sandbank located at the coordinates 03º 10’N and 101º 00’E, between North Sands and South Sands in the Straits of Malacca. The sandbank had apparently emerged during low tide, with water depths of less than two and a half fathoms. The solidity of the sandbank in the middle of the Straits of Malacca had encouraged the British to build a lighthouse at the site for navigational purposes in 1852. In 1874, the structure was replaced with a new lighthouse constructed on screw piles . However, in 1907, a new lighthouse with concrete piles was built to replace the screw pile structures. The construction of the 1907 One Fathom Bank Lighthouse cost about £246,963.31.
Figure 4: An old image of the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse during repair and maintenance work
(Photo courtesy of Michel Forand, Canada)
The old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse was designed in three different sections, as follows:-
1. A lower section consisting of concrete piles, a jetty structure, stairs and a concrete platform.
2. A middle section consisting of an octagonal two-storey keeper’s house with administration and accommodation facilities.
3. An upper section, which is mounted atop the two-storey keeper’s house, consisting of an octagonal concrete and a cast iron control tower with metal stairs, a copper dome, a pilot light and lanterns.
Architecturally, the old lighthouse is unique because the keeper’s house was designed in an octagonal shape complete with wooden frame windows and doors, kitchen, dining room, bedroom, bathroom, generator room, and storage area. There are timber staircases connecting the two floors of the keeper’s house, while metal stairs are used in the control tower. The keeper’s house has a flat roof that acts as a viewing deck as well as to support the control tower above it. A small dome made of copper is located at the top of the tower. Several pilot lights made in England are fixed at the control tower at 27 meters above sea level.
Recent statistics have shown that trading volumes along the Straits of Malacca have increased by twofold as thousands of oil and cargo vessels traverse it each year. More shipping accidents have been reported, attributed to heavy traffic in the Straits with shallow, narrow channels and shoals. Other key problems facing the Straits are sea pirates and an influx of immigrants from neighbouring countries. Thus, safety and security of the Straits are high on the agenda. To provide greater security, the Government has built a new lighthouse, located parallel to the old lighthouse at the coordinates of 02º 53.3’N and 100º 59.8’E or 500 meters north of the old lighthouse.
Figure 5: The old One Fathom Lighthouse was designed in three sections.
Concrete piles at lower section (A), keeper’s house at middle section (B) and control tower at upper section (C)
The new lighthouse, also known as the new One Fathom Bank Lighthouse was completed in 1999 at a cost of RM18 million. The new structure has been equipped with the latest pilot lighting system, modern control facilities as well as sophisticated communication facilities. It was designed with a jetty and a 43-meter cylindrical tower with lantern and triple gallery, rising from the centre of a dome-shaped equipment shelter, mounted on a circular platform supported by pilings . The lighthouse tower, painted in red and white horizontal bands, was fabricated from metal; and a roof made from high quality polycarbonate and polished metal. Its pilot light can be observed from a distance of 23 nautical miles.
While the new lighthouse was launched, the old lighthouse was left unused. The Department of Marine then initiated an effort to restore the nearly 100-year old lighthouse due to its significant historical and architectural value. In December 2003, restoration work began under the supervision of the Department of Marine and other public agencies such as the Department of Public Works and the then Department of Museums and Antiquities. The restoration work was carried out within 16 months and was completed in April 2005 at a cost of RM3.36 million. The restoration was based on guidelines and specifications established by the project consultants in line with the conservation principles. A conservation consultant was assigned by the appointed building contractor to assist in all restoration work, including conducting dilapidation surveys as well as recording, documenting, and conducting scientific analyses on building materials.
7.0 Building Defect Diagnoses
The old lighthouse was left deserted for about four years after the new lighthouse came into operation in 1999. As a result, the old lighthouse has experienced severe building defects and damage from constant wind, erosion, humidity and saltwater attacks, both at water level and airborne. Before the commencement of any restoration work, dilapidation surveys were first carried out to identify particular building defects and their causes . The dilapidation surveys have revealed several building defects affecting the condition of the old lighthouse, which are as follows:-
1. Major cracks on the concrete piles, jetty structure, beams, stairs and platform.
2. Dampness, fungus stain, porosity, erosion and cracks on most walls.
3. Rotten, broken or missing timber elements on the stairs, floor deck, windows and doors.
4. Peeling-off paint on wall surfaces.
5. Rust on the cast iron stairs of the control tower.
6. Eroded copper dome of the control tower.
7. Broken floor tiles in the keeper’s house.
8. Minor cracks and leakage in the flat roof.
Figure 6: Examples of building defects found at the lighthouse before restoration
Results from the dilapidation surveys have showed four common problems (i.e. crack, rot, rust and erosion) occurring at the old lighthouse that required remedial measures in the restoration work. For example, most of the concrete piles at the lower section of the lighthouse had had serious cracks. At high tide, a major portion of these concrete piles would sink into the seawater, causing them to expand as seawater rushed into the existing cracks. This situation had caused the reinforced metal placed inside the concrete piles to rust and rot. The weakening concrete piles had affected the stability of the lighthouse structure.
Apart from the cracks, the old lighthouse has been subjected to serious timber damages, mainly found in the doors, windows, floor deck and stairs. Most of the windows and doors were broken or rotten, or had gone missing. In the control tower, for instance, the timber floor deck was found to be rotten, damaged or shrinking. In addition, most of the cast iron structures and the copper dome were either rusted or eroded, which may have been due to chemical reactions of the metal with water and salt. The eroded copper dome had also oxidized, with layers of patina covering its surface.
8.0 Restoration Work
After identifying the state of the building defects, all restoration work had to be carried out carefully and systematically, based on the principles and guidelines of building restoration established by the then Department of Museums and Antiquities Malaysia. The restoration work was based on the following principles:-
1. Record and document the conditions of the old lighthouse before, during and after restoration, using a systematic methodology known as the Historical Architectural Building Survey (HABS).
2. Minimize intervention to the original building structures and fabric, whereby only the affected or damaged areas would be restored or repaired.
3. Conduct scientific studies and laboratory tests on the existing wall plaster, timber and paint.
4. Apply only proven methods and techniques of restoration.
5. Ensure the stability of the building structures throughout the restoration period.
Figure 7: The lighthouse during restoration
The restoration work was focussed mainly on the lower and middle sections of the old lighthouse as these sections were the most seriously affected. Restoration was carried out in a bottom-up sequence, beginning from the lower section upwards. All cracked concrete piles and jetty structures were duly restored and strengthened. Temporary platforms were placed between the concrete piles and beams in the lower section of the lighthouse. The task of stabilizing the cracked concrete piles in the lower section was carried out under close supervision of the consultant structural engineers. Since the old lighthouse is situated at sea, all temporary platforms had to be adjusted periodically, particularly during high tide when almost three quarters of the concrete piles were submerged in seawater.
Meanwhile, the restoration of the keeper’s house in the middle section of the lighthouse involved the replacement of dilapidated building structures and elements such as dampness on walls, damaged floor tiles, broken staircases, broken plaster, peeling-off paint as well as missing and rotten windows and doors. Several scientific analyses and laboratory tests were conducted on site to determine the composition of the existing paint, wall plaster and timber. Identifying the original composition of the existing wall plaster through X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyses, for instance, helped to determine the original elements of the plaster. Such analyses assisted the building contractor in preparing the new plaster mix based on the original composition and mixing proportions. All timber species on windows and doors were also identified prior to repair works. Such identification is important to ensure that any replacement timber was based on the same species as well as group strength. In addition, paint analyses were conducted on the existing internal and external walls. Each layer of paint was carefully removed to reveal its original colours. Based on the paint analyses conducted on site, the keeper’s house was repainted using the original colours, which were white for the external walls and light blue for the internal walls.
Figure 8: The interior views of the keeper’s house before (left) and after (right) restoration. The house was painted based on its original colours.
Figure 9: Timber door and stairs after being restored and repainted.
All the restoration work were recorded systematically, based on criteria set in the Historical Architectural Building Survey (HABS). The HABS requires the condition of the building to be recorded in three stages: before, during and after restoration. Stage I of HABS recorded the condition of the lighthouse before restoration began. All walls, beams, windows, doors and concrete piles above the keeper’s house were fixed with yellow nylon strings to form small grids of 1 square meter. Each grid was labelled systematically, photographed and stored in a computerised database. A standardised form was used to collect all information concerning the lighthouse including building defects, conservation techniques employed and grid locations, and scaled-photographed for future reference. Stage II of HABS involved the analysis of building materials through laboratory tests and the identification of appropriate conservation methods and techniques to be adopted. This stage usually requires extensive inputs from various experts including a structural engineer, a building conservator, a quantity surveyor and a marine engineer. The condition of the lighthouse during restoration was also photographed and recorded for documentation. Finally, Stage III of HABS recorded the conditions of the lighthouse after it was completely restored. For purposes of documentation, each stage of HABS would necessarily require a written report. In this project, three volumes of final documentation were generated to record in details the progress of restoration of the lighthouse for future references.
9.0 Concluding Remarks
The restoration of the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse has posed a great challenge to all parties involved. Its position in the notorious current of the Straits of Malacca has made the restoration tasks more arduous. The restoration work and site meetings were often hampered by turbulent weather conditions, such as heavy monsoon rain and tempestuous seas, which had affected the overall progress of the restoration. Despite all these obstacles, the restoration was completed as scheduled.
Figure 10: The old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse before (left) and after (right) restoration.
As the lighthouse is located at sea, a temporary pontoon had to be anchored nearby to house the site cabin and to store building materials and other construction equipment, including the generator set for power supply. A small boat was used to transfer building materials from the pontoon to the lighthouse. Progress of the HABS documentation was also affected in the lighthouse restoration project. The location of the lighthouse in the middle of the sea has caused some difficulties in capturing clear images of the building façade on camera. A boat was used to encircle the lighthouse to capture appropriate photographs for HABS. In addition, the narrow two-foot apron that surrounds the keeper’s house provided little space for the workers to fix the 1 meter grid onto the exterior walls.
Although the restoration work has been completed, the old lighthouse has remained closed as its new function has not been determined. Despite these shortcomings, the lighthouse project has portrayed a fine example of restoration work carried out by the Department of Marine. All restoration stages have been well documented for future reference, mainly for periodic maintenance programme. On 31 January 2004, the Malaysian Post Office took the initiative to issue a set of postage stamps commemorating five historical lighthouses in Malaysia. One of the lighthouses being honoured was the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse. This effort is indeed commendable to create public awareness on the importance of preserving heritage buildings and structures in the country.
Figure 11: On 31 January 2004, the Malaysian Post Office has released this postage stamp, featuring the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, as part of a set issued to commemorate five historical lighthouses in Malaysia
A lighthouse, as many other historic buildings and structures, has profound heritage value that may be promoted for the development of heritage tourism in the country. Experiences from abroad have shown that historic lighthouses have great potentials that appeal to a particular tourist segment. In view of that prospective niche market, all lighthouses in Malaysia should be made more accessible to the public and visitor-friendly through guided walking tours, heritage trails, demonstration of navigational procedures, and artifact displays and exhibits. In the case of the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse, the Department of Marine may consider converting the function of the structure into a museum or gallery which allows visitors to experience the humanitarian mission of a lighthouse similar to that of the Pemaquid Point and St. Mary’s lighthouses discussed earlier. Alternatively, the old One Fathom Bank Lighthouse may well be rented out to those fishing enthusiasts to enjoy the challenge of fishing in the Straits of Malacca while staying overnight at the keeper’s house.
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