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.
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 was tended by the lightkeeper from Currie.
The original first order catadioptric fixed lens installed in1861 was replaced in 1946 by a Chance Bros 250mm revolving lens and electric lamp with an intensity of 170,00 Candelas. The first order fixed lens was then used in the light at Quobba Point, north of Carnarvon, West Australia until 1988. The lens was returned to King Is for display in the King Island Historical Museum
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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|Blinking Billy Point Reserve, 652 Sandy Bay Rd, Sandy Bay TAS 7005, Australia||Blinking Billy|
John Garrow Shoal
|Blinking Billy Point Reserve, 652 Sandy Bay Rd, Sandy Bay TAS 7005, Australia||John Garrow Shoal|
Derwent Lighthouse Iron Pot
|Iron Pot, Tasmania, Australia||Derwent Lighthouse Iron Pot|
|Tasman Island, Tasmania, Australia||Tasman Island|
|Cape Bruny Lighthouse Tours, Lighthouse Rd, South Bruny TAS 7150, Australia||Cape Bruny|
|Unnamed Road, Tasmania, Australia||Maatsuyker Island|
|Unnamed Road, Macquarie Heads TAS 7468, Australia||Cape Sorell|
|Unnamed Road, Macquarie Heads TAS 7468, Australia||Entrance Island|
|Macquarie Harbour,, TAS, Australia||Bonnet Island|
Bluff Hill Point
|Bluff Hill Rd, Marrawah TAS 7330, Australia||Bluff Hill Point|
|Unnamed Road, Marrawah TAS 7330, Australia||West Point|
|Unnamed Road, West Coast TAS 7321, Australia||Sandy Cape|
|Unnamed Road, Surprise Bay TAS 7256, Australia||Stokes Point|
|LOT 1 Lighthouse St, Currie TAS 7256, Australia||Currie Harbour|
|687 Cape Wickham Rd, Wickham TAS 7256, Australia||Cape Wickham|
|Councillor Island, Tasmania, Australia||Councillor Island|
|Unnamed Road, Stanley TAS 7331, Australia||Highfield Point|
Highfield Point Old
|Marine Park, 14 Wharf Rd, Stanley TAS 7331, Australia||Highfield Point Old|
|Rocky Cape Rd, Rocky Cape TAS 7321, Australia||Rocky Cape|
|Lighthouse Rd, Table Cape TAS 7325, Australia||Table Cape|
Round Hill Point
|Chasm Creek Lighthouse, 1A Bass Hwy, Chasm Creek TAS 7321, Australia||Round Hill Point|
|39 Bluff Access Rd, Devonport TAS 7310, Australia||Mersey Bluff|
Devonport Leading Lights
|6 Victoria Parade, Devonport TAS 7310, Australia||Devonport Leading Lights|
Devonport Leading Lights
|26 Best St, Devonport TAS 7310, Australia||Devonport Leading Lights|
|496 Low Head Rd, Low Head TAS 7253, Australia||Low Head|
Middle Channel (Tamar Rear Leading Light)
|180 Low Head Rd, Low Head TAS 7253, Australia||Middle Channel (Tamar Rear Leading Light)|
Sheoak Point (Tamar Front Leading Light)
|199 Low Head Rd, Low Head TAS 7253, Australia||Sheoak Point (Tamar Front Leading Light)|
|Unnamed Road, Tasmania, Australia||Swan Island|
|Flinders, TAS, Australia||Goose Island|
|Eddystone Light Station, 2986 Eddystone Point Rd, Eddystone TAS 7264, Australia||Eddystone Point|
|Unnamed Road, Tasmania 7255, Australia||Deal Island|
|Cape Tourville Rd, Coles Bay TAS 7215, Australia||Cape Tourville|
Cape Forestier (Lemon Rock)
|Freycinet National Park, Coles Bay Rd, Coles Bay TAS 7215, Australia||Cape Forestier (Lemon Rock)|
|Unnamed Road, Triabunna TAS 7190, Australia||Point Home|
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.
We need your help in compiling a list of keepers for this lighthouse. If you have any information then send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
|First Exhibited||1st November 1861|
|Location||Lat: 39° 35.3060' S Long: 143° 56.5830' E|
|Original Optic||L Sautter fixed 920mm Catadioptric now on display on King Is|
|Current Optic||Chance Bros 250 mm double flashing|
|Automated||5th of July 1918|
|Construction||White round stone tower and 13'0" dia. H. Wilkins & Co. lantern|
|Range||Nom: 24 nm Geo: 23 nm|
|Character||Fl. W. (2) in 10 secs|
|Light Source||Sealite SL324 LED array|
|Power Source||240V AC Mains|
|Notes||As at November 2020|
The lighthouse grounds are open all year round. The tower is not open to the public.
No tours are available.
No lighthouse accommodation is available
King Island Historical Society Museum at Currie Harbour.
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.