Friday, 19 December 2014


Spectacular 2015 Lighthouses of Tasmania Calendar an all Tasmanian production Sentinel it stands upon projecting cape, And guards the reefs along the ocean’s verge. Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape, Holding its lantern o’er the restless surge. Arthur Frederick King, lightkeeper Building lighthouses around Tasmania’s precipitous and isolated coastline must have been a daunting prospect. Indeed, one newspaper correspondent wrote in 1891 that “the person who had suggested the construction of a light on the top [of Tasman Island] was not altogether compos mentis...” The difficulty of access to Tasman Island continued to cause comment when two members of the Hobart Marine Board ... slipped and got a good ducking ... when attempting to make a site inspection. Later, prospective building contractors also discovered the problems they might encounter when “Some members of the party were unable to land, while those who succeeded ... were most forcibly impressed by the natural difficulties to be overcome in carrying out the contract. Modern-day occupational health and safety legislators would, no doubt, cringe at some of the conditions workers endured. These unique and spectacular structures are once again celebrated along with the people who built them. The latest edition of the Lighthouses of Tasmania calendar features stunning photographs of some of our iconic lighthouses. Images include lighthouses at Maatsuyker and Tasman Islands, Cape Bruny, Iron Pot, Eddystone Point, Low Head, Table Cape, Bluff Hill Point, Rocky Cape, Highfield Point and Cape Sorell. The historic lighthouse at Blinking Billy Point in Hobart and its replacement, the John Garrow light, are also featured. Working in partnership with the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, the dedicated Friends of Tasman Island volunteers carry out many hundreds of hours of work each year towards the conservation and preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of Tasman Island. The 2015 calendar, the 9th in the series produced by the Friends of Tasman Island, is an all Tasmanian production. Thanks to sponsorship from the Cascade Brewery Company, Australian Maritime Systems and Wildcare Inc., the Lighthouses of Tasmania calendar is a major fundraiser. Now a collectors’ item, the 2015 calendar is available in selected book shops, newsagents and other local stores round the State. Or you can secure your copy of this unique limited-edition calendar by emailing For only $20 + postage you will be helping to support ongoing work on Tasman Island. Erika Shankley Friends of Tasman Island

Friday, 26 July 2013

Lighthouses of Tasmania calendar


Lighthouses of Tasmania 

an all Tasmanian production

“I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse.
They were built only to serve.”
George Bernard Shaw

Lighthouses would not exist today if they didn’t serve a compelling practical purpose and despite modern technology, lighthouses are still relevant in modern times.  They keep watch, albeit automatically, their majestic towers located in remote places of incredible beauty or amid the hustle and bustle of busy harbours.

These unique and spectacular structures are once again celebrated.  The latest edition of the Lighthouses of Tasmania calendar features stunning photographs of some of our iconic lighthouses.  The images, donated by both professional and amateur photographers, include Australia’s most southerly lighthouse at Maatsuyker Island and the iconic Tasman Island lighthouse, much loved by sailors in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. 

As an island State, Tasmanian lighthouses are especially important and the calendar serves as a reminder of a bygone era when ships sailed the seas without the navigational aids we have today.  The calendar also includes superb photographs of lighthouses at Cape Bruny, Eddystone Point, Low Head, Mersey Bluff, Table Cape, Point Home Lookout, Rocky Cape and Macquarie Harbour’s Bonnet and Entrance Islands and features historic photographs of the lighthouse at Cape Rochon on Three Hummock Island, destroyed in a bushfire in 1963.

Working in partnership with the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, the Friends of Tasman Island are a group of dedicated volunteers, carrying out many hundreds of hours of work each year towards the restoration and preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of Tasman Island.

The 2014 calendar, the 8th in the series produced by the Friends of
Tasman Island, is an all Tasmanian production - published by Tasmania 40o South and printed by Mercury Walch.  Thanks to sponsorship from the Cascade Brewery Company, Australian Maritime Systems and Wildcare Inc, the
Lighthouses of Tasmania calendar is a major fundraiser.

Now a collectors’ item, the 2014 calendar is available in selected book shops, newsagents and other local stores round the State.  Or you can place your order by emailing  For only $20 + postage you can purchase this superb, limited edition calendar and know that you are helping to support ongoing work on Tasman Island.

Erika Shankley
                   Friends of Tasman Island

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Tasman Island 2005

Quarters 3, Tasman Island Lighthouse & Oil Store
A visit to Tasman Island in 2005 with the Rotary Club of the Tasman Peninsula was the impetus to form the  Friends of Tasman Island, Wildcare Inc.

The lighthouse was automated in 1976 and the lightstation buildings abandoned when keepers were withdrawn in 1977.  The buildings had now succumbed to time, the wind and weather and were in a sorry state, much in need of repair.

Quarters 3, Assistant Keepers' cottage

Damaged tanks, Quarters 3

 Despite being tied down, tanks at Tasman Island often blew away in strong winds.

Quarters 2, Assistant Keepers' cottage
Tasman Island Lighthouse viewed from Quarters 2
Tumbled ruins at back of Quarters 2

Rotting timber & weeds at Quarters 2

Quarters 1, Head Keeper's Quarters

Path to the front door, Quarters 1

Ruins of kitchen stove, Quarters 1

Rusted-out tank beside Quarters 1

Back wall blown off Quarters 1

Tasman island Lightstation, 2005

Ruins of Haulage Trolleys, Tasman Island, 2005

Ruins of 1904 Clerk of Works office, later Relief Keepers Quarters

Oil Store & Workshop, 2005
Tasman Island Lighthouse

Timber buildings were the first to collapse in the harsh climate of Tasman Island.

Friends of Tasman Island (FoTI) meet on the 1st Tuesday of each month at the Derwent Sailing Squadron, Marieville Esplanade, Sandy Bay in Hobart, Tasmania.

Volunteers hold working bees on Tasman Island several times a year, if funds permit and considerable progress has been made in restoration work on the lightstation buildings and the surrounding natural habitat.

To volunteer, contact .

Friday, 5 July 2013

Tasman Island Lighthouse

Tasman Island Lighthouse

Photo:  Erika Shankley
The Tasman Island lighthouse in south eastern Tasmania is one of the highest operating lighthouses in Australia and marks the final turning point for yachts in the Sydney-Hobart race.   The island is separated from nearby Cape Pillar by the narrow Tasman Passage, which is less than 500 metres wide.  It was one of the more isolated lightstations and for many keepers, not a popular posting.

LOCATION:  Latitude 43o14.5’S,
                       Longitude 148o00.2’E
OPERATOR:  Australian Maritime Safety Authority
DAYMARK:   White round metal tower and lantern
CONSTRUCTION:  Cast iron plates 
HEIGHT:  29 metres
ELEVATION: 276 metres
CHARACTER:  Flashing 7.5 secs - Flash: 0.1 sec; Eclipse: 7.4 sec
POWER SOURCE:  Solar array
LIGHT SOURCE:  Lamps: 12V, 35W Quartz Halogen lamp
INTENSITY:  63,000 cds
RANGE:  Nominal: 18 nmiles;  Geographical: 39 nmiles
CUSTODIAN:  Parks & Wildlife Service, Tasmania

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 were drawn up by Huckson & Hutchison and a prefabricated cast-iron tower and 1st Order lens manufactured by Chance Brothers of Birmingham was shipped out from England.

The difficulties of working in such a precipitous location were emphasised when two members of the Marine Board fell in while attempting a landing.  Despite this, builders Henriksen & Knutsen commenced construction in January 1904.  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 7.601 metres (24 feet 11¼ inches) in diameter.

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.  

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 which regularly fractured 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.

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.

Weather observations were recorded in lightstation logbooks by the Head Keeper from 1906.  Official observations for the Bureau of Meteorology did not commence till 1922 when daily rainfall readings were taken, although a Bureau of Meteorology rain gauge was not provided until September 1923.  An automatic weather station (AWS) commenced operation on the island in 1991.

Access to such a remote lightstation was difficult.  Seas were 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.  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 alternatively a horse operating a whim.  Today, access to the island is much easier by helicopter.

Kathleen Stanley describes in her book Guiding Lights, the perilous ride onto the island via a basket suspended from a flying fox:
‘The good order of the basket in which passengers were carried ashore was the responsibility of the keepers who were well aware of the need for exemplary work in this regard.  On one occasion only has it been reported that the door failed to close – perhaps because of some slight misalignment or perhaps because the operator was over-anxious to begin the transfer.  Mrs E. Jacobs, the last passenger to embark on one hazardous trip, made the journey half in and half out of the contraption, grimly held on by one of the keepers inside.

In her nineties, Mrs Jacobs could smile at the memory but there were some tense moments at the landing-stage until she was delivered safely onto solid earth.  More amazing than her perilous journey was the fact that she, with staunch matter-of-factness, was not deterred from further rides in the basket.’

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 the 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.’

A major accident occurred in 1927.  Rigger, William Groombridge was killed and Joseph Patterson was seriously injured when a crane, being installed on the landing, collapsed without warning.  The body of the dead man was thrown into the sea and never recovered.  With no direct communication with Hobart it took until the next day to get medical help for the injured man and another day to get him to Hobart for treatment.

However, unlike many other Tasmanian lightstations, there are no European graves on the island.

For nearly 70 years the lighthouse was lit by kerosene.  The Department of Transport conducted experiments with wind-power and in 1975 a prototype was installed on Tasman Island, though still backed up by two diesel generators. 

The original lantern room, lens and clockwork mechanism were dismantled and removed when the light was automated in 1976 and 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.

Tasman panorama:  Quarters 2, Quarters 3 & lighthouse
Photo:  Erika Shankley
In the years since the automation of the lighthouse and removal of lightkeepers, the unoccupied buildings deteriorated badly.  However, with dedicated work by the volunteer group Friends of Tasman Island, this trend is now being reversed.

Today, the three light keepers’ quarters are still functional with Quarters 3 (nearest to the lighthouse) used by volunteers and Park’s staff.  Quarters 2 and Quarters 1 are also undergoing restoration.  Other timber buildings, such as the relief keeper’s cottage, originally the Clerk of Works office built in 1904, have collapsed over time.

The original lantern room is now undergoing restoration by the Friends of Tasman Island.

The original Chance Brothers 1st Order lens and clockwork mechanism is on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour in Sydney.

Original 1st Order Lens from Tasman Island Lighthouse
Photo: Chris Creese

 Lantern room Tasman Island Lighthouse 2011
Photo:  Erika Shankley
Friends of Tasman Island
 Formed in 2005, the Friends of Tasman Island (FoTI), a Wildcare Inc subsidiary, work in partnership with the Parks & Wildlife Service, conducting work programmes on the island about three times each year. 

They have a membership of committed volunteers and supporters who focus on the restoration of both the cultural heritage and natural environment on the island. 

Funding for these projects comes, primarily, from the sale of the Lighthouses of Tasmania series of calendars which are published each year by FoTI.  Other sources of income are from government, semi-government & industry grants.  

 FoTI volunteers replace window in Quarters3
Photo Erika Shankley
 FoTI volunteers work on Quarters 3
Photo:  Erika Shankley

 Quarters 3, 2 and 1, Tasman Island Lightstation
Photo Erika Shankley

Quarters 3, next to the Tasman Island Lighthouse
Photo Erika Shankley

2010:  Lights on in Quarters 1 for the 1st time in 33 yeaqrs
Photo Erika Shankley

To help with the fundraising effort - contact FoTI for your copy of the latest Lighthouses of Tasmania calendar or the Tasman Island handbook.  FoTI would also welcome interested people and organisations to contact us with a view to participating in our activities. 
  • 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.  
ACCOMMODATION:  No commercial accommodation available

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

Other Tasman Island Sites: