Barrenjoey Lighthouse

Barrenjoey Lighthouse stands on the Barrenjoey Peninsula at Palm Beach, an hour’s drive north of Sydney. The lighthouse is at the entrance to Pittwater, Broken Bay and the Hawkesbury river giving it truly magnificent views.

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The lighthouse is built of local sandstone and the current structure dates to 1879-1881.

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The lighthouse can be reached either by a gentle track, but there are also smugglers steps. These were not used by smugglers but were used by the customs house at the bottom of the Peninsula to climb up and look for smugglers.

IMG_0440Barrenjoey was not the first light station in this position. The first light station was only oil lamps on two wooden towers and stood between 1865 and 1881. The current structure was built by Isaac Banks with a team of Scottish labourers and designed by government architect James Barnet. Barnet was responsible for many buildings in Sydney and he deliberately designed the slightly curved rail around the top of the lighthouse for aesthetic reasons. The rails are original, and they produce quite a vertiginous effect when standing next to them.

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The lighthouse stands at 29 m and is 113 m above sea level. The visibility of its lamp is 38 km and it currently runs a Fresnel Stationary lens with a 100 W 24 volt quartz-iodine tungsten lamp. You can see the lens and the lamp in the photos below.

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Originally the lighthouse ran on a kerosene lamp and thus three lighthouse keepers were needed to make sure that it kept burning. They worked in shifts of four hours and they were not allowed to have a bed up in the lighthouse (only a chair) in case they fell asleep. The interior and the exterior of the lighthouse is still in beautiful condition.

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Only married men were allowed to be lighthouse keepers and there were two houses on the peninsula. The biggest and the closest to the lighthouse housed the head lighthouse keeper and his family and the two assistant lighthouse keepers and their families lived in the other.

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In 1932 the light became acetylene, it was automated and the lighthouse keepers were removed. In 1972 the light was changed to electric. The electric light was a 1000 w 120V quartz-halogen tungsten lamp. You can see it below.

IMG_0502A lighthouse needs to be identifiable from sea and today Barrenjoey operates 4 flashes separated by a 2 second interval every 30 seconds.

Originally, as the Fresnel lamp in the lighthouse is stationary, Barrenjoey used coloured glass (red) over the lamp, but this greatly reduced the intensity of the light. When the acetylene lamp was introduced in 1932 it was able to flash and the coloured glass could be removed.

Barrenjoey had a number of lighthouse keepers over the years but only one is buried there.

IMG_0541George Mulhall was born in c.1811 in Australia and both his parents were convicts from Ireland. George was appointed lighthouse keeper in 1868 and his son who was George Jr became assistant keeper. This was before the construction of the current lighthouse and the keepers lived off the Peninsula on what is now the third tee of the Palm Beach Golf Course. When the lighthouse began operating in 1881 George was the principal lighthouse keeper. There were stories that George died from being struck by a bolt of lightning and burnt to cinders, but his dead certificate describes him as having died from a stroke in 1885. His wife Mary who died in 1886 is buried with George. It is a truly beautiful spot to be buried.

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Barrenjoey Lighthouse is very much still an important part of navigation for ships coming up and down NSW’s coast. It is also a stunning place to visit, the views alone are worth it.

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References:

Site visit 2017.

All the photos are mine.

A Tale of Two Lighthouses

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

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Cape Schanck

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Port Fairy

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.

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Where as Cape Schanck stands on an 80 m cliff

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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.

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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

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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.

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IMG_0156Port Fairy’s Griffiths Island is now connected to the mainland by a causeway, IMG_9161But 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.

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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.

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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.

 

References:

Port Fairy

http://www.lighthouses.org.au/lights/Vic/Griffiths%20Island/Griffiths%20Island%20Lighthouse.htm#History

http://www.visitportfairy-moyneshire.com.au/activitiesattractions/coastal/466-port-fairy-lighthouse

http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/2711/download-report

Numerous site visits over the years.

Cape Schank

http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/8661

http://capeschancklightstation.com.au/history-of-cape-schanck-victoria/

http://www.lighthouses.org.au/lights/Vic/Cape%20Schanck/Cape%20Schank%20Light.htm

http://mpnews.com.au/2016/05/02/keepers-farewell-light-on-the-hill/

Numerous site visits over the years.

 

The photos are all mine.