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Lighthouses of Tasmania


State Indexes > TAS > Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse

The Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse

At Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse, Australia's most southerly lighthouse, conditions are extreme with the constant buffeting of the Roaring Forties coming off the Southern Ocean.


250 days a year is wet at the Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse and The Needles
Photograph: Jeff Jennings


Operation (1996)

LOCATION: Latitude 43° 39.5' S; Longitude: 145° 16.2' E [map]
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
EXHIBITED: 1891
CONSTRUCTION: Red Brick Cavity Wall
CHARACTER: Group Flashing (2) every 30 Seconds
LIGHT SOURCE: 1000 Watt 120v, Tungsten Halogen
POWER SOURCE: 240 Volt Triple Diesel Alternators
INTENSITY: 1,000,000 CD
ELEVATION: 107 Metres
RANGE: 26 Nautical Miles
HEIGHT: 15 Metres
AUTOMATED: <<>>
DEMANNED: <<>>
DEACTIVATED: <<>>
CUSTODIAN: National Parks & Wildlife Service - Tasmania

The Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse
The Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse
Photograph: Jeff Jennings

History

This light is unique as it is Australia's most southerly lighthouse.

It is on Maatsuyker Island, 10 kilometres off the southern most coast of Tasmania, and is lashed by the unobstructed force of the Roaring Forties coming across the Southern Ocean from as far away as Africa. The Lighthouse is situated on southern tip of island for best visibility and all round view.

Alternate sites that were considered were the Mewstone and South West Capes. Maatsuyker was selected in 1888 by Hobart engineer, Meech.

Completed in 1891 at a cost of 8,500, the tower is also unusual in that it was built with a with red brick cavity wall. The tower was rendered and painted white.

The original light assembly (prism, clockwork, astragal and copper dome) were bought from Chance Brothers of Birmingham for 3,672.

All the materials were brought from Hobart and hauled up a steep horse powered tramway at Haulage Cove, on the relatively sheltered east side of the island. Haulage Cove is the only place where a safe landing may be made on the island, and even this is subject to weather conditions.

The tower has three internal floors made of Mintaro (SA) slate. The uppermost floor (11 cm thick), which is reached by a wrought-iron staircase, supports the prisms and the lens-clock mechanism. The weight of the light gear exceeds two tonnes.

The National Film & Sound Archive has a short movie of the island from 1949


Weather observations have been continuously maintained from the light since 1891.

The control of the light passed to the Commonwealth in 1917.

The original 6 wick oil light source was upgraded to kerosene and mantle in 1924

This sufficed until 1976 when 3 diesel generators and a 1000 watt electric light were installed. As part of the modernisation, the clockwork mechanism was replaced by an electric motor, however the mechanical components were left in place.

At this time the staff was reduced from 3 keepers to 2 keepers. The "continuous watch" system was replaced by a "non-watch" roster.

The "non-watch" system allowed the keepers to sleep at night (apart from making 3-hourly weather observations). An alarm system monitored the light.

Comments from fisherman at the time of the changeover from kerosene to electric illumination said that the "loom" from the kerosene light penetrated mist and haze better than the electric light.

The light was replaced, in 1996 with a fully automated, smaller, solar powered light further up the hill with the intention of demanning. Pressure of having a light operating in such an isolated position under extreme conditions had kept the light manned much longer than its counterparts on the mainland.

To quote Jeff Jennings "Part of the problem is that most ships these days carry sophisticated electronic navigation equipment which allows them to plot their position accurately even in bad weather. Unfortunately this equipment can't physically rescue you!"

As with most isolated lighthouse the keepers had to assist survivors of wrecks at sea. In 1907 the "Alfhild", a Swedish Barque was wrecked and the six survivors under great difficulty made their way to the island. Here they were cared for until the supply ship could pick them up.

Early communication in events such as illness or shipwreck was by carrier pigeon to Hobart. The attrition rate was so high that in a serious emergency at least 3 birds would be dispatched in the hope that at least one of them would make it. The birds would take 3 hours to reach Hobart with their owners receiving a fee for each message received

The lighthouse was originally supplied via the jetty and tramway at Haulage Cove. The jetty was replaced several times after being demolished by storms and heavy seas. Hobart-based fishing boats were contracted to provide a fortnightly mail and supplies service.

Since the mid 1970's the supplies have been brought in by helicopter and the jetty has since crumbled.

The island has an average of 250 rain days each year, with an annual average rainfall of 1.2 metres. It is interesting to note a comment in the keepers log book from 1907 stating "Five days continuously without rain this month".

There is a constant gale with winds averaging 50-60 knots and the highest recorded speed is 112 knots. Opinion has it that it has been much higher, however the recording equipment did not survive the storm to substantiate the claim!

The dome of the lantern room is pocked with dents from hail as big as golf balls attesting to the ferocity of some storms.

When the light was opened in 1891 a party of 30 dignitaries arrived by boat from Hobart and were greeted by a placid sea. An unusual event considering the island's reputation!

It is interesting to note that Aborigines for hundreds of years made this treacherous crossing, from the mainland to the island, to hunt seals and muttons birds in nothing more than canoes made of tea-tree. 

Late Afternoon at Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse
Late afternoon at Maatsuyker Island
Photography: Jeff Jennings

The Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse
The exposed Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse
Photography: Jeff Jennings

The Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse
The Lighthouse overlooking The Needles
Photography: Jeff Jennings

Maatsuyker Lighthouse and the Needles on a Rare Fine Day
Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse and The Needles on a rare fine day
Photograph: Jeff Jennings


Preservation

There was much pressure to keep this light operating and manned. After a temporary reprieve in 1998 the light was abandoned by AMSA. The light has since been handed over to the Tasmanian Government who has employed short-term caretakers.

Also the Federal Government has provide a grant to repair the old haulage way and establish a viable alternative energy source for the Island.

If you wish to get actively involved and work towards the preservation and protection of Maatsuyker Island then as well as joining Lighthouses of Australia you should join Friends of Maatsuyker Island CARes group



Weather observations were done four times a day, both visually and with the instruments. 
The observations were necessary for fishing conditions, flying and search and rescue.
Photograph: Gill & Keith Chapman


Access

NEAREST TOWN: Catamaran
DISTANCE: 50km (Catamaran)
: <<>> (Hobart)
ACCESS: 10 kilometres off Tasmania's rugged south coast. Is only accessible by air and sea (subject to weather conditions).
TOURS: None
ACCOMMODATION: None

Features

Lighthouses of the Air - Tasmania Bulletin Apr 02
Johnsons on Maatsuyker Radio Interview Bulletin Apr 02
A Caretaker's Day on Maatsuyker Bulletin Oct 02
Maatsuyker, An Alternative Point of View Bulletin Nov 02
The Magic of Maatsuyker Bulletin Nov 02
Responses to Maatsuyker, An Alternative Point of View Bulletin Dec 02
The Future of Maatsuyker Island Bulletin Jun 03


Owen Barrett inside the Maatsuyker Lighthouse prism
Photograph: Richard Bennett


News

Maatsuyker Award Ceremony Bulletin Dec 02
Maatsuyker Meeting Seeds LoA Group Bulletin Oct 02
Removal of Caretakers Threatens Maatsuyker Lighthouse Bulletin Aug 02
Why It's Important to Keep Maat's Caretakers Bulletin Aug 02
Help Get the LoA and Maat Campaign Moving Bulletin Aug 02
The Last Manned Lighthouse in Australia, the End of an Era Bulletin July 99
Tasmanian Lighthouses Offered for Lease Bulletin Apr 99
Efforts to keep Maatsuyker Manned Bulletin Nov 98
Concern for Abandoned Tasmanian Lights Bulletin Sep 98
Future of Maatsuyker Island Bulletin Jul 98


Aerial view of the Maatsuyker Island Lighthouse
Photograph: Winsome Bonham


Notices & Letters

List of all Tasmanian Lighthouse-keepers Bulletin Jun 03
Looking for "A Big Country"s Maat Keepers, the Ikins Bulletin Nov 02
Expressions of Interest for Caretaker Maatsuyker Island Bulletin Oct 02
Notice of Maatsuyker Meeting Bulletin Sep 02
Did This Launch do the Matt Supply Run? Bulletin Jun 02
Keep the Light Burning on Maatsuyker Bulletin Nov 98


Former caretakers Erika Johnson & her partner Alan enjoy the sun at Maatsuyker Island
Photograph: Erika Johnson


Other Maatsuyker Island Sites

Friends of Maatsuyker Island CARes group WILDCARE Inc
Commonwealth Must Keep World Heritage Maatsuyker Island Staffed Senator Bob Brown
Maatsuyker Island Discover Tasmania
Maatsuyker Island Laurie Ford
Sea Kayaking Bathurst Harbour and Maatsuyker Island Maat Canoe Club
The Needles, Maatsuyker Island Jeff Jennings
Inside the Prism at Maatsuyker Richard Bennett
Get the feel of this area with a trip with The Maatsuyker Canoe Club Maat Canoe Club

Special Thanks to:

  • Erika Johnson for Photograph
  • Gill & Keith Chapman for Photograph
  • Jeff Jennings for Photographs
  • Richard Bennett for Photograph
  • Winsome Bonham for Photograph

Sources:

  • AMSA
  • Brian Lord
  • From Dusk Till Dawn by Gordon Reid
  • Ian Terry
  • Lights Out
  • Maatsuyker Island - Most Southerly Light by Peter Blackwell, Tasmanian Conservation Trust
  • On Maatsuyker Island: thar she blows - most days of the year, Q Chester, Geo Magazine
  • Owen Barrett

Page last updated:
Page created:
13/07/03
24/07/98

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