Cape St Albans Lighthouse
The Cape St Albans light was one of a group of nine unattended automatic lights built in South Australia during the transition period where responsibility for coastal was transferred from states to the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service.
Kangaroo Island lies across the bottom of Gulf of St Vincent forming the southern edge of the two entrances into the Gulf: The Backstairs Passage on the north-eastern side and the Investigator Strait on the north-western side.
Both Straits are the shipping routes into Adelaide and other ports in the Gulf.
More than 50 shipwrecks have occurred around Kangaroo Island since first settlement in 1836, leading to the establishment of Lighthouses at nearby Cape Willoughby in 1852, Cape Borda in 1858, Cape St Albans in 1908 and Cape du Couedic in 1909.
In 1905, the South Australian Marine Board looked at two options to improve the lighting of the Backstairs Passage, which was to either build a manned light at Cape St Albans or upgrade the existing Cape Jervis light.
The first option at £17,638 was considered too expensive however, after being advised by Trinity House in England that advances in technology were leading to viable unwatched lights meant that a light could be built for £911, a fraction of the cost, as no cottages and other support mechanisms would be required for a manned station.
The Cape St Albans light was one of a group of nine unattended automatic lights built in South Australia during the transition period where responsibility for coastal was transferred from states to the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service. As part of this transfer the Commonwealth often provided funds for states to continue with new works until the transfer took place.
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When established, the Cape St Albans was one of the three earliest purpose built unattended lights, the others being Eastern Shoal in Spencer Gulf in 1902 and at Cape Donnington in 1905. Cape St Albans is the only original surviving structure.
Six more unattended lights were subsequently established by the Marine Board (at Wardang Island, Wedge Island, Middle Bank, Shoalwater Point, Winceby Island and Dangerous Reef) before the Commonwealth Government assumed responsibility for coastal lighting in 1915.
Also, all of these unattended lights were not built until all the major lights had been completed in South Australia.
The first three of these unattended lights ran on kerosene whereas the six later ones ran on acetylene gas as the fuel for their illuminant.
Cape St Albans was the only masonry tower and was painted white. It displayed a fixed white light with a red sector to warn of the Scraper Shoal.
In 1914 the light was converted to flashing with the upgrade to acetylene gas. This use of acetylene gas for automatic unwatched lights in Australia was pioneered by the South Australian Marine Board. The system was developed by Nobel prize winner, Gustav Dalén of Sweden, between 1900-1910 and was subsequently adopted by lighthouse authorities worldwide.
The tower was connected to mains electricity in 1976.
A significant difference to the other South Australian lights is the external cast iron staircase to reach the lantern room. A similar arrangement was in place at the old Cape Jervis Lighthouse.
Also, the tower was surrounded by a fence, the reason not known, but may have been being on private property to define the area around the lighthouse and to keep stock at bay. This also gave it a distinctive day mark.
Cape St Albans was transferred along with 23 other South Australian lights when the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service took responsibility for coastal lights in 1915.
After the recommendation in the Brewis Report another light, a small skeleton iron tower, was established at Cape Marsden, on Kangaroo Island’s northern tip north of Kingscote in 1915.
At first, a keeper from the nearby Cape Willoughby Lightstation was was sent down to check the Cape St Albans Light, then from 1912 onwards a local resident from Antechamber Bay visited to check the light once a day.
After the upgrade to acetylene gas in 1914, the light no longer needed to be regularly checked.
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The lighthouse is on private land. The tower is not open to the public.