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State Indexes > SA > Althorpe Island Lighthouse

The Althorpe Island Lighthouse [Photograph: Brad Butler]
The Althorpe Island Lighthouse
Photograph: Brad Butler

The Althorpe Island Lighthouse

With the newly established Althorpe Island Lightstation and Cape Borda (1858) to its south, the warning beams provided important nautical links at the western end of Investigator Strait.


Operation

LOCATION: Latitude 35 22.2'S, Longitude 136 51.7' E (map)
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
EXHIBITED: 1879
CONSTRUCTION: Stone
CHARACTER: 0.1 sec flash every 7 sec
LIGHT SOURCE: 120v 1000w Tungsten Halogen Lamp
POWER SOURCE: Twin Diesel Generator sets
INTENSITY: 710,000 cd
ELEVATION: 107 metres
RANGE: 24 nautical miles
HEIGHT: 20 metres
AUTOMATED: 1991
DEMANNED: 1991
DEACTIVATED: -
CUSTODIAN: Parks SA

A 1983 view of the tower with engine and store rooms [Photograph: Brian Lord]
A 1983 view of the tower with engine and store rooms
Photograph: Brian Lord

Althorpe Island from the air [Photograph: John Lawley]
Althorpe Island from the air
Photograph: Michiel Lucieer


The jetty used for landing stores at the base of the 300 foot (87 metre) cliff [Photograph: AMSA]
The jetty used for landing stores at the base of the 300 foot (87 metre) cliff
Photograph: AMSA

Working of the leading light, 1962 [Photograph: Robert Dawson]
Working on the leading light, 1962
Photograph: Robert Dawson

The Althorpe Leading Light [Photograph: Brian Lord]
The Althorpe Leading Light
Photograph: Brian Lord

The Althorpe Island light at dusk [Photograph Courtesy: John ]Lawley
The Althorpe Island light at dusk
Photograph courtesy: Michiel Lucieer

The Althorpe Island Lantern Room [Photograph: AMSA]
The Althorpe Island Lantern Room
Photograph: AMSA

The Althorpe Tower and winch gear [Photograph: Brad Butler]
The Althorpe Tower and winch gear
Photograph: Brad Butler

Attending the Althorpe Island Lighthouse [Photograph: Adelaide Advertiser]
Attending the Althorpe Island Lighthouse
Photograph: Adelaide Advertiser

History

The island's cultural history most likely began with the Lower Yorke Peninsula inhabitants, the Narungga people, 8000 years before present sea levels rose 120 metres.

It was the English, (Matthew Flinders) and French (Baudin & Freycinet) explorers, who sighted the island in 1802 and named their respective discoveries, 'Althorpe Isles' and 'Isles Vauban'.

The next known contact on Althorpe Island came in 1838, with the burial of 'T. Peterson', a 42 year old sealer, who is believed to have lost his life during one the sealing expeditions, working along on Althorpe Island's 5 km shoreline.

Althorpe Island, is 91.5 hectares, in area, nearly 1.6 km from North to South and 1.2 km wide at the centre and a plateau 91 metres, above sea level.

Reaching the summit is not only an achievement but breathtaking views of Lower Yorke Peninsula with Cape Spencer being the most southerly, 4.5 nautical miles (8 km) from Althorpe Island. The view south is Kangaroo Island and looking west, visitors would note Wedge Island, with Port Lincoln 32 nautical miles further west. To the east, the vast sea horizon of Investigator Strait, where today, Adelaide's loom can be seen.

Althorpe Island Lighthouse Station was one of a group of lighthouses that represented the inter-colonial agreement by the States in 1873, which sought the necessity of provisions for lighthouses.

Construction began in early 1877 and after a party of dignitaries from the Marine Board arrived on Althorpe Island during the morning on Friday, 14 February 1879, during which time they had inspected the jetty, the bridge to the 'cutting' the steep inclined tramway, three cottages and finally, the lighthouse itself.

The President of the Marine Board "emphatically declared it to be a model station", with a £11,000 price tag, of which £1,500 was for water supply (the total cost was equivalent to one labourers wage for 91 years).

Construction was not without incident, including the loss of the attendant cutter, 'Young St George', industrial disputation and the strange death of the foreman, killed by a falling rock while sleeping.

The lighthouse was designed by R P Hickson, Engineer-in-Chief for South Australian harbours and jetties.

The lighthouse was constructed with a combination of limestone and hard sandstone, for hard wearing areas, quarried and cut on the island. The spiral staircase is made of solid blocks of sandstone, treads faced with Mintaro slate.

The three Keepers' Cottages were constructed with rendered limestone rubble and hard sandstone for hard wearing areas.

Water supply was from rain water held in tanks in the foundations of the tower.

From 14 February 1879, or for the next 112 years, lightkeepers and families maintained the 15 metre tower warning mariners from a height of 91 metres above sea level, casting a beam 24 nautical miles into Investigator Strait.

With the newly established Althorpe Island Lightstation and Cape Borda (1858) to its south, the warning beams provided important nautical links at the western end of Investigator Strait.

Whilst travelling from the southeast, Cape Jaffa (1872) guided mariners along the treacherous coastline and `Sturt Light' (Cape Willoughby) (1852), marked the narrow waters of `Backstairs Passage'.

Troubridge Island Lighthouse Station (1856), indicated the Gulf of St Vincents entrance and further north, were the Port Adelaide lights, undoubtedly being a welcoming sight for the weary sea traveller.

Despite the nightly illumination of 16 rotating light beams during the 112 years, six ships foundered around the island, some of which are commemorated with graves.

The first shipwreck was in 1877 and the last in 1982, with the SS Pareora in 1919, sinking with the loss of 11 crew.

Althorpe was powered by oil/wick; acetylene gas the vapourised kerosene/mantle until the light was converted to electric in 1963.

Solar conversion took place in 1991.

Lighthouse logbooks record some of the difficult island lifestyle experienced by keepers and their families, interluded with comments of wonder and beauty of the island, being shared with an array of coastal birds, including the seasonally estimated 22,000 shearwaters (mutton birds).

Life was tough, but improved over the years with construction of the 72 metre jetty and the flying fox.

Towards the end heavy supplies being brought in by ships such as the 'Cape Don' and light supplies such as groceries and mails by light aircraft on the 450 metre airstrip.

During the early years of occupation with no direct communication with the Mainland , one keeper was ill for eight months. It took that time to hail a Government vessel on its way to Wallaroo to call and transport the sick man to Adelaide.

In the meantime, the headkeeper (as stated in his Log would "put him in a warm bath and give him caster oil which mightily relieved him".

After the Russian scare, a telephone line was laid from Yorketown to Cape Spencer from where a heavy duty cable undersea to Althorpe Island, a distance of 58 miles. A great achievement within the 10 years of the invention of the telephone the line was subject to breakage due to the rocky seabed.

Despite the hardships, the lighting of the warning beam continued faithfully each night.

The jetty area also contains three grave sites.

Prior to Commonwealth authority over lighthouses in Australia in 1915, operational management was first controlled by South Australia's maritime authorities, 'Trinity House', succeeded by the 'Marine Board of SA'. Since 1915 various Federal government departments were responsible for Althorpe Island Lightstation until automation of the light in 1991.

During this time, the infrastructure was divided with the light tower and lead light being retained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The 91 hectare island, which included the 'heritage listed' cottages, jetty and Australia's only island flying fox was sold to the South Australia government and declared a conservation park in 1996.

Today, a broad spectrum of community volunteers continue to improve the facilities with solar electric power & hotwater and the maintenance of the buildings, re-roofing and painting of the cottages, etc. or with conservation interest, i.e. the island's herbarium 88 species, (Successful heritage/conservation work has been possible through numerous grants.)

The Friends of Althorpe Islands Conservation Park's newsletter, 'The Althorpe Island Sentinel', keeps its members informed and as witnessed by the 100 annual visitors, this unique lighthouse station represents a living example of maritime history, at 125 years old on 14 February 2004.


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.

Toward the end of the stations manned life light supplies were brought in by air [Photograph: Brian Lord]
Toward the end of the stations manned life light supplies were brought in by air
Photograph: Brian Lord


Access

NEAREST TOWN: Marion Bay
DISTANCE (Marion Bay): 17.5 km by sea
DISTANCE (Adelaide): 153 km by sea
ACCESS: Airstrip is now decommissioned/Sea restricted
TOURS: No
ACCOMMODATION: No

The Cape Don anchored off Althorpes brought in heavier stores such as oil. [Photograph: Brian Lord]
Visitor, Ray Walker inside the lens. (1978)
Photograph: John Lawley

The Cape Don anchored off Althorpes brought in heavier stores such as oil. [Photograph: Brian Lord]
The Cape Don anchored off Althorpes brought in heavier stores such as oil
Photograph: Brian Lord


The Surrounding Area


Aerial view of the Althorpe Island Lighthouse
Photograph: Winsome Bonham


Features

South Australian Expedition Report: (Part 2 of 2) Bulletin May 00

News

Update on Althorpe Island Bulletin Feb 03

The Althorpe Island Lighthouse and cottages [Photograph: Brad Butler]
The Althorpe Island Lighthouse and cottages
Photograph: Brad Butler


Other Althorpe Sites

Althorpe Island Lighthouse Garry Searle
Return to Althorpe Island for Michael Lucieer & John Lawley Postcards
Althorpe Island - A Taste of Lighthouse Life Garry Searle

Special Thanks to:

  • Adelaide Advertiser for Historical Photographs
  • AMSA for Historical Photographs
  • Brad Butler for Photographs
  • Brian Lord for Photographs
  • Erika Lawley for Corrections
  • John Lawley for Photographs
  • Michiel Lucieer for the history text
  • Robert Dawson for Historical Photographs
  • Winsome Bonham for Photograph

Sources:

  • AMSA
  • Brian Lord
  • The Friendly Lights, via Bob Duthie
  • Lighthouses of South Australia by R Parsons
  • Michiel Lucieer
  • Register of the National Estate

Page last updated:
Page created:
9/09/03
13/05/03

Site constructed by: 
Malcolm S Macdonald t/as Lighthouse Computer Training & Development (1997-2001)
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1997-2001 Malcolm S Macdonald and individual contributors as acknowledged.
2002-2007 Lighthouses of Australia Inc (LoA Inc) and individual contributors as acknowledged. & Lighthouses of Australia Inc (2002-2007)