The Four Light Houses of Madras (Chennai)

Light Houses (Old), Chennai

The history of the Madras Lighthouse dates back to 1795. In 1796, the roof of the Officers Mess in what is now known as Fort St George, was selected as the site for the first warning beacon. It was nothing more than a large lantern. To be more specific, the first Light House of Chennai functioned (1796 – 1841) at the Building in the Fort St George where the Fort Museum is located.

Light house 1838-44

The second light house was erected between the 1838 and 1844 on the north side of Fort St George.

Light House (Old), Chennai

This lighthouse operated until 1894. Though its lantern room was removed long ago to fit in the third light house also located in the Madras High Court Complex, the Tower stands tall even today.

The third light House was functioning from the tallest dome of the Madras High Court. It started functioning on June 1, 1894, with argand lamps and reflectors manufactured by Chance Bros, Birmingham which had originally been installed in the 160-ft-tall lighthouse tower.

Light House (Present), Chennai

The present light House which you see here in the top is located opposite the office of the Director General of Police and was opened in January 1977. It is one of the few lighthouses in the world and the only one in India with an elevator.

After 30 long years, the old Lighthouse on the Madras High Court campus (the third light house) will soon be thrown open for public according to a news report in

When the light house is opened for the public in 3 months, that will be another place of tourist interest as it used to be till the seventies.

(References : and newindpress of May 19, 2007)

6 Comments so far

  1. Navneeth (unregistered) on May 26th, 2007 @ 2:10 am

    I was just thinking about the lighthouses in the city a few days back. I knew there were two, functioning and non-functioning. I haven’t heard about the second one, though. This article reminded me of the first one, about which I had come across in a quiz.

  2. Potpourri (unregistered) on May 26th, 2007 @ 4:33 am

    This is why I continue to read Chennai Metblogs, not only do I get update on the developments that are happening now, I also learn about its history. How do you get these info? Do you go to libraries or talk to people?

  3. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on May 26th, 2007 @ 7:55 pm

    Any sailors amongst us can tell us…

    What are the characteristics of the light?

    Is it just a position indicating aid on a rather feature-less coast, or does it cover rocks, shoals or other hazards?

  4. GVB (unregistered) on May 27th, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

    THAD E.GINATHOM, the website answers your questions as below :

    1. Vessels must be able to identify lights from each other to determine ships position in order to navigate properly. These factors determine the exact lighthouse a sailor is looking at:

    Characters – Change or measurement between light and dark. Always measured in seconds.
    Colors – Red, white or green.
    On sea charts the characteristic of a light is shown by a symbol:
    Symbol: Description:
    F1 A fixed light – A continuous or uninterrupted beam of light.
    Iso Isophase light – With equal intervals of brightness and darkness.
    Q Quick continuous flashing – Light which flashes or blinks from about .07 to 2 seconds.
    LF1 Long-Flashing – With longer bright than dark intervals.

    Different configurations of flashing light and color define a light characteristic.

    2.Lighthouses were developed as a result of ships traveling on perilous waters, only to fall victim to rocks or unseen shoals.

    Request you to visit the above website for more details

  5. Siva (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 1:21 am

    As far as I know, Chennai Lighthouse’s characteristic is two beams of light in 10 seconds interval. More info here..

  6. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on May 30th, 2007 @ 8:49 am

    GVB, thanks for posting that, but I used to sail so I am familiar with the basics.

    BTW… a light that has shorter light/longer dark is described by seamen as ‘flashing’. A light with longer light/shorter dark is described as ‘occulting’. To put it another way, an occulting light goes off regularly, a flashing light goes on regularly!

    Siva, thanks for the link. So it looks like this light, on a chart would be described as “Fl2”. —and for more info I guess I will have to find a chart or pilot book of this coast.

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