St Mary's Isle
The reef is situated not far from the current ferry terminal. Its eastern part, the Conister Shoals, had to be blasted away when a new harbour breakwater was built in the early 1980. The rocks are only fully submerged during the Spring high tides, in the same period, they can be accessed very briefly on foot at the corresponding low tides.
Conister is a corruption of the Manx Kione y skeyr meaning the 'head of the reef'.
The Tower of Refuge
The structure was built upon the reef on the orders of Sir William Hillary (who helped to found the Royal National Lifeboat Institution) in 1832. After several shipwrecks upon the semi-submerged rock, he wanted a refuge for survivors until help could arrive. Sir William, who personally contributed a high proportion of the costs, secured a substantial number of public contributions for funding the building. The owner of the private islet was persuaded to give their permission for the refuge. After its construction, the building was stocked with provisions such as bread and fresh water for any shipwrecked persons. The tower originally housed a bell for summoning of help.
The tower derives its name from a poem by Wordsworth:
COMPOSED OR SUGGESTED DURING A TOUR IN THE SUMMER OF 1833
XV ON ENTERING DOUGLAS BAY, ISLE OF MAN
- "Dignum laude virum Musa vetat mori."
- THE feudal Keep, the bastions of Cohorn,
- Even when they rose to check or to repel
- Tides of aggressive war, oft served as well
- Greedy ambition, armed to treat with scorn
- Just limits; but yon Tower, whose smiles adorn
- This perilous bay, stands clear of all offence;
- Blest work it is of love and innocence,
- A Tower of refuge built for the else forlorn.
- Spare it, ye waves, and lift the mariner,
- Struggling for life, into its saving arms!
- Spare, too, the human helpers! Do they stir
- 'Mid your fierce shock like men afraid to die?
- No; their dread service nerves the heart it warms,
- And they are led by noble HILLARY.
14 'And they are led by noble Hillary.'
The TOWER OF REFUGE, an ornament to Douglas Bay, was erected chiefly through the humanity and zeal of Sir William Hillary; and he also was the founder of the lifeboat establishment at that place; by which, under his superintendence, and often by his exertions at the imminent hazard of his own life, many seamen and passengers have been saved.
Conister Trust, a local Manx financial services institution, has been named after Conister Rock since its founding in 1935.