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Lighthouses of Tasmania


State Indexes > TAS > Low Head Lighthouse

The Low Head Lighthouse

A signal station was set up at Low Head in 1805. It is Australia's oldest continuously used pilot station.

The lightstation, established in 1833, was Australia's third and Tasmania's second.

The Low Head Lighthouse and generator sheds [Photographs: Ed Kavaliunas]
The Low Head Lighthouse and generator sheds
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas


Operation

LOCATION: Lat. 41° 03.4' S, Long. 146° 47.3' E (Map)
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
CHARACTER: Flashing  (3) in 30.0 seconds
LIGHT SOURCE: 1000 Watt 120v, Tungsten Halogen
POWER SOURCE: Mains Electricity, Diesel Standby
INTENSITY: 500,000 cd
ELEVATION: 43 Metres
RANGE: 23 Nautical Miles
HEIGHT: 19 metres

The Low Head Lighthouse and Headkeepers Cottage [Photograph: Chris Klep]
The Low Head Lighthouse and Headkeeper's Cottage
Photograph: Chris Klep

Sketch Original Low Head Lighthouse established in 1833 [Sketch: Mitchell Library]
Sketch Original Low Head Lighthouse established in 1833
Sketch: Mitchell Library


The Low Head Lighthouse [Photograph Courtesy: George Isaacs]
The Low Head Lighthouse
Photograph: George Isaacs

The old Low Head 110v Lamp Apparatus [Photograph Courtesy: AMSA]
The old Low Head 110v lamp apparatus
Photograph: AMSA

History

In 1808, the Hebe was wrecked on the rocks at the mouth to the Tamar, thence giving them its name. Altogether, a dozen ships were wrecked in the Tamar over the next 100 years.

A pilots and a signal station was established at Low Head (Georgetown) in 1805 and is Australia's oldest continuously used pilot station. Current buildings date from 1838.

When a sail was sighted at dusk, a fire was lit and kept burning all night to keep the vessel in touch with the port.

After a review of pilotage in 1827 it was resolved to build a lighthouse at Low Head.

The tower was built in 1833. It was constructed of local rubble with a coat of stucco to make the structure durable and to provide a worthwhile landmark. The crown was built of freestone from Launceston.

The keepers' quarters consisted of four rooms attached to the base of the tower. The only case of the quarters being attached in any Tasmanian lighthouse.

The tower was 15.25 metres from top to bottom. The lantern room was built of timber in Launceston.

It had been designed by the then Colonial Architect John Lee Archer who was responsible for the design of many other Tasmanian lights.

The original apparatus was provided by a Mr. W Hart of Launceston. He supplied "six dozen lamps, including reflectors, at three shillings and sixpence each".

This first light was known as the 'Georgetown Station'.

It is Australia's third and Tasmania's second lighthouse built.

Conditions were poor on the early Tasmanian lightstations. Low head was no exception, being manned by a superintendent (headkeeper) and two convict assistants who were locked in their quarters overnight.

In 1835, the light was upgraded by installation of a revolving shutter which was rotated by a weight-driven clockwork mechanism.

In April 1838, the original tin reflectors and Argand lamps were replaced by a new revolving lens array from Wilkins and Co of London, UK. In 1851, the candelas were increased, but no figures are quoted.


The 1833 tower was poorly constructed and after 50 years had fallen into a state of disrepair. In 1888, this original convict-built stone tower was pulled down.

In the same year it was replaced with the present double brick structure, was designed by Marine Board architect Robert Huckson, with new lantern room and apparatus. The new tower was painted white.

The lens apparatus was modernised in 1916 with a more up-to-date Chance Bros. revolving lens using an incandescent kerosene mantle lantern.

An auxillary red light to cover Hebe Reef had been installed in 1898.

In 1926, a broad red band was painted around the middle of the tower to ensure adequate visibility during daylight hours.

In 1929, Tasmania's only a foghorn was instated at the station but discontinued in 1973 due to improvements in navigational equipment.

In 1940, electricity replaced the old vapourised oil system and mantle, and the clockwork rotating mechanism was replaced by an electric motor.

From 1865 to 1912, the light was under the control of Alfred C. Rockwell and his son Alfred Rockwell Jnr, a period of 47 years!

The station was also responsible for the smaller Tamar Leading Lights which were separately manned for some years.

This light is now unmanned.

The old foghorn on the old generator shed at Low Head [Photograph: Deborah Taylor]
The old foghorn on the old generator shed at Low Head
Photograph: Deborah Taylor

The current Low Head 240v Lamp Apparatus [Photograph Courtesy: AMSA]
The current Low Head 240v lamp apparatus
Photograph: AMSA


The Low Head Lighthouse at the entrance to the Tamar River [Photograph: Jeff Jennings]
The Low Head Lighthouse at the entrance to the Tamar River
Photograph: Jeff Jennings

Preservation

The cottages have been vacant for sometime and the site is easily accessible to the general public.

Access

The lightstation is situated some 7 km North of George Town on the East side of the Tamar River 50 km from Launceston. It is easily accessible by road. Enter by a side gate. 

 

IMPORTANT TO MARINERS

TO THE EDITOR OF THE ADVERTISER.

Sir, - The Light House on the Low Heads at the entrance of this port being now completed, it is lighted pro. tem. by a number of small lamps each having a tin parabolic reflector. The lantern is placed about 135 feet above the level of the sea and has the following magnetic bearings,

Hebe Reef - N. 85 E.
West Head - N. 71 E.
Windmill, George Town - N. 32 30' W.
Barren Joee or Tenth Island - S.4130'W.
Five-mile Bluff - S. 49 W.

 I am Sir, your obedient Sert.
MAT. CARLING FRIEND.
Port Officer.

 [The Launceston Advertiser, 19 Dec 1833]

The Surrounding Area


Other Low Head Sites


The Low Head lighthouse, keeper's cottage and foghorn shed from the air
Photograph: Winsome Bonham


Special Thanks to:

  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority for Photographs
  • Chris Klep for Photographs
  • Deborah Taylor for Photographs
  • Ed Kavaliunas for Photographs
  • George Isaacs for Photographs
  • Jeff Jennings for Photographs
  • Mitchell Library for Sketch
  • Winsome Bonham for Photograph

Sources:

  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority
  • Brian Lord
  • Diane Phillips
  • Guiding Lights by Kathleen Stanley
  • The Launceston Advertiser

Page last updated:
Page created:
30/01/00
17/07/99

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)