Cape Wickham Lighthouse

The impressive Cape Wickham Lighthouse, at 48 metres, is Australia’s tallest lighthouse, but is not the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere although you will read that claim.

History

Established in 1861, the Cape Wickham is Australia’s, and the Southern Hemisphere’s, tallest lighthouse. The tower is constructed of local stone, with walls 3.4 metres thick at the base. It has eleven flights of stairs each of 20 steps.

The light was automated in 1918 replacing the original single wick oil burner with an acetylene flasher. This changed the character of the light from being “fixed” to group flashing, showing two flashes in quick succession every 10 seconds, and increased the candlepower from 7,500 to 13,000 candles.

The light was demanned in 1921 after which the Superintendent’s house and the three cottages were demolished. The light is now tended by the lightkeeper from Currie.

The original first order catadioptric fixed lens installed in1861 was replaced in 1946 by a modern electric revolving lens and gave an intensity of 170,00 Candelas. The old fixed lens has since been used for the light at Quobba Point, north of Carnarvon, West Australia.

The Cape Wickham Lighthouse is located at the northern tip of King Island, in Bass Strait. It also marks the southern end of the “Eye of the Needle,” the dangerous narrow western entrance, 84 kilometres wide, that ships had to go through to get into Bass Strait and to Melbourne. The northern end of this entrance is Cape Otway, Victoria.

One of these two capes was usually the first landfall for ships coming from the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa to Australia. Suddenly from an ocean of thousand of kilometres ship’s captains had to find a gap 84 kilometres wide! This lead to tragedies on both capes and the need for these lights.

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

Blinking Billy

Blinking Billy

Blinking Billy
Blinking Billy Point Reserve, 652 Sandy Bay Rd, Sandy Bay TAS 7005, Australia

Blinking Billy

Direction

John Garrow Shoal

John Garrow Shoal

John Garrow Shoal
Blinking Billy Point Reserve, 652 Sandy Bay Rd, Sandy Bay TAS 7005, Australia

John Garrow Shoal

Direction

Derwent Lighthouse Iron Pot

Derwent Lighthouse Iron Pot

Derwent Lighthouse Iron Pot
Iron Pot, Tasmania, Australia

Derwent Lighthouse Iron Pot

Direction

Tasman Island

Tasman Island

Tasman Island
Tasman Island, Tasmania, Australia

Tasman Island

Direction

Cape Bruny

Cape Bruny

Cape Bruny
Cape Bruny Lighthouse Tours, Lighthouse Rd, South Bruny TAS 7150, Australia

Cape Bruny

Direction

Maatsuyker Island

Maatsuyker Island

Maatsuyker Island
Unnamed Road, Tasmania, Australia

Maatsuyker Island

Direction

Cape Sorell

Cape Sorell

Cape Sorell
Unnamed Road, Macquarie Heads TAS 7468, Australia

Cape Sorell

Direction

Entrance Island

Entrance Island

Entrance Island
Unnamed Road, Macquarie Heads TAS 7468, Australia

Entrance Island

Direction

Bonnet Island

Bonnet Island

Bonnet Island
Macquarie Harbour,, TAS, Australia

Bonnet Island

Direction

Bluff Hill Point

Bluff Hill Point

Bluff Hill Point
Bluff Hill Rd, Marrawah TAS 7330, Australia

Bluff Hill Point

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West Point

West Point

West Point
Unnamed Road, Marrawah TAS 7330, Australia

West Point

Direction

Sandy Cape

Sandy Cape

Sandy Cape
Unnamed Road, West Coast TAS 7321, Australia

Sandy Cape

Direction

Stokes Point

Stokes Point

Stokes Point
Unnamed Road, Surprise Bay TAS 7256, Australia

Stokes Point

Direction

Currie Harbour

Currie Harbour

Currie Harbour
LOT 1 Lighthouse St, Currie TAS 7256, Australia

Currie Harbour

Direction

Cape Wickham

Cape Wickham

Cape Wickham
687 Cape Wickham Rd, Wickham TAS 7256, Australia

Cape Wickham

Direction

Councillor Island

Councillor Island

Councillor Island
Councillor Island, Tasmania, Australia

Councillor Island

Direction

Highfield Point

Highfield Point

Highfield Point
Unnamed Road, Stanley TAS 7331, Australia

Highfield Point

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Highfield Point Old

Highfield Point Old

Highfield Point Old
Marine Park, 14 Wharf Rd, Stanley TAS 7331, Australia

Highfield Point Old

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Rocky Cape

Rocky Cape

Rocky Cape
Rocky Cape Rd, Rocky Cape TAS 7321, Australia

Rocky Cape

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Table Cape

Table Cape

Table Cape
Lighthouse Rd, Table Cape TAS 7325, Australia

Table Cape

Direction

Round Hill Point

Round Hill Point

Round Hill Point
Chasm Creek Lighthouse, 1A Bass Hwy, Chasm Creek TAS 7321, Australia

Round Hill Point

Direction

Mersey Bluff

Mersey Bluff

Mersey Bluff
39 Bluff Access Rd, Devonport TAS 7310, Australia

Mersey Bluff

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Devonport Leading Lights

Devonport Leading Lights

Devonport Leading Lights
6 Victoria Parade, Devonport TAS 7310, Australia

Devonport Leading Lights

Direction

Devonport Leading Lights

Devonport Leading Lights

Devonport Leading Lights
26 Best St, Devonport TAS 7310, Australia

Devonport Leading Lights

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Low Head

Low Head

Low Head
496 Low Head Rd, Low Head TAS 7253, Australia

Low Head

Direction

Middle Channel (Tamar Rear Leading Light)

Middle Channel (Tamar Rear Leading Light)

Middle Channel (Tamar Rear Leading Light)
180 Low Head Rd, Low Head TAS 7253, Australia

Middle Channel (Tamar Rear Leading Light)

Direction

Sheoak Point (Tamar Front Leading Light)

Sheoak Point (Tamar Front Leading Light)

Sheoak Point (Tamar Front Leading Light)
199 Low Head Rd, Low Head TAS 7253, Australia

Sheoak Point (Tamar Front Leading Light)

Direction

Swan Island

Swan Island

Swan Island
Unnamed Road, Tasmania, Australia

Swan Island

Direction

Goose Island

Goose Island

Goose Island
Flinders, TAS, Australia

Goose Island

Direction

Eddystone Point

Eddystone Point

Eddystone Point
Eddystone Light Station, 2986 Eddystone Point Rd, Eddystone TAS 7264, Australia

Eddystone Point

Direction

Deal Island

Deal Island

Deal Island
Unnamed Road, Tasmania 7255, Australia

Deal Island

Direction

Cape Tourville

Cape Tourville

Cape Tourville
Cape Tourville Rd, Coles Bay TAS 7215, Australia

Cape Tourville

Direction

Cape Forestier (Lemon Rock)

Cape Forestier (Lemon Rock)

Cape Forestier (Lemon Rock)
Freycinet National Park, Coles Bay Rd, Coles Bay TAS 7215, Australia

Cape Forestier (Lemon Rock)

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Point Home

Point Home

Point Home
Unnamed Road, Triabunna TAS 7190, Australia

Point Home

Direction

continued from above …

It was Australia’s largest maritime disaster, the wrecking of the Cataraqui with losses of 402 lives in 1845, that eventually lead to the establishment of Cape Wickham. An earlier loss of the Neva with 225 lives, mainly convict women and children in 1835, had brought no reaction from authorities.

Even after the establishment of the light there were still wrecks as some ship’s masters mistook the light for Cape Otway. One such ship was the Netherby, wrecked near the current Currie Lighthouse in 1866, amazingly without loss of life. This was followed by the Lock Leven in 1871, and the Anna in 1873, and lead to the establishment of the Currie Lighthouse.

At these times the Cape Wickham Lighthouse became a refuge to the survivors and a final resting place to the victims.

Near the lighthouse are the unmarked graves of many of the Neva’s victims and the marked graves of some later mariners, including the master of the clipper Loch Leven, that attest to these tragedies.

When the light was first established there seemed to be a certain amount of tension between the lightkeepers and hunters, the other early occupants of the island. This is illustrated in this extract from Katherine Stanley’s book Guiding Lights:

“Roving bands of hunters began trespassing on the lighthouse reserve and making free use of the comforts the keepers had painstakingly provided for themselves. Some of them refused to leave when directed to do so and animosity developed between these and the families who lived there. One report in 1873, outlined the difficulties:

‘There are certain lawless men who have taken up their residence on the island who make a practice of annoying the Superintendent in every possible way, destroying his cattle, pulling down the fences and taking his hay and in fact they say they are determined to make the place too hot for him, and I much fear it will end in some serious injury to the station or perhaps to the light itself.’

Further to this food and goods from shipwrecks were stolen sometimes even when they were being salvaged.

There was an occasion where a keeper was dismissed for looking after goods his brother had looted from a wreck. They were both apprehended and convicted. It is said that when his wife left the island, she took off 3 times the possessions that had she had brought on.The lightkeepers had to be extremely self-sufficient with supply ships only visiting once or twice a year. One early keeper was renown for his gardening and agricultural skills. Mail was sent by signalling passing ships to pick it up.

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 Exhibited1861
Permanent Tower
CurrentTower
Architect
StatusActive
LocationLat: 39° 35.3060' S Long: 143° 56.5830' E
Original Optic
Current OpticChance Bros 250 mm focal radius
Automated
Demanned1918
ConstructionWhite round stone tower and 13'0" dia. H. Wilkins & Co. lantern
Height48 m
Elevation85 m
RangeNom: 24 nm Geo: 23 nm
CharacterFl. W. (2) in 10 secs
Intensity550,000 cd
Light Source120V, 1000W TH 3000Hr
Power Source240V AC Mains
OperatorAMSA
NotesAs at June 2012

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

Access

The lighthouse grounds are open all year round. The tower is not open to the public.

Tours

No tours are available.

Accommodation

No lighthouse accommodation is available

Museum

King Island Historical Society Museum at Currie Harbour.  External link

The Museum was established in a former lighthouse keeper’s cottage in 1980. Make sure you ask for a look at
the original Cape Wickham fresnel light which returned home for the 150th anniversary of Cape Wickham in 2011. It’s simply stunning.

Associated Lighthouse

Point Quobba