Cape Bruny: the second oldest lighthouse in Australia3 min read
The Cape Bruny Lighthouse, that towers 114m, is an inactive lighthouse located at the southern tip of Bruny Island, Tasmania, Australia.
First lit in March 1838 and eventually decommissioned on 6 August 1996, It is the second oldest lighthouse in Australia.
The project was commissioned by Governor George Arthur in 1835 after a series of shipwrecks south of Bruny Island.
Cape Bruny, and in general southern coastlines, were feared by many early navigators and Tasmania had over 400 shipwrecks around its wild coastlines. The catastrophic wreck of the convict transport ship George III, with the loss of 134 lives in April 1835 and the earlier wreck of the Actaeon, wrecked on what’s now known as the Actean Reef, south of Bruny Island in 1822, prompted Governor to erect a lighthouse to guide the vessels past at Cape Bruny.
John Lee Archer, the famous architect that designed many well-known structures around the world was well ahead of his time and the iconic lighthouse he designed still stands proud still today above dramatic cliff tops and coves that form the wild rugged coastline of Cape Bruny.
Its construction began April 1836 but it took longer than Archer forecast. Partly due to the fact that the person he proposed be put in charge to oversee the building works, Charles Watson, was not approved by Arthur because he was originally a convict.
However, Watson received a condition pardon in 1834 and in 1836 he was sent to South Bruny to supervise the building of the lighthouse with his team of 12 convicts. It was constructed from locally quarried dolerite and, when first lit in March 1838 it was Tasmania’s third lighthouse after the Iron Pot Lighthouse at the entrance to the River Derwent and the Low Head Lighthouse at the entrance to the River Tamar, and Australia’s fourth.
Cape Bruny’s first superintendent, William Baudinet, was assisted by three convicts in operating the station. Convicts staffed most of Tasmania’s lighthouses until 1855.
But, if life for Cape Bruny’s nineteenth century lightkeepers was sublime in its spectacular isolation, despite their long hours on duty, they were poorly paid and many toiled for years without leave.
After 1878 staff at Cape Bruny enjoyed 14 days leave per annum with half their passage to and from the island paid.
The nightly task of maintaining the light was unremitting for the Cape Bruny Lighthouse keepers through the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Cape Bruny was initially illuminated by a Wilkins lantern, consuming one pint of sperm whale oil per hour.
In 1892, whale oil was replaced by better quality colza oil. In 1903 the original staircase was replaced with a cast-iron staircase and the Wilkins lantern replaced with a Chance Brothers lantern.
Both remain in the tower still today.
In its history, there have been three known deaths around the Cape Bruny lighthouse.
Assistant keeper Isaac Merrick’s two year old daughter Christina choked on a piece of turnip and died in 1875. Her grave can be found today overlooking the beach next to the grave of lighthouse keeper A. Williams’ child who died of infant diarrhoea in 1898.
Cape Bruny’s third recorded victim occurred when Rupert Peters fell while descending a cliff, just below the Lighthouse, to go fishing in 1937.
The last lighthouse keeper, John Cook, were made redundant in 1993.
He served for 25 years and spent 13 years at Cape Bruny, until everything was becoming automated.
In December 2000 Cape Bruny Lighthouse became part of the South Bruny National Park.
The lightstation was maintained by a permanent caretaker until 2011 when the Parks & Wildlife established a rotational volunteer caretaker program. Volunteers lived on-site in the caretakers cottage for four-week periods, assisting with repairs and general maintenance.
Today the Cape Bruny Lighthouse is the only Southern Tasmanian lighthouse open for tours.
Author’s note: Official Website