East End Lighthouse Park

East End was known as the "Graveyard of the Caribbean"

The reefs at the eastern end of Grand Cayman have long been a hazard to shipping. In the past, East End was known as the "Graveyard of the Caribbean". In 1794, a great maritime tragedy took place known as "The Wreck of the Ten Sails." Still legendary on Grand Cayman, 10 merchant vessels went aground in rough seas off Grand Cayman's East End, led by the HMS Convert. At that time, there were very few inhabitants at that end of the island (just three families are named in a census taken 10 years later) but they, and residents of Bodden Town, rendered valiant assistance to the crews of the wrecked ships using canoes. Miraculously, only eight lives were lost.

Eastern Channel in Gun Bay was designated as a port of entry for East End towards the end of the nineteenth century. Much business was conducted there. William Conwell Watler was the man in charge. He gave clearance to vessels leaving and arriving in East End on fishing and turtling expeditions, and to ships bringing in freight and mail. In those days, the exports of the islands were mainly thatch rope, mahogany and turtle products which went chiefly to Jamaica.

The first lighthouse (one of two on Grand Cayman: the second being in George Town) was erected about half a mile away from the present site, at Gun Bluff in the early 1900's. This was required under the Justices and Vestry's East End Light Law, enacted in 1906. A 60 foot ship's mast stood on the Bluff and a Light Keeper, William James Watler, was employed to ensure that a kerosene lantern was hoisted to the top of the mast at 6.00 p.m. every evening, and lowered at 6.00 a.m. every morning. A fine "not exceeding forty shillings" was to be imposed on him if it was discovered that he had been lax in his duties! The light could be seen 10 miles out to sea.

By 1918, the need for a more substantial structure was recognised. A French engineer named Terrier was appointed to oversee the project. Land at Gorling Bluff was leased from the Conolly family and a new lighthouse was put up, along with a storage shed to hold drums of kerosene. The site was ideal, as it was the highest point in the district and commanded a fine view of the local reefs. The new lighthouse was constructed of a steel cylinder mast that supported a wheel-like wooden frame, which held a kerosene lamp with three wicks. Two Lighthouse Attendants were appointed to maintain the lighthouse - Austin B. Connolly and Police Officer Captain Elliott Conolly.

Times were changing though, and with the completion of the coast road along the south coast of Grand Cayman in 1935, East End's relative isolation from its neighbours was over and the area ceased to be a port of entry. It was now easier to access the village by land, rather than through the still perilous reefs. The lighthouse at Gorling Bluff served until 1937, when the British Government gave five modern "navigational lights" to be erected around the coasts of all three Cayman Islands. The lights were to be placed on Crown Property, however, so that same year a law was passed to acquire Gorling Bluff for the Crown. The replacement lighthouse was constructed by Mr. Morell from England, and it is this light which serves to the present day (although it is now solar powered). Part of the wooden frame of the previous lighthouse still remains, but the old kerosene lamp is now in the Cayman Islands National Museum.

The first lights to be used in the new lighthouse were automatic, sun-valve controlled, that could be left unattended for as long as six months. This meant that it was no longer necessary to employ Lightkeepers. But with the threat of World War II, the site was recognised as suitable for a lookout post. Burns Connolly and Marlon McLean became guardians of the lighthouse and official lookouts until the onset of hostilities, when the duties were taken over by PC Albert Connor. He remained in charge until the Home Guard was formed in June, 1942.

The task of the Home Guard was to maintain a 24 hour coastal watch for the island. At East End, a four-man team was on duty, commanded by a corporal. These men were rarely armed, although they were trained in the use of rifles and bayonets and were equipped with powerful binoculars. Their job was to report sightings of ships, aircraft and submarines in the area. A small barracks was built at the Bluff to house them, consisting of a bunkroom containing four bunks, a small kitchen and an outside latrine. A telephone line was laid to the site so that regular half-hourly reports could be made to the Central Reporting Office in George Town.

Today, the lighthouse is administered by the Cayman Islands' Port Authority who has given permission for the National Trust for the Cayman Islands to enhance the site for visitors. The Trust's East End District Committee and numerous volunteers constructed the 37 steps that lead up to the summit. Large quantities of infill and soil had to be taken to the top of the hill to create pathways and flower beds which display examples of the various medicinal plants used by early settlers. Irrigation is provided by a 1,000 gallon water tank which was installed at the top of the Bluff. Work on the Park is still underway, but visitors will find the spectacular view at the top well worth the climb.

Last Updated: 23 Nov 2011