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Lighthouses of Northern Territory


State Indexes > NT > Cape Don Lighthouse

The Cape Don Lighthouse

The Cape Don lighthouse was constructed on the Cobourg Peninsula in 1917 when the Commonwealth Government realised the urgent need for a lighthouse, as the passage between the peninsula and Melville Island was a route to Darwin, but was unlit.


The Cape Don lighthouse and cottages from the air
Photograph: Winsome Bonham


Operation

LOCATION: (map)
OPERATOR: -
EXHIBITED: 1917
CONSTRUCTION: Reinforced concrete
CHARACTER: Single white flash every 5 sec
LIGHT SOURCE: Low voltage rotating array
POWER SOURCE: Solar panels
INTENSITY: -
ELEVATION: 50 metres
RANGE: 41 kilometres
HEIGHT: 36 metres
AUTOMATED: 1983
DEMANNED: 1983
DEACTIVATED: No
CUSTODIAN: NT National Parks


The Cape Don Lighthouse
Photograph: John Ibbotson

History

The Cape Don lighthouse was constructed on the Cobourg Peninsula in 1917 when the Commonwealth Government realised the urgent need for a lighthouse, as the passage between the peninsula and Melville Island was a route to Darwin, but was unlit.

Work began on the tower in May 1915. The tropical heat of the north was considered too excessive to use iron for the construction, and the local ironstone rock was not suitable for the formation of concrete, so the lighthouse was built from reinforced concrete using materials shipped from Melbourne.

Due to outlying reefs and mangroves, materials could not be landed directly at the site, so a jetty was constructed three miles to the east, a tramway was laid, and materials were transported on trucks drawn by horses. Due to the climate and the grade, only two round trips could be made each day, and construction could only be carried out during the dry season, taking three years.

The tower is 28 metres high from the base to the light platform. Concreting was completed in June 1917, and the lantern was installed ready for exhibition. A severe earthquake hit the area in August 1917, causing the structure to sway. The tower was not damaged, but 12 kilograms of mercury was lost from the pedestal bath.


The optical apparatus was operated by clockwork mechanism driven by descending weights, and as the tower was so high, the mechanism would revolve for 12 hours without rewinding. The tower has a Chance Brothers lantern and originally had a third order dioptric lens, with vapourised kerosene burnt in a incandescent mantle. The 150,000 candela beam had a range of 23 miles in favourable conditions.

A radio link with Darwin was established in 1937, and mail and stores were supplied by launch from Darwin every fortnight. Heavier stores such as kerosene was delivered every three months by one of the lighthouse tenders.

The light apparatus was converted to a tungsten-halogen electric lamp in the early 1970s, using power from diesel generators.

When it was automated in 1983, a high intensity light was installed, the first of its kind powered by solar cells. The lighthouse was also demanned in 1983.

The lightstation is located within the Gurig National Park, and upon demanning, the cottages were handed over the Northern Territory Conservation Commission.

Cape Don, on which the lighthouse is located, was named by Captain Phillip Parker in 1818, in compliment to Lieutenant General Sir George Don, K.C.B., the Lieutenant Governor of the Fortress of Gibraltar. 


The Cape Don Lighthouse
Photograph: John Ibbotson


Keepers

We need your help in compiling a list of keepers for this lighthouse. If you have any information then send it to keeper@lighthouses.org.au.

Please include this lighthouse's name, the keepers full name and what years they were keepers. Also include the same information for any other lights they were on.

Access

NEAREST TOWN: -
DISTANCE: -
ACCESS: Accessible by light plane, although the airstrip is 15 kilometres from the lightstation
TOURS: No
ACCOMMODATION: Yes. Two of the cottages are being used as wilderness lodges by the "Cape Don Experience", via the Northern Territory Conservation Commission

Other Cape Don sites


Special Thanks to:

  • Winsome Bonham
  • John Ibbotson
  • Pauline O'Brien

Sources:

  • From Dusk to Dawn by Gordon Reid
  • Lighthouses of Australia: Images from the End of an Era by John Ibbotson

Page last updated:
Page created:
14/10/06
30/01/05

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