3.1 General history of lighthouses in Australia

The first lighthouse to be constructed on Australian soil was Macquarie Lighthouse, located at the entrance to Port Jackson, NSW. First lit in 1818, the cost of the lighthouse was recovered through the introduction of a levy on shipping. This was instigated by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who ordered and named the light.

The following century oversaw the construction of hundreds of lighthouses around the country. Constructing and maintaining a lighthouse were costly ventures that often required the financial support of multiple colonies. However, they were deemed necessary aids in assisting the safety of mariners at sea. Lighthouses were firstly managed by the colony they lay within, with each colony developing their own style of lighthouse and operational system. Following Federation in 1901, which saw the various colonies unite under one Commonwealth government, lighthouse management was transferred from state hands to the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service.

Lamps and optics: an overview

Lighthouse technology has altered drastically over the centuries. Eighteenth century lighthouses were lit using parabolic mirrors and oil lamps. Documentation of early examples of parabolic mirrors in the United Kingdom, circa 1760, were documented as consisting of wood and lined with pieces of looking glass or plates of tin. As described by Searle, ‘When light hits a shiny surface, it is reflected at an angle equal to that at which it hit. When a light source is placed in the focal point of a parabolic reflector, the light rays are reflected parallel to one another, producing a concentrated beam’.9

In 1822, Augustin Fresnel invented the dioptric glass lens. By crafting concentric annular rings with a convex lens, Fresnel had discovered a method of reducing the amount of light absorbed by a lens. The Dioptric System was adopted quickly with the Cordouran Lighthouse (France), which was fitted with the first dioptric lens in 1823. The majority of heritage-listed lighthouses in Australia housed dioptric lenses made by others such as Chance Brothers (United Kingdom), Henry-LePaute (France), Barbier, Bernard & Turenne (BBT, France) and Svenska Aktiebolaget Gasaccumulator (AGA of Sweden). These lenses were made in a range of standard sizes, called orders—see Appendix 2. Glossary of lighthouse Terms relevant to Tasman Island Lighthouse.

Early Australian lighthouses were originally fuelled by whale oil and burned in Argand lamps, and multiple wicks were required in order to create a large flame that could be observed from seaward. By the 1850s, whale oil had been replaced by colza oil, which was in turn replaced by kerosene, a mineral oil.

In 1900, incandescent burners were introduced. This saw the burning of fuel inside an incandescent mantle, which produced a brighter light with less fuel within a smaller volume. Light keepers were required to maintain pressure to the burner by manually pumping a handle as can be seen in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Incandescent oil vapour lamp by Chance Brothers (Source: AMSA)
Figure 8. Incandescent oil vapour lamp by Chance Brothers (Source: AMSA)

Figure 9. Dioptric lens on display at Narooma (Source: AMSA)
Figure 9. Dioptric lens on display at Narooma (Source: AMSA)


In 1912 Swedish engineer Gustaf Dalén was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for a series of inventions relating to acetylene-powered navigation lights. Dalén’s system included the sun valve, the mixer, the flasher, and the cylinder containing compressed acetylene. Due to their efficiency and reliability, Dalén’s inventions led to the gradual de-staffing of lighthouses. Acetylene was quickly adopted by the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service from 1915 onwards.

Figure 10. Dalén's system - sunvalve, mixer and flasher (Source: AMSA)
Figure 10. Dalén's system - sunvalve, mixer and flasher (Source: AMSA)


Large dioptric lenses, such as that shown in Figure 8, gradually decreased in popularity due to cost and the move towards unmanned automatic lighthouses. By the early 1900s, Australia had stopped ordering these lenses with the last installed at Eclipse Island in Western Australia in 1927. Smaller Fresnel lenses continued to be produced and installed until the 1970s when plastic lanterns, still utilising Fresnel’s technology, were favoured instead. Acetylene remained in use until it was finally phased out in the 1990s.

In the current day, Australian lighthouses are lit and extinguished automatically using mains power, diesel generators, and solar-voltaic systems.

3.2 The Commonwealth Lighthouse Service

When the Australian colonies federated in 1901, they decided that the new Commonwealth government would be responsible for coastal lighthouses—that is, major lights used by vessels travelling from port to port—but not the minor lights used for navigation within harbours and rivers. There was a delay before this new arrangement came into effect. Existing lights continued to be operated by the states.

Since 1915, various Commonwealth departments have managed lighthouses. AMSA, established under the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Act 1990 (Cth), is now responsible for operating Commonwealth lighthouses and other aids to navigation, along with its other functions.

3.3 Tasmanian Lighthouse Administration

The table below details the authority of Tasmanian lighthouse management from 1915 to the present.

Time Period



Lighthouse District No. 3 (Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania), Hobart Headquarters.


Deputy Director of Lighthouses and Navigation, Tasmania.


Department of Shipping and Transport, Regional Controller, Tasmania.


Department of Transport [III], Regional Controller, Tasmania.


Department of Transport and Construction. Victoria-Tasmania Region, Transport Division (Tasmania)


Department of Transport [IV] Victoria–Tasmania Region, Hobart Office.


Department of Transport [IV] Tasmanian Region.


Department of Transport and Communications, Tasmanian Region.

1991– Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

3.4 Tasman Island: a history

Aboriginal history

The following was provided by Tony Brown, former Aboriginal Curator at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Aboriginal use of Tasmanian off shore islands is well enough documented and the attraction of Tasman Island was undoubtedly its rich food resources of muttonbirds (shearwaters), little penguins and fur seals. 

Memos between the Marine Board of Hobart and the Tasmanian Museum in 1913 detail the discovery by one of the light house keepers of ‘a very ancient’ Aboriginal skull recovered from a penguin rookery on the top of the island. In 1922 an early historian mentions that ‘numbers of Aboriginal stone implements are to be found on the island,’ and anecdotal evidence by former lighthouse keepers and their families confirm the existence of artefacts. 

While only a short distance from the coast, Tasman Island and its plateau appear to be inaccessible. Visitors to the island today must go either by helicopter or effect a difficult landing by boat or canoe under calm conditions. Tasmanian Aborigines, using their unique bark canoes, would most likely have approached the island from Crescent Bay, a distance of 11 kilometres. Prior to European occupation the only natural practical route from sea level to the plateau surface of the island would have been by way of a steep ramp on the north western side, known by lighthouse families as the ‘zig-zag’ track. 

Although there has been no Aboriginal heritage assessment undertaken, the island is the site of the first record of Aboriginal seal hunting in southeast Tasmania. In 1982 a number of stone tools were found with the skeletal remains of a seal on the plateau of the island, in the vicinity of the ‘zig-zag’ track. (Stephen Harris, ‘A Seal Hunter’s Site on Tasman Island’, Australian Archaeology 1984:19)

There is no doubt that for hundreds, and possibly thousands of years, Tasmanian Aborigines travelled to Tasman Island. As with visitors today, the likelihood of bad weather blowing and making a return to the mainland impractical was an omnipresent hazard.

Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania advised that although no Aboriginal heritage sites registered in the Aboriginal Heritage Register (AHR) are recorded within the lease footprint of the lighthouse, there are two Aboriginal heritage sites recorded elsewhere on Tasman Island.

Early European history

Tasmania was first sighted by European explorers in 1642 when Dutchman Abel Tasman sailed past the Tasmanian mainland and named it Anthoonji van Diemenslandt, after the Governor of the Dutch East Indies. A large part of the south-east coast of Tasmania was charted on this expedition, and ‘Tasmans Eÿl’, known today as Tasman Island, was recorded by cartographer Joan Blaeu and reproduced in a map by Melchisedech Thevenot in 1663 known today as Tasman Island10.

Tasman Island was also included in the 1837 map of Tasmania by John Dower11. Surveyor, James Erksine Calder remarked that is was a wild and desolate looking spot, and ‘if accessible at all, only at one point.’12 Due to its extreme height and formation, very few, if any, European settlers travelled to Tasman Island prior to the discussions of a lighthouse in the 1880s.

3.5 Planning a lighthouse

Why Tasman Island?

A meeting of the Consolidated Marine Board in August 1885 discussed the possibility of a lighthouse in the vicinity of Cape Pillar. For some time the masters of the Union Steam Company’s vessels had advocated for the erection of a light as the narrow passage of water beside the cape oversaw frequent traffic13.

The necessity of such a light either on Cape Pillar or Tasman's Island has been felt absolutely essential for many years by seafaring people, and those commercially engaged in the mercantile marine; but it was not until the Russian war scare of last year that any practical proposals emanated from the Government in respect to its erectio14.

After discounting the cape itself and nearby Hippolyte Rocks, a site inspection was made on Tasman Island but the cost of construction was considered excessive. It was also noted that the expense of maintaining a lighthouse on the island would be double that of other locations15. The difficulty of establishing telegraphic communication to Tasman Island was also seen as an obstacle.

However by 1886, despite the disadvantages identified, the Consolidated Marine Board of Tasmania made the suggestion that plans and specifications should be prepared for the Tasman Island Lighthouse. By November of that same year, the Board had put out a tender for clearing a line of trees and erecting a 20-foot high cairn on the top of Tasman Island16.

Momentum towards constructing the light was short-lived, as by April 1887, the Marine Board passed a motion 'That the resolution for the erection of a light on Tasman's Island be rescinded'.17 Their justification was that as the site was so high, the lighthouse would frequently be obscured by clouds. Several captains under the Union Steam Navigation Company had since come forward and proclaimed the light was unnecessary and that the need of a light on the south-west coast was considered greater. The Tasman Island Lighthouse was deferred in favour of building Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse, which was constructed in 1891.

By 1897, there was again agitation for a lighthouse on Tasman Island, as the number of steamers trading from Hobart to New Zealand had increased and nearby mainland cities had grown. By the early 1900s, the River Derwent had become a busy thoroughfare and ships reported several close encounters with land and delays due to the fog around the Cape Pillar region. In 1903, the Consolidated Marine Board recommended to the Tasmanian Government the necessity for a light was by then an urgent matter. The Premier agreed that the state would pay the interest on the cost of construction of the light until the lighthouses were eventually taken over by the Federal Government18.


At a meeting of the Hobart Marine Board on 2 February 1904 it was announced that a lighthouse was to be built on Tasman Island19.

In January 1904, the Hobart Marine Board visited Tasman Island for the purpose of selecting a site for the new lighthouse in the vicinity of Cape Pillar. The lighthouse committee recommended, based on the reports of the lighthouse inspector, the board's architects, and the Harbourmaster that the lighthouse be erected on the south-eastern part of Tasman Island.

8th April 1904


At a special meeting of the Board held on Wednesday last, it was decided that the site for the proposed lighthouse on Tasman Island be the one marked “A”, that is,- the Southern of the two sites shown on the plans left here by you. The light is to be a quick flashing white light visible ½ of a second once every 5 seconds and the tower is to be of iron and 85 feet high.

The quarters are to be of brick with hollow walls and iron roofs. The tower and apparatus will be ordered by the Board from England, but the tenders to be called for erection of the quarters and other work on the Island will include the erection of the tower under the personal supervision of the Lighthouse Inspector. The contractor will take delivery of the tower on the Hobart Wharf. The recommendations contained in your report of the 29th March and Mr. H. R. Hutchison’s of the same date were accepted by the Board. Please prepare plans and specifications for the whole of the work and submit same to the Board. The landing stage, crane, the haulage and tramlines and everything connected therewith shall be the property of the Board without any extra payment. All of such work shall be of a good and permanent character and shall stand part of the contract. Any sheds etc. erected by the contractor shall also become the property of the Board without any extra payment.

I am, Sirs,

Your obedient servant,

Master Warden.20

Figure 11. Marine Board of Hobart, Tasman Island Lighthouse, Huckson & Hutchison, 1904. NAA: A9568, 5/13/4. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia (© Commonwealth of Australia, National Archives of Australia)
Figure 11. Marine Board of Hobart, Tasman Island Lighthouse, Huckson & Hutchison, 1904. NAA: A9568, 5/13/4. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia (© Commonwealth of Australia, National Archives of Australia)


The Marine Board's engineer, Mr J. R. Meech, told the members of the Consolidated Board that: 'due to the extreme difficulties of getting building materials to the Island , the lighthouse tower would have to be made of iron, and taken to the island in segments, and then put together’21.

Marine Board architects, Huckson and Hutchison, forwarded plans and specifications for the Tasman Island Lightstation to the Hobart Marine Board in June 1904. As per Mr Meech's instructions, it was to be a cast iron tower on cement foundations and fitted with an incandescent light22.


Following completion of Huckson and Hutchison’s design, the board called for tenders and instructed the Master Warden to order the tower and lens from Chance Bros in Birmingham, England.

A tender of £10,487 and 10 shillings was awarded to Henrickson and Knutson for the erection of the lighthouse with an undertaking to complete the works in 18 months from the date of announcement being 18 August 190423.

Mr F. Reynolds was appointed Clerk of Works at Tasman Island to oversee the erection of the lighthouse. Following the arrival of the pre-fabricated tower and Chance Bros & Co. 1st Order lens from England, work commenced in October 1904 and it proved no easy feat. Due to the extreme height of the island and its formation, a landing, haulage system and a steam crane with a 60-foot radius, purchases second-hand after the construction of Hobart’s General Post Office, was erected on the island beforehand. Building materials were brought to Tasman Island via steamer from Hobart and then hauled up the cliffs to site. The cast iron plates, estimated to have weighed 13cwt (660 kg) each took roughly eight hours to scale the cliffs and reach the site. Once all parts had successfully made it to the site, the plates were bolted together and the lens fitted.24 

Equipment when built

Once completed, Tasman Island Lighthouse stood as a 29-metre tall cast iron tower, fitted with a 1st Order lens with an intensity registering at 275,500 candlepower. The light source operated with vapour kerosene and an 85mm burner with a six-wick emergency lamp. The tower was accompanied by brick keepers’ cottages. The head keeper’s quarters, a seven-room building, cost around £2,000, and the two six-room assistant cottages were £1,500 each to construct.25

The lighthouse was officially opened on Monday 2 April 1906. The Master Warden, J.E. Risby, and members of the Marine Board made the journey to the lightstation for a short ceremony, followed by lunch with the keepers and their families. Afterwards, the official party left on board the SS Mahinapua, and observed the light, which was lit for the first time by the Superintendant’s wife.26

3.6 Lighthouse keeping

The first Superintendent stationed at the lighthouse was Mr George Johnson, accompanied by his family, his assistants J. McGuire and E. Davis, and their families. The keepers and their families tended to crops and livestock, including sheep, chickens, cows, draught horses, and pigs, which afforded them wool, meat, and dairy products. Devoid of native animals, feral cats were prominent on the island and keepers were forced to keep their chickens in fully enclosed runs.27

Figure 12. Tasman Island Lightstation before removal of original lantern house, 1910. Image courtesy of the NAA: A1861, 1958 (© Commonwealth of Australia, National Archives of Australia)
Figure 12. Tasman Island Lightstation before removal of original lantern house, 1910. Image courtesy of the NAA: A1861, 1958 (© Commonwealth of Australia, National Archives of Australia)

Light keeping on island lightstations was already an extremely isolated livelihood, and Tasman Island’s colossal height and the inability to make telegraphic connections isolated inhabitants even further. Originally forced to rely on signal flags for communication, pigeon post was eventually introduced on the island after successful trials at the nearby Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse.28 The pigeons at Tasman, however, were unreliable to say the least. Due to the number of birds of prey lurking off the coast of Cape Pillar, and the extremely comfortable lifestyle the pigeons were given at the station, most were reluctant to fly far from the Island and those that did rarely reached their intended destination.

Access to the island in the early days was either by ‘the Zig-zag’, a perilous access path down the sheer cliff-face, or via hoist in a basket up to the landing on a ledge 80 feet above sea level by steam crane. From there, an engine-driven tramline carried goods or people up the remainder of the cliff before they had to be transferred onto a horse-drawn tramway.

In March 1927, a new crane was being installed on the cliff edge approximately 100 metres above sea level when a beam suddenly gave away. Two riggers who had been working at the top of the crane were thrown down the cliff. William Groombridge was thrown onto the rocks below and swept out to sea while the second man, Orlando Patterson, was knocked unconscious and miraculously saved after his leg became entwined in some wire, holding him above the water. After a failed attempt to send for help via pigeon post, the lightkeepers were finally able to attract a passing ship the following day using distress signals. The message was successfully relayed to Hobart and the steamer Cartela was dispatched to the island with a doctor on board. The unconscious Patterson was hoisted down the cliffs to the awaiting steamer.29

This event is considered the turning point that triggered investigation into the reliability of pigeon post at isolated sites. Finally in October 1930, a radio was installed at Tasman Island Lighthouse.

With the crane lost, access to the island was by a temporary structure built on the rocks below until a flying fox was constructed in 1929. Suspended from an overhead wire, the flying fox stretched from the landing platform to an off-shore rock known as Anchor Rock, approximately 80 feet above sea level. This remained in operation until the station was closed in 1977.

In addition to the station’s perilous location and isolating conditions, the weather endured on Tasman Island could be catastrophic. High wind levels battered the station, causing the tower to sway and mantles within the lantern to split, extinguishing the light on many occasions. Crops were ruined by strong gales and some unfortunate livestock were blown over the cliff side. On 28 April 1906, the keepers’ woodshed and cottage fences were blown away by the winds, and in 1928, the two-roomed relief quarters was lifted 3ft from its foundations. The tower was also flooded twice in the first year of its operation as disastrous storms hit the island.30

Figure 13. Tasman Island Lighthouse landing, showing the method used to unload supplies and personnel destined for the lighthouse, 1948. Image courtesy of NAA: A1200, L11284. (© Commonwealth of Australia, National Archives of Australia)
Figure 13. Tasman Island Lighthouse landing, showing the method used to unload supplies and personnel destined for the lighthouse, 1948. Image courtesy of NAA: A1200, L11284. (© Commonwealth of Australia, National Archives of Australia)

Figure 14. Lighthouse landing and incline tramway, Tasman Island, off the south-east corner of Tasmania, 1948. Image courtesy of NAA: A1200, L11285. (© Commonwealth of Australia, National Archives of Australia)
Figure 14. Lighthouse landing and incline tramway, Tasman Island, off the south-east corner of Tasmania, 1948. Image courtesy of NAA: A1200, L11285. (© Commonwealth of Australia, National Archives of Australia)


An account of life on the island was published in The Argus in 1919, revealing much about the keeper’s relationship with the weather:

One thing ever with them, and in their ears night and day, is the sound of the surf at the foot of the cliffs. It varies from a mournful minor melody on summer days when the sea is calm, except for the swell which never ceases to rise and shatter itself against the black rocks, to a crashing roar which fills the air and seems to shake the solid rock in times of storm. So habituated is it possible to become to this ‘background’ of never-ceasing sound, that some of those who are used to it cannot sleep when they first go to inland places. The silence of the night seems oppressive and unnatural, and they lie awake listening in vain for the wild lullaby of the breaker.31

The station remained staffed until 1977 when on 20 May, the last inhabitants of Tasman Island—David Ingram, his family and Lyndon Webb—departed.

Second World War

Throughout the duration of the Second World War, Royal Australian Navy personnel were stationed on Tasman Island. Tasked with managing radio transmissions and signals, the personnel were noted to maintain good relations with the lightkeepers. Radio communications during this time was restricted, and instead ‘silent’ codes, such as semaphore, International Flag Code and Morse, were practiced.32

Lighthouse keepers were forbidden from enlisting due to their essential service to the country. During a supply ship visit, a ceremony took place wherein the keepers were brought on board, and the ship’s captain appointed them as Special Commonwealth Peace Officers.33

3.7 Chronology of major events

The following table outlines the major events to have occurred over the course of Tasman Island’s Lighthouse history.



2 April 1906

Light first lit. Ceremony held with lightkeepers, Master Warden, and members of the Marine Board.          

28 April 1906

Keepers’ woodshed and cottages’ fences blown away by strong winds.34

Oct–Nov 1906

Lighthouse tower flooded twice due to intense storms.35

20 March 1907

Mantles in the lighthouse split due to the tower vibrating in the strong winds — substituted with a wick-burner.36

Oct 1911

Commander C.R.W. Brewis visits Tasman Island to inspect and report on the lighthouse prior to the Commonwealth takeover.37


Pigeon Post service started as means of communication at lighthouse.38

7–8 Nov 1915

SS Nord observed by keepers foundering in nearby waters — lightstation pigeons sent to Hobart.39


Lighthouse Service passed into the control of the Commonwealth.


New station horse hoisted up flying fox.40


Strong winds destroy five mantles within lantern and mercury from bath is spilt on lantern room floor. The fowl house was destroyed, and one cottage’s verandah was blown away.41


Daughter to keeper Mr L.B. Jonston and his wife, Stella, born at the station.42


Lightkeeping families struck down by influenza.43

January 1922

Storm hits island — lantern glazing cracked, and two mantles split.44

April 1922

Storm hits island — six mantles split.45

March 1927

Fatal accident at the Tasman Island Lighthouse — cliff-side crane collapses taking Mr. William George Groombridge with it over the cliff. Joseph Orlando Patterson was saved.46

Oct 1930

Radio installed at Tasman Island replacing pigeon post.47


Severe rockfall on lighthouse side of landing — no damage observed to structures.48

Circa 1939-1945

Royal Australian Navy personnel stationed at Tasman Island to control radio transmissions during Second World War.49


Lightkeeper’s son badly scalded by boiling water — winched down the cliffs in basket to an awaiting rescue ship.50


Black Tuesday bushfires — smoke and cinders blown across from Cape Pillar to Tasman Island resulting in the stables being burnt down.51


Lighthouse converted to solar power.

20 May 1977  

Station is de-staffed. Lightkeepers and their families depart.

21 Oct 1980   

Tasman Island Lighthouse listed on the Register of the National Estate.


Tasman Island Lightstation listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register.

22 June 2004

Tasman Island Lighthouse listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List.

April 2007

First public tours of lighthouse carried out inconjunction with the Rotary Club of Tasman Peninsula.

June 2016

Original steam crane, which had been stored on the bank adjacent to the landing since 1927, is washed away in storm.

3.8 Changes and conservation over time

Tasman Island Lighthouse has undergone a number of changes since its construction, most notably the removal of its original lantern house in 1976. The magnificent 1st Order Chance Brothers Fresnel lens is now on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney.

This section details historical recommendations for change, alterations to the light over time, and recent conservation works carried out on the tower.

The Brewis Report

Commander CRW Brewis, retired naval surveyor, was commissioned in 1911 by the Commonwealth Government to report on the condition of existing lights and to recommend any additional ones. Brewis visited every lighthouse in Australia between June and December 1912, and produced a series of reports published in their final form in March 1913. These reports were the basis for future decisions made in relation to the individual lighthouses.

Recommendations made by Brewis for Tasman Island Lighthouse included the installation of a fog signal, the construction of a new crane, the installation of an acetylene Morse lamp, and the establishment of telephone communication.52


(30 miles from Derwent Light.)

Lat. 43º 14’ S., Long. 148º 2’ E., Chart No, 1079.- Established in the year 1906. Situated at the entrance to Storm Bay.

Character.- One white, flashing every five seconds, dioptric, 1st Order, 275,500 c.p. Illuminant, vaporized kerosene.

Iron tower, 85 feet. Height of focal plane, 907 feet above high water. Visible, in clear weather, 36 nautical miles.

Condition and State of Efficiency.- The tower, optical apparatus, and quarters are modern, and in good condition. The steam crane at the landing was old when erected, and is now admittedly dangerous.

Arrangements are being made by the Hobart Marine Board to have the crane replaced by a new one as soon as possible.

Three lightkeepers are stationed here.

Communication.- Quarterly by steamer carrying stores by contract.

Mail service every three weeks by fishing vessel.

An acetylene Morse Lamp is required to facilitate communication with passing vessels – necessary in case of emergency. Telephone communication is required.

Fogs.- During the summer months occasional bush fires cause fogs of great density.


  1. A fog signal be established. Fog rockets, one report every five minutes. From the position of the light, over 900 feet, the rockets will explode at an elevation of about 1,200 feet.
  2. Landing Stores.- A new crane be provided.
  3. Communication.- Acetylene Morse Lamp be provided.
  4. Telephone communication be established, connected with the main telegraph system.

(Provided for by clause 9 of the Light-houses Act 1911.)

A preliminary survey was made in 1910 for a proposed telephone route from Oakwood to Tasman Island, distance 12 ¾ miles. From Oakwood to Tasman’s Peninsula there are no difficulties in the way of erecting an ordinary telephone line, but a suspension wire about 1,350 yards long would be required from Cape Pillar to the island.

No steps have been taken by the Marine Board to carry out the work.

Despite Commander Brewis’s recommendations, the fog signal was never installed. The steam crane, which was first used in the construction of Hobart GPO, was second hand when installed on Tasman Island and wasn’t dismantled for replacement until 1927. The crane lay on the bank adjacent to the landing until 2016, when a storm finally washed it into the sea.

Alteration to the light

The following table details alterations made to the light at Tasman Island over the course of its history.



May 1929       

Intensity of light increased to 400,000 cd.


Original lens and lantern house removed and replaced with AGA PRB21 array and NAL-1 lantern room respectively.

Wind generator used to power lighthouse.

28 March 1991          

Solar conversion of lighthouse occurs.

April 1996       

Vega VRB25 array installed.

Recent conservation works

The following table details the recent conservation works to have been undertaken by AMSA.


Works Completed


Removal of tower entry door and replacement with replica.

3.9 Summary of current and former uses

From its construction in 1906, Tasman Island Lighthouse has been used as a marine AtoN for mariners at sea. Its AtoN capability remains its primary use.

Figure 15. Oil store, lighthouse and lightkeepers' quarters no. 3 (obscured). (© Brett Hall, 2019)
Figure 15. Oil store, lighthouse and lightkeepers' quarters no. 3 (obscured). (© Brett Hall, 2019)


Due to conservation efforts by Wildcare group Friends of Tasman Island, in partnership with the Tasmanian Park and Wildlife Service, the lightstation’s remaining buildings are being restored. The following was written by a representative of the group:

Apart from the lighthouse, existing buildings on Tasman Island include three substantial brick lightkeepers’ quarters and an oil store. A timber building, the oldest structure on the island, built in 1904 as the Clerk of Works office and subsequently used as relief keepers’ quarters, now lies in ruins.  Other ruins still visible include the foundations of the horse stables, haulage & landing.

  • Lightkeepers Quarters No 3 – Assistant’s quarters
    The Assistant Lightkeepers’ Quarters 2 & 3 are both built to the same plan.
    A substantial brick building adjacent to the lighthouse. It is now used as accommodation for volunteers, wildlife observers and Parks’ personnel. Restoration is ongoing, the most recent work being the restoration of the sunroom & front verandah.
  • Lightkeepers Quarters No 2 – Assistant’s quarters
    The Assistant Lightkeepers’ Quarters 2 & 3 are both built to the same plan.
    A substantial brick building.  Restoration is ongoing, the most recent work being the restoration of the sunroom & front verandah.
  • Lightkeepers Quarters No 1 – Superintendent’s (Head Keeper’s) quarters
    This substantial brick building is in need of considerable restoration. Work is ongoing.
  • Oil Store
    A brick building with corrugated iron roof. Restoration completed in 2008 and now used as workshop and storage.
  • Haulage
    Overgrown & in ruins
  • Landing
    This substantial structure, about 25 metres above sea level, has suffered from the ravages of time. Substantial storm damage was sustained in 2016 and the landing has now been partially restored by Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania, together with contractor AJR Construct.53

Figure 16. Tasman Landing and Anchor Rock (© Brett Hall, 2019)
Figure 16. Tasman Landing and Anchor Rock (© Brett Hall, 2019)

3.10 Summary of past and present community associations

Aboriginal associations

Further consultation with traditional stakeholders will be undertaken for a greater understanding of the past and present associations held across the region.

Local, national and international associations

The island and lightstation maintain strong familial associations due to the lighthouse’s extensive history as a manned site. Tasman Island is considered a significant site of Tasmanian and Australian history.

The site is maintained by Friends of Tasman Island, a branch of Wildcare Inc., in partnership with Parks and Wildlife Tasmania. AMSA consulted with the group regarding their associations with and work on the island. The following was written by a representative of the group:

After the lighthouse was automated in 1977 and keepers withdrawn, Tasman Island subsequently became part of the Tasman National Park, managed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. Volunteers from Wildcare Friends of Tasman Island, formed in 2005, work in partnership with Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania—their aim to restore the island’s cultural and natural heritage. Their first working bee, held on the island in 2006, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the lighthouse. Since that time, working bees have been held two or three times a year, with volunteers completing an impressive range of restoration, conservation and maintenance work. 

Wildcare Friends of Tasman Island volunteers have carried out many hundreds of hours of work each year towards the preservation and restoration of the natural and cultural heritage of Tasman Island. Their dedication will ensure that this dramatic island’s history will not be forgotten.54

Wildcare Friends of Tasman Island hold the remaining pieces of the original Tasman Island Lighthouse lantern room, and hope to put it on display one day.

Figure 17. Winch shed at Tasman Island, reclad by Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania (© Brett Hall, 2019)
Figure 17. Winch shed at Tasman Island, reclad by Parks & Wildlife Service Tasmania (© Brett Hall, 2019)

3.11 Unresolved questions or historical conflicts

There are small inconsistencies between differing accounts of the lighthouse’s history, such as the intensity of the light. K. Stanley determines in their book Guiding Lights: Tasmania’s lighthouses and lighthousemen that the Tasman Island light registered an intensity of 400,000 cd. upon its installation in 1906. However, Gary Searle found that the light initially registered an intensity of 275,500 cd. in 1906 before increasing to 400,000 cd. in 1929.55

Any further inconsistencies brought to light will be included in future versions of this plan.

3.12 Recommendations for further research

Archaeological investigation of the site may reveal further information on prehistoric and historic uses of Tasman Island to broaden understandings of the site’s intrinsic value.



9 Gary Searle, First Order: Australia’s Highway of Lighthouses, (SA: Seaside Lights, 2013), 34.

10 Melchisedech Thevenot, Hollandia Nova detecta, Terre Australe decouuerte l'an 1644, in J. Langlois’s Thevenot's Relations de divers voyages curieux  (Paris: De l'imprimerie de Iaqves Langlois, 1663).

11 John Dower, Van Dieman’s Land, (Orr and Smith, 1837).

12 James Erksine Calder, Ramblings on Betsy’s Island, Tasman Peninsula and Forestier’s Peninsula in February 1848, Adelaide: Sullivan’s Cove, 1985).  

13 Kathleen Stanley, Guiding Lights: Tasmania’s lighthouses and lighthousemen, (Hobart: St. David’s Park Publishing, 1991), 144.

20 Marine Board, 8 April 1904, Marine Board Notification, Australian Maritime Safety Authority archives.

25 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 145

27 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 145.

28 Searle, First Order, 364.

29 Searle, First Order, 368.

32 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 158.

34 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 146.

35 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 146.

36 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 147.

37 C.R.W. Brewis, Preliminary report on the lighting of the coast of Tasmania and the islands in Bass Strait, with recommendations as to existing lights and additional lights,  (Melbourne: Government printer, 1912) 8.

40 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 150.

41 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 151.

42 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 151.

43 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 152.

44 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 153.

45 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 153.

47 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 154; Searle, First Order, 368; “Lighthouse radio,” The Sydney Morning Herald, October 10, 1930

48 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 158.

49 Stanley, Guiding Lights, 158.

51 Stanley, Guiding Lights,  159

52 Brewis, Preliminary report on the lighting of the coast of Tasmania and the islands in Bass Strait, 8.

53 Erika Shankley, Friends of Tasman Island.

54 Erika Shankley, Friends of Tasman Island.

55 Searle, First Order, 369; Stanley, Guiding Lights, 144.