Cape Wickham Lighthouse

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The lighthouse in 1887

The Cape Wickham Lighthouse is a lighthouse situated at Cape Wickham on King Island, Tasmania. At 48 metres tall, it is Australia's tallest lighthouse. It is listed on the Commonwealth Heritage Register.[1]


The lighthouse was originally established in 1861,[2] in response to the sinking of the barque Cataraqui sixteen years earlier, a disaster which had resulted in the deaths of four hundred people.

While it was being constructed, some worried that the lighthouse would cause more shipwrecks than it prevented, as lighthouses usually showed the way to safety rather than warning of danger as the Cape Wickham lighthouse was designed to do. Nonetheless, the lighthouse was eventually completed, although shipwrecks frequently continued to occur until the Currie Lighthouse was completed in 1879.[3] Built from locally quarried stone, the lighthouse was manned by a superintendent until the light was automated in the 1920s. The superintendent often came into conflict with hunters and other established inhabitants of the island, with one 1873 report stating:

There are certain lawless men who have taken up their residence on the island who make a practice of annoying the Superintendent in every possible way, destroying his cattle, pulling down the fences and taking his hay and in fact they say they are determined to make the place too hot for him, and I much fear it will end in some serious injury to the station or perhaps to the light itself.

—from Guiding Lights by Katherine Stanley[4]

The superintendents were required to be extremely self-sufficient, as only one supply ship visited the site a year. Some of the lightkeepers resorted to looting and theft to supplement these supplies, with one keeper being dismissed for storing goods that his brother had looted from a shipwreck.[4]

In the 1920s, it was determined that it was no longer necessary for the light to be manned on a full-time basis, and automation systems were added to the lighthouse. At this time, a number of the surrounding buildings were also demolished, including the superintendent's residence. The lighthouse continued to be looked after by the lighthouse keeper from nearby Currie.[4]

During preparations for the 150th anniversary of the lighthouse, it was discovered that it had never been officially opened.[5] To rectify this oversight, Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce officially opened the lighthouse in a ceremony on 5 November 2011.[6]

The lighthouse[edit]

The lighthouse circa 1887. The superintendent's quarters can be seen to the left.

The lighthouse is 48 metres tall, which makes it the tallest lighthouse in Australia.[1][4] There are eleven timber flights of stairs in the lighthouse, with twenty steps each, which must be climbed in order to reach the top. Surrounding the lighthouse are the remains of a number of associated buildings, including a small church. There are also a number of gravestones, many belonging to those who were shipwrecked in the area after the lighthouse was built.[4]


  1. ^ a b "Commonwealth Heritage Places in Tasmania". Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  2. ^ "NOTICE TO MARINERS.". Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899) (Tas.: National Library of Australia). 3 September 1861. p. 4 Edition: MORNING. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Cape Wickham Lighthouse". Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Macdonald, Michael. "The Cape Wickham Lighthouse on King Island". Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  5. ^ Foster, Margot (4 November 2011). "Cape Wickham lighthouse turns 150". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  6. ^ "Governor-General of Australia :: Events :: Governor-General opens Cape Wickham Lighthouse". Office of the Governor General of the Commonweawlth of Australia. Retrieved 6 November 2011. 

Coordinates: 39°35′19″S 143°56′34″E / 39.5885°S 143.9429°E / -39.5885; 143.9429