The release of the British Ministry of Defence’s UFO files has unearthed a very early investigation into mysterious lights – from 1865!
‘The False Lights’ were mysterious revolving lights seen above a rocky headland at Whitburn, county Durham, by mariners negotiating a hazardous stretch of the northeast coast.
During a ten year period from 1860 more than 150 ships were wrecked on the rocks near Whitburn after following a light or lights in the sky which they wrongly believed were from a lighthouse at the mouth of the Tyne.
Accusations were made against local fishermen who, some believed, were deliberately luring ships onto the rocks to steal their cargoes.
The Government stepped in after Durham MP Sir Hedworth Williamson tabled questions in the House of Commons. And in December 1865, a commission of inquiry led by Rear Admiral Sir Richard Collinson travelled to Sunderland to investigate.
The mystery had previously been mentioned by that legendary collector of weird tales, Charles Fort in his 1919 classic The Book of the Damned. However, Dr. David Clarke – who has been working with the National Archives during the release of the MoD’s UFO files – has now uncovered the actual government files from the inquiry, including the witness statements and evidence gathered.
While the origin of the ‘false lights’ remains a mystery, Clarke did stumble across one fascinating fact to do with the case:
A direct result of the inquiry was the government decision to pay for the construction of a lighthouse at Souter Point, in response to demands from local people to provide a fixed beacon for shipping.
The lighthouse was opened in January 1871 and was the first in Britain powered by electrical alternators (today the building and grounds are in the care of The National Trust and contain a small museum).
As far as I am aware the Souter Point light (above right) is the only lighthouse in the world originally constructed to warn seafarers of a hazard caused by ‘unexplained aerial phenomena.’
See the full blog entry at David Clarke’s website, or get a hold of a copy of Fortean Times #266 which contains a full account of his investigation, as well as extracts from the UFO files.