Tasman Island Lighthouse

Tasman Island lighthouse in south eastern Tasmania is the highest operating lighthouse in Australia and marks the final turning point for yachts in the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. The island is separated from nearby Cape Pillar by the narrow Tasman Passage, which is less than 500 metres wide.

History

Tasman Island lighthouse was the last of the manned lights to be built in Tasmania.

A meeting of the Consolidated Marine Board in August 1885 discussed the possibility of a lighthouse in the vicinity of Cape Pillar. After discounting the Cape itself and nearby Hippolyte Rocks, a site inspection was made to Tasman Island. Despite a recommendation in 1886 that construction should proceed, the proposal lapsed until 1903 when approval was, at last, given.

Plans and estimates were drawn up by Marine Board architects, Huckson & Hutchison, and tenders called in July 1904. Contractors travelled on board the SS Nubeena to inspect the site. However, they “were forcibly impressed by the natural difficulties to be overcome in carrying out the contract” when some of them were unable to land in the heavy swell.

Hobart builders, Henricksen & Knutsen, submitted the lowest quote of £10,497/10/-, signing a contract on 9 August 1904 before commencing work in October that year. However, before construction of the lighthouse could begin, a landing and haulage had to be built which required blasting in some places. A steam crane with a 60 foot radius was also installed, first used in the construction of Hobart’s GPO.

A prefabricated cast-iron tower and 1st Order lens, manufactured by Chance Brothers of Birmingham, was shipped out from England. The heavy cast-iron plates, each weighing up to 13 cwt, took up to eight hours to reach the construction site. They were then bolted together and positioned on a concrete base. Three keeper’s cottages were built of solid brick, with sheds for wood and coal under the same roof for protection from the wild weather. The total cost of construction was about £22,000, a considerable sum in those days.

continued below …

© 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

Direction

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

Direction

Highfield Point Old

Highfield Point Old

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

Highfield Point Old

Direction

Rocky Cape

Rocky Cape

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

Rocky Cape

Direction

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

Direction

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

Direction

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

South East Point (Wilsons Promontory)

South East Point (Wilsons Promontory)

South East Point (Wilsons Promontory)
Wilsons Promontory, VIC 3960, Australia

South East Point (Wilsons Promontory)

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)

Direction

Point Home

Point Home

Point Home
Unnamed Road, Triabunna TAS 7190, Australia

Point Home

Direction

continued from above …

The first superintendent, George Johnston with Assistants J. McGuire and E. Davis arrived on Tasman Island in December 1905 and already had vegetable gardens growing by the time the light was officially opened by the Master Warden, A.E. Risby, on 2nd April 1906.

There were problems with the lamp mantle regularly fracturing due to the degree of swaying at the top of the tower in strong winds. On the night of 20th March 1907 the log reads: “The tower vibrated to such an extent that it shook the mantles to pieces; had to substitute the wick-burner at 2 a.m.”

During another storm in 1919, verandahs and fences were blown away, water tanks blown off their stands and out-buildings shifted off their foundations. The winds were so strong that the vibrations in the lantern room destroyed five mantles and two pounds of mercury jumped out of the race and had to be replaced.

continued from above …

Once thickly forested, Tasman Island was soon almost bare. Regularly, each Saturday, a note in station logbooks records the Assistant’s duties as “cutting firewood”. As early as 1913 Station Superintendent, W. Kirkwood, thought “the effects of denuding the island for a fuel supply” was perhaps the reason for severe storm damage at the lightstation. Towards the end of the year he wrote: “Blew whole gale last night – fierce squalls, smashed up more fencing Superintendent’s quarters.”

Much of the island was grazed with flocks of up to 500 sheep, cattle, pigs and goats. However, stock regularly disappeared down the various sink-holes and clefts on the island, never to be seen again. Today, the native vegetation is returning with pockets of small trees and shrubs appearing in more sheltered areas.

Daily weather observations were recorded in lightstation logbooks by the Head Keeper from 1906 although official observations for the Bureau of Meteorology did not commence till 1922 when daily rainfall readings were taken. An automatic weather station (AWS) forwarded observations direct to the Bureau from 1991.

Access to such a remote lightstation was difficult with seas frequently too rough for supply ships to approach the island. Landings were originally made on the north-west side of the island where a track known as the Zigzag was built with goods hoisted ashore by hand-crane. Then a landing platform was constructed on the more sheltered north-east corner of the island with a crane operated by a steam-driven donkey engine. From there, twin trolleys were hauled, one up one down, negotiating the 1:1 slope with the aid of a Jelbart motor or a horse operating a whim. Today, access to the island is much easier by helicopter.

Commander CRW Brewis, on a visit to Tasman Island in 1911, reported that although the lightstation was “modern and in good condition” the “steam crane was old when erected and now admittedly dangerous”. However, it was not until 1927 that work started on erecting a replacement. Disaster struck when it unexpectedly collapsed, throwing rigger William Groombridge into the water. His body was never recovered. Orlando Patterson was luckier – he survived, dangling upside-down with his foot caught in some wire. However, bad weather prevented a doctor landing for several days when Patterson was able to be evacuated to hospital on board the steamer Cartela. This accident precipitated the installation of a flying fox system which came into operation in 1929. The original steam crane lay on the bank adjacent to the landing for nearly 90 years before being washed into the sea in a storm in June 2016.

For the first 20 years pigeons provided a link with the Tasmanian mainland. However, the birds were so well fed that they were often reluctant to leave the island! Then in the 1930s, wireless communications were established between lightstations at Cape Bruny and Maatsuyker Island. Later, the introduction of a radio telephone further reduced the sense of isolation.

Because of the isolation, most women left the island to give birth. However, in 1920 Nurse Cleary attended the birth on the island of a daughter, Eileen, to Head Keeper Leslie B. Johnston and his wife, Stella.

During the war years the job of lightkeeping was considered a reserved occupation and keepers were not permitted to enlist. Naval personnel were stationed on the island, living in the Relief Keepers quarters. Their leisure hours were spent in the garden which soon had a colourful array of flowers.

In their remote location keepers on Tasman Island were vulnerable to infections. After a visit to Hobart by one keeper in October 1921, everyone on the station became ill. The Head Keeper was particularly incapacitated and it was two weeks before an entry in the log book said: “All on station been very ill with ‘flue’ [sic] but are now recovering.”

Sometimes this isolation could have dire consequences. In her book, Kathleen Stanley wrote:

‘Keepers and their families on off-shore stations were always particularly susceptible to colds and influenza since they were so isolated that they had little opportunity of acquiring immunity.

On one occasion a family with several children arrived with severe colds but no medication. Another keeper’s wife gave them her own medication, only to see the newcomers recover and one of her own children die of respiratory failure.’

Unlike many other Tasmanian lightstations, there are no European graves on the island. However, a ‘very ancient’ skull was found on the island in 1913 and correspondence indicates that it was forwarded to the Tasmanian Museum.

The original lantern room, lens and clockwork mechanism were dismantled and removed when the light was automated in 1976, its replacement a smaller GRP structure. The last keeper left the lightstation on 20 May 1977. Since then the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and its contractor, Australian Maritime Systems Ltd, has maintained and serviced the light which was converted to solar power in 1991.

From 1915, management of lighthouses was transferred to the Commonwealth. In 1980 the Tasman Island lightstation was added to the Register of the National Estate as well as the Tasmanian Heritage Register and in 2004 the lighthouse was added to the Commonwealth Heritage register.

Tasman Island is now part of the Tasman National Park, administered by the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service.

Technical Details

First Exhibited
Current Tower
1906
ArchitectHuckson & Hutchison
StatusActive
LocationLat: 43˚ 14.3722S Long: 148˚ 00.3046 E
Original Optic1st Order - 5 panel
Current OpticVEGA VRB25
DemannedMay 1977
ConstructionWhite round metal tower and NAL-1 lantern
Height29 m
Elevation276 m
RangeNominal: 18 NM    Geographical: 39 NM
CharacterFl. W. 7.5 s
Intensity63,000 cd
Light Source12V, 35W QH
Power SourceSolar
OperatorAMSA
NotesOriginal lens on display at Australian Maritime Museum Sydney
As at November 2016

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

Access

The tower is not open to the public. Access by sea is very difficult. The haulage is no longer operational and tracks up the 250 metre cliffs are overgrown. A permit to land by helicopter must be obtained from the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service.

Tours

The Rotary Club of Tasman Peninsula conduct fund-raising helicopter flights to Tasman Island once a year. Coinciding with the anniversary of the opening of the lighthouse, members of the public can visit the island and, in co-operation with AMSA, inspect the lighthouse and keepers’ quarters. For further information contact: tasmanislandtrips@bigpond.comSend email

Accommodation

No lighthouse accommodation is available

Friends of Tasman Island Wildcare Inc

Since 2005 volunteer group Friends of Tasman Island Wildcare Inc (FoTI), has worked on the island in partnership with the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service. They have a membership of committed volunteers and supporters who focus on the restoration of both the cultural heritage and natural environment of Tasman Island.

Funding for these projects was generated by the Lighthouse of Tasmania series of calendars, the last of which was published in 2016. Other sources of income included government, semi-government and industry grants which, these days, are becoming more difficult to access. In 2017, FoTI launched a crowd-funding campaign which resulted in the successful restoration of the front verandah and sunroom on Quarters 2.

FoTI also sells merchandise through an online shop at wildcaretas.org.au/product-tag/tasman-island/. External link

FoTI welcomes interested people and organisations to contact us with a view to participating in our activities.
Email: friendsoftasmanisland@gmail.com  Send email
wildcaretas.org.au/branches/friends-of-tasman-island/  External link
www.facebook.com/FriendsOfTasmanIsland/  External link

Sources

  • Text by Erika Shankley, Friends of Tasman Island 2018
  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority for Photographs

Preservation

In the years since automation of the lighthouse and removal of lightkeepers, the unoccupied buildings have deteriorated badly. However, with dedicated work by the volunteer group Friends of Tasman Island Wildcare Inc (FoTI), this trend is now being reversed.

Timber buildings, such as the relief keeper’s cottage, originally the Clerk of Works office built in 1904, have collapsed over time. However, the three substantial brick light keepers’ quarters are undergoing restoration by FoTI with Quarters 3 (nearest to the lighthouse) used by volunteers and Park’s staff on visits to the island.

The original Chance Brothers 1st Order lens and clockwork mechanism is now on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum External link at Darling Harbour in Sydney. The original lantern room is undergoing restoration by the Friends of Tasman Island.

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. Send email

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.

Images from the Friends of Tasman Island