Hornby Lighthouse

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Hornby Lighthouse
Hornby Light 2010.jpg
Hornby Lighthouse, 2010
Hornby Lighthouse is located in New South Wales
Hornby Lighthouse
Hornby Lighthouse
Location in New South Wales
Location South Head, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Coordinates 33°50′1″S 151°16′52″E / 33.83361°S 151.28111°E / -33.83361; 151.28111Coordinates: 33°50′1″S 151°16′52″E / 33.83361°S 151.28111°E / -33.83361; 151.28111
Year first constructed 1858 (1858)
Automated 1933 (1933)
Construction Sandstone tower
Tower shape Cylindrical tower with balcony and lantern
Markings / pattern Striped vertically red and white tower, white gallery and lantern
Height 9.1 metres (30 ft)
Focal height 27 metres (90 ft)
Original lens First order catoptric lens
Range 14 nautical miles (26 km; 16 mi)[note 1]
Characteristic L Fl W 5s.
Admiralty number K2636
NGA number 111-6180
ARLHS number AUS-093
Managing agent NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service
Official name South Head Signal Station
Designated 2 April 1999
Reference no. 01436

Hornby Lighthouse, also known as South Head Lower Light or South Head Signal Station, is an active lighthouse located on the tip of South Head, New South Wales, Australia, a headland to the north of the suburb Watsons Bay. It marks the southern entrance to Port Jackson and Sydney Harbour,[1] as well as lighting the South Reef, a ledge of submerged rocks.[2] It is the third oldest lighthouse in New South Wales.[3] Designed by Mortimer Lewis and listed on the (now defunct) Register of the National Estate[4] and on the New South Wales State Heritage Register since 2 April 1999, with the following statement of significance:[5]

A dominant Sydney landmark which appears to have been in continuous use since the 1840s as a controlling point for shipping entering and leaving Port Jackson. The building complex, designed by the Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis in the early 1840s, is an architectural important example of an early Victorian public work associated with port activities.

— Statement of significance as listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register.


Hornby Lighthouse, 1895
Hornby Lighthouse, 1917

The need for a lighthouse at the entrance of Jackson Bay was made evident by the loss of two ships. First was the Dunbar, wrecked in August 1857, with the loss of 121 lives. The second was Catherine Adamson, two months later in October 1857, with a loss of twenty-one lives.

A committee of the Light, Pilot and Navigation Board took evidence in September 1857 and recommended the construction of a 9.1-metre (30 ft) lighthouse on the inner South Head, showing a fixed white light (F.W.), although a red light was also considered.[6]

The lighthouse was designed by Alexander Dawson,[citation needed] the New South Wales Government Architect at that time. Dawson approved the recommended location as having adequate foundations, and also reported that the government stores already had a catoptric lens apparatus available that has been purchased in 1853.[6]

The tower construction ended in 1858, and it was the third lighthouse built in New South Wales, following Macquarie Lighthouse in 1818 and Nobbys Head Light in 1858.[3] It was opened by Sir William Denison, Governor of New South Wales, and named after the family of his wife Caroline,[2] daughter of Admiral Sir Phipps Hornby,[3][4][7] though it was known as the "Lower Light", to distinguish it from Macquarie Lighthouse, the "Upper Light".[3]

The original apparatus was a first order catoptric lens, and the light source was a kerosene lamp.[2][3]

Also built with the lighthouse was a sandstone keeper's cottage, also designed by Dawson. A second cottage was constructed in 1860, and two rooms were added to each of the cottages in 1877. The cottages were connected to the city water only in 1897, using stored waters until then.[3]

In 1904 the light was upgraded to incandescent gas,[note 2] In 1933 the light was electrified, and the lighthouse was automated and demanned.[3][4]

In 1948 a Chance Brothers catadioptric lens was installed, and the light characteristic was changed to a rhythmic light.[3]

Following the automation of the lighthouse in 1933, the lighthouse and cottages fell into disuse. With World War II the shoreline fell under control of the Army, and remained so until 1977, housing serving married personnel. Following classification by the National Trust in 1975, the army transferred the station to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which restored the cottages and instated caretakers.[3]

The light's current characteristic is a white light showing two seconds on, three seconds off (L.Fl.W. 5s),[8] visible for 15 nautical miles (28 km; 17 mi).[note 3]


One of the keeper cottages near Hornby Lighthouse

The lighthouse is a tapered circular structure, built of curved dressed sandstone[3] and standing 9.1 metres (30 ft) above the ground.[8] It is painted with distinctive red and white vertical stripes. The sandstone was quarried locally.[3]

On top of the tower is a non-ferrous metal balcony and railing, painted white, surrounded the glass-enclosed lamp.[2][4]

To the west of the tower are the two Georgian style sandstone cottages, now painted, constructed from the same locally queried sandstone, and having timber verandahs and picket fences.[4] The original slate roofing has been replaced with corrugated asbestos.[4]

Site operation[edit]

The light is operated by the Sydney Ports Corporation, while the site is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.[1][3] The site is open and accessible to the public, but the tower itself is closed.[1] It can be reached by walking along the South Head Heritage Trail through Sydney Harbour National Park, starting at Camp Cove.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to List of Lights. The Lighthouses of Australia Inc. lists as 15 nautical miles (28 km; 17 mi).
  2. ^ According to Lighthouses of Australia Inc. The Register of the National Estate states it was done in the early 1920s.
  3. ^ The current light source is a 12–volt 55–watt quartz halogen lamp.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of Australia: New South Wales". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 29 August 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Hornby Light" (PDF). Woollahra Library Local History Centre. Woollahra Council. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "The Hornby Lighthouse at South Head". Lighthouses of New South Wales. Lighthouses of Australia Inc. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Hornby Lighthouse Group, Hornby Light Rd, Watsons Bay, NSW, Australia". Register of the National Estate. Department of the Environment and Energy, Australian Government. 21 March 1978. Retrieved 15 September 2017. 
  5. ^ "South Head Signal Station". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. Retrieved 15 September 2017. 
  6. ^ a b "Parliamentary Papers. Additional Lighthouse for Port Jackson". The Sydney Morning Herald. XXXVIII, (6052). New South Wales, Australia. 29 October 1857. p. 3. Retrieved 12 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  7. ^ "MISCELLANEOUS SHIPPING". The Tasmanian Telegraph. I, (2). Tasmania, Australia. 26 June 1858. p. 4. Retrieved 12 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  8. ^ a b List of Lights, Pub. 111: The West Coasts of North and South America (Excluding Continental U.S.A. and Hawaii), Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, and the Islands of the North and South Pacific Oceans (PDF). List of Lights. United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. 2009. p. 126. 
  9. ^ "Sydney Harbour National Park - Exploring cultural heritage in the park". Office of Environment and Heritage. Retrieved 22 September 2010. 

 This article incorporates text by New South Wales State Heritage Register available under the CC BY 3.0 AU licence.

External links[edit]