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.

The keepers quarters with enclosed yards were also constructed of cement to Barnett’s plans to accommodate three keepers and their families with the head keepers cottage having an extra room to accommodate dignitaries and inspectors when visiting the island.

The assistant keepers quarters were constructed as a duplex to the North of the Head keepers quarters. Owing to the exposed positions they are surrounded by high walls. A wall also runs from the cottages to the lighthouse.

continued below …

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

Title Address Description
North Solitary Island
New South Wales, AustraliaNorth Solitary Island
South Solitary Island
100 Sandy Beach Dr, Sandy Beach NSW 2456, AustraliaSouth Solitary Island
Smoky Cape
Lighthouse Rd, Arakoon NSW 2431, Australia

  WEREontinued from above …

The Island had no beach or anchorage to land supplies or shelter complicating construction.

“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 severe storm 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 original light source was a Chance Bros six wick kerosene burner converted to a Chance Bros vaporised kerosene burner in 1906. A further change occurred in 1912 when an Australian designed Schmidt-Ford 55mm burner was installed. On the 1st of December 1923 the implementation and use of autoform mantles increased the light intensity from 205,000 to 356,000 cd (Candelas). The conversion to a mercury float in 1926 saw an increase in the lens rotation speed and change in light character. South Solitary remained with few changes kerosene-operated until 1975 and was the last kerosene operated lighthouse in New South Wales.

Mechanics now fly to the island by helicopter 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. A Pedal operated radio was installed in 1937 so the the keepers could communicate with the mainland. 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

The first keepers appointed were Messrs Leddra, Skelton and Burgess.  Please send any information about the keepers or the light to keeper@lighthouses.org.au.

Technical Details

First Exhibited15th March 1880
Permanent Tower1879
Current Tower1879
StatusActive
LocationLat. 30° 12.5' S. Long. 153° 16.1' E.
Original OpticChance Bros 920mm 8 sided catadioptic
Current OpticTideland Nova 250 LED Signal lantern
AutomatedDecember 1975
Demanned24th of December 1975
ConstructionMass Concrete
Height20 m
Elevation58 m
Range10 NM
CharacterFl. W. 5s
Intensity1,605 cd
Light SourceHigh intensity LED's
Power SourceSolar
OperatorAMSA
CustodianNational Parks & Wildlife service NSW
NotesA temporary light was exhibited from a Flagstaff on the 19th of August 1878 until the permanent light was first lit.
  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