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Lighthouses of Tasmania


State Indexes > TAS > Iron Pot Lighthouse

The Iron Pot Lighthouse

Iron Pot Lighthouse is significant for several reasons.

It was the first lighthouse built in Tasmania, it is the second oldest lighthouse built in Australia, it is the oldest original tower in Australia, it was the first to utilise a locally made optic, and was the first Australian lighthouse to use solar power.

The Iron Pot Lighthouse is on a barren rocky island [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
The Iron Pot Lighthouse is on a barren rocky island

Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas


Operation

LOCATION: Latitude 43 03.7' S, Longitude 147 25.5' E (Map)
OPERATOR: Hobart Ports Corporation
CHARACTER: Group Flashing (3) in 10 Seconds
LIGHT SOURCE: <>
POWER SOURCE: Solar Powered
INTENSITY: 1780 cd
ELEVATION: 21 Metres
RANGE: 11 Nautical Miles (19 km)
HEIGHT: 11 Metres

History

The Iron Pot Lighthouse is significant for several reasons. It was the first lighthouse to be built in Tasmania and is the second oldest lighthouse ever built in Australia. It is also the oldest original tower in Australia and the first lighthouse in Australia to utilise a locally manufactured optical apparatus. It is also believed to be the first lighthouse to be converted to solar power in Australia.

Derwent Lighthouse near Hobart (1906) [Postcard Courtesy: Laurie Sharp, Publisher Unknown]
Derwent Lighthouse near Hobart (1906)
Postcard courtesy: Laurie Sharp, publisher unknown

Origin of the name Iron Pot continues to be a mystery. One theory is that whalers' pots were left on the island from the early eighteenth century and this gave the island its name. Another is that it takes its name from the curiously formed pot like holes in island. And a third theory is that there was a whale oil fired beacon in old whaler's tri-pot.

The Iron Pot Lighthouse on the Derwent [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
The Iron Pot Lighthouse on the Derwent River
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

The barren rocky island is small, about 0.4 hectare in area and marks the entrance to the Derwent River.

The first beacon and signal station was manned by convicts and is believed to be on the nearby Betsy Island before being relocated to Iron Pot Island.

Several significant shipwrecks and groundings including the Bombay (1830), SS Lintrose (1832) and the Princess Royal (1832) with 300 free women settlers on board caused agitation from merchants and residents in Hobart Town for a light to be erected.

Lt Hill, the Port Officer, drew up plans for a wooden light, which was approved and erected in 1832. It had a timber crossbar and the locally made apparatus was raised and lowered by hand. The light was manned by a keeper and two convict assistants living in harsh conditions in tents.

John Lee Archer inspected the light and was dissatisfied with arrangement of light and recommended it be upgraded. His rubble tower was built within the timber framework of the existing tower and was completed and operating in 1833.

Despite these improvements, the light apparatus still failed to meet up with expectation and in 1835 a new lamp was fitted. Ship owners still complained the light was inadequate but it was not upgraded.

Finally, in 1851, another new apparatus installed, but the ship owners still considered the light unsatisfactory. In 1858 the newly formed Hobart Marine Board took control of light. By now a stone hut had been built for the keepers.

A curious episode happened in 1862 when one of the keeper's children was claimed to have found a high grade gold bearing quartz nugget. The Iron Pot gold rush was on within hours of their father's report, however the 200 potential diggers were disappointed with hours of their arrival as no further gold was apparent.

Significant changes took place on Iron Pot from 1882 to 1885.

Owing to the confined space on the Islet, the Board in 1882 entered into an Agreement for the occupation of an area on the mainland which was used for many years as a garden by the keepers at the lighthouse.

All that remains of the keepers compound [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
All that remains of the keepers compound
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas
The Iron Pot Lighthouse [Photograph: Deborah Taylor]
The Iron Pot Lighthouse
Photograph: Deborah Taylor

Then, in 1884 a new Chance Bros colza burning apparatus was installed. To mark the new era, in 1884, the Marine Board renamed Iron Pot Lighthouse, the 'Derwent Lighthouse'. The name never really took, and even today on some official documents the lighthouse is still referred to as 'The Iron Pot'.

Keeper's conditions were improved in 1885 when a new two story headkeeper's cottage was constructed. It was unusual to have two storey cottages on lightstation but on the 0.4 hectare island space was a premium.

The first and only person born on the island was baby Essie (or Elsie) Margaret Roberts, born to the headkeeper's wife in 1895.

In the same year, 1895, a huge storm arose, driving waves right over the island. The assistant keeper's quarters were abandoned for the safety of the headkeeper's cottage as they flooded. Full water tanks, sheds and a stone retaining wall were washed away. It is believed that the keeper and families then retreated to lighthouse. In the morning, there was devastation everywhere. There was even kelp clinging to uppermost rails of the lighthouse, over 20 metres above sea level. There had been no loss of life and the keepers had worked all night and kept the light going.

The timber derrick crane on Iron Pot Island [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
The timber derrick crane on Iron Pot Island
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

1904 saw the installed incandescent petroleum burner. It was the first light in Australia to use vapourised kerosene as illuminant.

As part of the agreement controlling coastal lights, Iron Pot Lighthouse was handed over to Commonwealth in 1915. Following recommendations made upon its takeover, in 1920, the fixed white light was converted to revolving white light by inserting a revolving cylinder.

The apparatus was also converted to acetylene gas, ending an era spanning 88 years of constant toil and service to the light.

In 1921, the keepers were withdrawn and the keepers' cottages were sold for removal. The material from the cottages is said to have been recycled into other buildings around Hobart.

As a result of local vessels objecting to the lighthouse levy imposed by the Commonwealth the Light was eventually transferred back to the Hobart Marine Board in 1925 and no further levies were charged.

However, under this arrangement, the light continued to be maintained by the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service, at the Marine Board's expense until 1976. To keep costs down upon resuming responsibility for maintenance of light, the Marine Board converted from acetylene gas to solar in 1977 - the first such conversion in Australia.

The light celebrated its centenary in 1932. Conditions must have been less than ideal as two row boats were lost.

The Iron Pot tower is known for its unique obloid (square) shape and its blackwood staircase.

The derrick crane once used to get supplies on and off the island is still visually intact.

An early postcard of the Iron Pot (Derwent) Lighthouse (1910) [Postcard Courtesy: Laurie Sharp, Publisher M & L Series]
An early postcard of the Iron Pot (Derwent) Lighthouse (1910)
Postcard courtesy: Laurie Sharp, Publisher M & L Series


Access

Iron Pot Lighthouse is located on an craggy island in the Derwent Estuary about 17.5 kilometres east of Hobart. Access is difficult as the island is about 2 kilometres off Cape Direction. Even by boat the landing can be difficult. The tower is not open to the public.


The Iron Pot Lighthouse, c. 1905-1920
Glass plate negative, salvaged from the tip in the 1960s by Nick Repin
Photograph: Mr ___ Broughton


The Surrounding Area


The Iron Pot Lighthouse from the air
Photograph: Winsome Bonham


Special Thanks to:

  • Deborah Taylor
  • Ed Kavaliunas for Photographs
  • Hobart Ports Corporation
  • Bob Grundy
  • Lance Morgan
  • Steve Cooper
  • Leigh Dwyer
  • Laurie Sharp
  • Winsome Bonham for Photograph
  • Mr Broughton & Nick Repin for Photograph

Sources:

  • Brian Lord
  • Guiding Lights by Kathleen Stanley
  • The Hobart Mercury
  • Hobart Ports Corporation (formerly Hobart Marine Board)
  • Louis Aleverti, Glen Sheppard & Dave Wigger
  • M & L Series
  • The History of Iron Pot Lighthouse, Marly Bryan

Page last updated:
Page created:
28/06/99
27/06/99

Site constructed by: 
Malcolm S Macdonald t/as Lighthouse Computer Training & Development (1997-2001)
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