© Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library
In 1831 Michael Faraday discovered that electricity could be generated continuously by rotating a conductor in a magnetic field. Frederick Holmes pioneered the use of a generator to power an arc light for lighthouse illumination. This attracted the interest of Trinity House (responsible for lighthouses in England, Ireland and Wales) and it was tested successfully in 1857, under Faraday's direction.
Trinity House displayed this generator at the 1867 Paris Universal Exhibition where Holmes himself was on hand to explain it to visitors. Despite the hope expressed by the British catalogue that it would be 'a lasting monument of the discoveries of Faraday and Holmes', it was becoming apparent that Holmes was no longer ahead in the development of generators. More efficient types were now being developed in France and Germany by, for example, Z. T. Gramme and Werner Siemens. However, after the exhibition, the Holmes machine was put into service in January 1871 in the new lighthouse at Souter Point near South Shields, where it created one of the most powerful lights in the world, visible 20 miles out at sea. The equipment served reliably until 1900.