Cape Sorell Lighthouse
Erected in the year 1898-1899 by J & R Duff Contractors from Hobart.
Cape Sorell was named after the Lieutenant-Governor of Tasmania, 1817-1824, Colonel William Sorell. He was responsible for settling the area around Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania where a penal settlement was established on Sarah Island in 1822. Communication with the remote area was extremely difficult and the convicts were removed to Port Arthur in 1833. Very little happened until a mining boom occurred in the late 1800s with the discovery of copper at Queenstown and silver, lead and tin near Zeehan. By 1899 Macquarie Harbour had become an important bustling port served by two private railway lines from Queenstown, one to Kelly Basin and the other to Strahan. There was also a third private line, the Emu Bay Railway, from nearby Zeehan to Burnie on the north coast of Tasmania, and this had a rail link from Zeehan to Strahan which was built by the Government.
The narrow, 120 metre wide, entrance to Macquarie Harbour from the west coast, given the name of Hells Gates by the convicts (Sarah Island being their hell), is extremely difficult to navigate and is obstructed by reefs and shoals and subject to fast running tides. In 1892 lights were established on Entrance and Bonnet islands at Hells Gates but these were of little use to shipping at sea off the west coast. The installation of a coastal light together with improvements to the harbour such as a breakwater at Hells Gates was seen as a priority. The result was the establishment of a light at Cape Sorell, just outside Macquarie Harbour, in 1899.
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The lighthouse, which is regarded as the most beautiful in Tasmania, was designed by Hobart architects Huckson and Hutchison and built with brick by Duff Brothers. The tower has to withstand the full force of the Roaring Forties but is slim and elegant. It is the second tallest in Tasmania, 30.5 metres high and another 6.6 metres high to the top of the vane. Originally, the lens was a second-order Chance Brothers with a kerosene burner producing an alternate white and red flash every 22.5 seconds. Each flash lasted 2.2 seconds and each eclipse 20.3 seconds. The white light with an intensity of 208 000 candlepower was visible for 20 miles and the red, with 83,000 candlepower, for 12 miles. In 1962 the light was changed to electric power and increased to 225 000 candlepower. The decline started when the light was automated. By 1970, the original second order Chance Brothers lens was replaced by a much smaller Wallace &Tiernan rotating beacon and the light was downgraded to only 14 600cd. In 1984 The Department of Transport installed a wind generator as a power source but four years later, it was replaced by solar panels. The light source was also changed and the light dimmed to a mere 13 300 cd. Today, the lantern is the ever popular Vega VRB 25 and the light shines with increased intensity of 35 059 cd.
Originally there were three keepers but their number was reduced to two in 1962 and withdrawn altogether in 1971.There were three brick houses of superior quality with six to seven rooms, which perhaps is the reason why the keepers stayed there longer than at any other station. It is regrettable that the houses were demolished in 1971.
Access to the station was and still is difficult and is only by sea. Between 1900 and 1946 there was a horse drawn wooden-rail tramway from Pilot Bay, just behind the breakwater, to the lighthouse.
The use of Macquarie Harbour for shipping ore from the west coast did not survive for very long. The narrow entrance through Hells Gates did not allow the passage of large ships and the railway access from Queenstown through rainforest and across wild rivers was expensive to maintain. By 1963 the last railway line from Queenstown was closed and ore was transported via the Emu Bay Railway to the deep-water port of Burnie on the north coast where it could be shipped overseas in modern ore carriers. Strahan returned to being a sleepy fishing port, before the tourist boom arrived, and the port at Kelly Basin and its township of Pillinger was abandoned. The Emu Bay railway is still in use but is no longer linked to Strahan. As a result of the decline of shipping from Macquarie Harbour the lighthouse at Cape Sorell lost its former importance and was downgraded to a Category 3 light.
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|Location||Lat: 42° 11.872 S Long: 145° 10.161 E|
|Current Optic||Vega VRB-25 in lantern room|
|Construction||White masonry tower and Chance Bros lantern|
|Range||Nominal: 17nm Geographical: 19 nm|
|Character||FL. W. (2) in 15 secs|
|Light Source||12V 35W C8 Halogen LP PR30s|
|Power Source||Solar Conversion: 25/8/88|
|Notes||As at January 2016|
NB: Information is historical data and is not for navigational purposes.
The lighthouse grounds are open all year round. The tower is not open to the public. Site is difficult to visit. It is accessible by a walk of 8 km round trip from the south side of the harbor entrance, which can be reached by charter boat from Strahan.
No tours are available.
No lighthouse accommodation is available
Text by Alan Johnson
Resources: Guiding Lights by Kathleen Stanley and AMSA Archives