The Cooper Lighthouse emerges from the history of the original Bluff Lighthouse that was built on the seaward end of the Bluff, and was the first lighthouse to grace the Natal coastline. It is also one of the only lighthouses named after a person; lighthouses are usually named for the geographical rock, point, cape or island on which they stand.
Cooper Light was the second lighthouse built on the Bluff. The first began building in 1864 taking three years to complete, due to the delay of materials (material had to be taken across the bay from the point by boat, landed on the beach and then manually hauled up a pathway; a laborious task). It was officially opened in 1867 and called Durban’s Lighthouse, long overdue as Durban had apparently waged a twelve year battle for such a structure. At the time it was the only lighthouse on the east coast of Africa.
The lighthouse served its purpose until 1933 when a newspaper report suggested that it had been condemned as unsafe, largely due to a recent earth tremor. The then lighthouse engineer, Harry Claude Cooper, allayed fears after the sensational report, siting the need for repairs due to age and rather poorly designed foundations that would need maintenance, as the reason for any restoration.
The lighthouse was rehabilitated to last for a number of years, until the Cape Garrison artillery began firing their six-inch guns, threatening damage to windows and the mercury contained in the revolving lenses of the the optic of the lighthouse. The Bluff lighthouse was demolished in 1941, replaced by two lighthouses – the Cooper Light on top of the Bluff at Brighton Beach, ready for commissioning in July 1953 (there was the minor problem of a war in-between), and the Umhlanga Rocks Lighthouse. Both are identical, except for the colour of the towers and the character of the lights. The Cooper Lighthouse is 21 metres tall and its flashes of light every 10 seconds can be seen 26 nautical miles out to sea.