South Solitary Island Lighthouse

This lighthouse was considered the most isolated on the New South Wales coast. It was the first and the last New South Wales lighthouse to use kerosene.

History

As early as 1856 it had been suggested that a lighthouse be established on either North of South Solitary Islands, near Coffs Harbour. When asked, ships masters favoured South Solitary over North Solitary for the location of a light by 3 to 1.

South Solitary Lighthouse was designed by James Barnet and first exhibited in 1880. The tower was built of mass concrete using cement and sand conveyed to the island and broken stone from the conglomerate rock of the island. Three large stone cottages were erected for the keepers. Owing to the exposed positions they are surrounded by high stone walls. A wall also runs from the cottages to the lighthouse.

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© All images are copyright of their respective photographers and are not to be used without permission.

North Solitary Island

North Solitary Island
North Solitary Island
New South Wales, Australia
North Solitary Island
Direction

South Solitary Island

South Solitary Island
South Solitary Island
100 Sandy Beach Dr, Sandy Beach NSW 2456, Australia
South Solitary Island
Direction

Smoky Cape

Smoky Cape
Lighthouse Rd, Arakoon NSW 2431, Australia
Direction

continued from above …

Conditions for the builders of the new light were most unfavourable as stated in From Dusk Till Dawn:

“The weather was often so bad that several times steamers attempting to land materials and supplies had to slip their cables and run for shelter. A small crane erected on the landing was twice washed away during construction; since then three others have been washed away. Once during construction a hurricane drove the sea over the centre of the island (twenty-seven metres elevation but not the highest point of the island).”

It goes on to say:

“A tiny eleven hectares in area, the island supports only harsh, scrubby grass. The first government supervisor arrived at night and when he saw it next morning he was so startled that he remained only a fortnight.”

One construction worker was drowned when fishing off rocks. He could be seen for a long time as the tide carried him out but there was no way to reach and save him.

The South Solitary Lighthouse appears to be the first in New South Wales to use kerosene instead of colza oil. The mechanism was so satisfactory that it was not converted to automatic electric until 1975. Therefore the South Solitary Lighthouse was also the last kerosene operated light in New South Wales. It was then demanned.

Mechanics now fly to the island by helicopter every 3 months to carry out routine maintenance. The lightstation was considered to be the most isolated Station on the New South Wales Coast as borne out by Lippingwell’s report in 1938:

“The isolation of this Station is well borne out by the visitors’ book, which from the date of the opening to the present time has entries on twenty pages only.”

It seems that in the early days of the light stores and domestic supplies arrived by steamer from Sydney every fortnight (weather permitting. Later South Solitary was supplied regularly (weather permitting), usually weekly or fortnightly, by launch from Coffs Harbour. Because of the precipitous slopes of the island, supplies and humans had to be taken off the launch in a basket lowered by a crane from the landing stage. The drums of kerosene had to be unloaded and then hauled up the steep concrete path as with the other stores. Until the 1950’s there was no electricity, the light and the living quarters being lit by kerosene, and coal was used for household cooking and heating. Pedal radio established in 1937 so the the keepers could communicate with Norah Head. This was later replaced by a Bendix radio which relieved the need for pedalling. Previously the only communication with the mainland was by signalling lamp or heliograph.

Beryl Royal, daughter of former headkeeper Jim Duncan tells a story she heard:

“An early keeper at Solitary, Mr. Harry Fisher – he was courting the daughter of the Harbour Pilot at Coffs Harbor and they communicated by morse lamp. They eventually married and many years later presented his morse lamp to the museum at Coffs which also houses the lens removed when the lighthouse was superseded.”

There is a little school house, a room, near the headkeeper’s residence on the island. In the early days a governess was engaged by many of the keepers. Children of school age later received their education through correspondence.

The light has never been extinguished except for a few nights during the Second World War in May 1942, when several vessels were torpedoed with loss of life near the island by enemy submarines. Verdi Schwinghammer, a local historian who wrote for the Grafton Examiner states:

“During the Second World War, an enemy submarine could have blown up the lighthouse and residences with one shell, but it was too valuable to them, to get their bearings and lay wait for vessels.”

Keepers

We need your help in compiling a list of keepers for this lighthouse. If you have any information then send it to keeper@lighthouses.org.au.

Please include this lighthouse’s name, the keepers full name and what years they were keepers. Also include the same information for any other lights they were on.

Technical Details

First Exhibited1880
Permanent Tower
Current Tower
StatusActive
LocationLat. 30° 12.5' S. Long. 153° 16.1' E.
Original Optic
Current Optic
Automated1975
Demanned1975
Construction
Height20 m
Elevation58 m
Range20 NM
CharacterFl. W. 5s
Intensity38,000 cd
Light Source12 Volt 3 Amp Lamp
Power SourceSolar
OperatorAMSA
CustodianNational Parks & Wildlife service NSW
Notes

  NB: Information is historical data and is not for navigational purposes.

Access

Access is only by helicopter with permission from National Parks.

Tours

Tours of the lighthouse are conducted by Precision Helicopters on one or two weekends a year. The Friends of South Solitary also conduct working bees on the island.

Accommodation

No

Museum

Friends of South Solitary Island are pushing for a lighthouse museum to be established at Coffs Harbour.

Friends Group

Friends Of South Solitary Island Lighthouse

Associated Lighthouses

North Solitary Island

Sources

  • Beryl Royal for Photographs
  • Ian Clifford for Photographs
  • Winsome Bonham for Photographs
  • AMSA
  • Brian Lord