I’ve always liked lighthouses, I like their solidness, their proximity to the coast and their utility whilst still being beautiful. Growing up on the coast there were two that were constant fixtures in my life, Cape Schanck Lighthouse and Griffiths Island Lighthouse in Port Fairy.
You can see both below
Cape Schanck is part of the Mornington Peninsula just south of Melbourne in Victoria. Port Fairy lighthouse is on Griffiths Island at the head of the entrance to the Moyne River in Port Fairy, which is in western Victoria. I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula and have been visiting Port Fairy my whole life. So I couldn’t fail to notice the similarities between the two lighthouses.
There are clear visual similarities between the two structures and they were actually built at almost the same time as well. Cape Schanck was constructed between 1857 and 1859, along with the other buildings of its lightstation, by the Victorian Public Works Department. Port Fairy was built by the Victorian Public Works Department in 1859, it was originally painted red. Cape Schanck stands at 21 m and Port Fairy at 11m. Cape Schanck was built of limestone and Port Fairy of bluestone with a basalt base.
Both lighthouses are now automated, but their original lamps, which would have run on oil, were both constructed by the Birmingham company Chance Bros. The original clockwork mechanism survives at Cape Schanck. Cape Schanck’s beam reaches nearly 30 miles into Bass Strait and Port Fairy’s reaches 12 miles. They are both Fresnel lamps. The other key similarity is that both lighthouses have internal stone spiral staircases, two of only 3 surviving pre 1863 lighthouses to do so.
You can see the spiral staircase in the Port Fairy lighthouse in the video below. (the music is the Wellington Sea Shanty Society and is called Great Open Sea, it’s licensed under Creative Commons)
Port Fairy is, unusually for a lighthouse, built at sea level, as you can see below.
Where as Cape Schanck stands on an 80 m cliff
The two lighthouses were built in a time when lighthouses were key to travel and commerce in the fledgling colony. Cape Schanck was built as part of a sea road of 3 lighthouses patrolling Bass Strait. The other two were Cape Whickham and Cape Otway see below.
Port Fairy was built to mark the entrance to the Moyne River and Port Fairy harbour, which at the time was a thriving port. See below
They have both been in continual operation since the 1850s, though they are both now automated. They are fantastic examples of the remoteness of Victorian lighthouses and their lighthouse keepers.
Cape Schanck stands on an isolated peninsula, which is now a national park, and commands its part of Bass Strait.
Port Fairy’s Griffiths Island is now connected to the mainland by a causeway, But in the 1800s the island was only accessible by boat and it was often dangerously rough so was cut off completely from the mainland. It was extremely isolated. The island was originally 3 islands, Rabbit (on which the light house stands), Goat and Griffiths. They have joined together as one island, partly from coastal erosion and partly from the construction that surround the islands. They serve to protect the entrance to Port Fairy. Rabbit island would have been extremely remote in the 1800s.
Nothing survives of the lighthouse station at Port Fairy apart from the stand of Norfolk pines, which you can see in the photo above, which were planted by the lighthouse keeper as a windbreak. The quarters were demolished after the Harbour Master was relocated in 1956. The last lighthouse keeper who lived on the island was there from 1929-1954.
At Cape Schanck a number of buildings survived, as well as some later additions. There were lighthouse keepers living on site until 2016, though they had little to do with the running of the light and more to do with running the tourist accommodation that is also on site. The site is now run by Parks Victoria. The original Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s cottage from 1859 can be seen below.
While both lighthouses had a different specific purpose they both stood as a bastions against the wildness of the sea and protected ships, in an era when shipping was, apart from gold, the lifeblood of the growing colony. In the future I hope to look at more of Victoria’s lighthouses, but I thought this was a good place to start.
Numerous site visits over the years.
Numerous site visits over the years.
The photos are all mine.