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Lighthouse Museums

The Cape Schanck Lighthouse Museum

Located in the old Assistant Lightkeepers quarters at the Cape Schanck Lighthouse, the Cape Schanck Lighthouse Museum is dedicated to common early lighthouse technology used in Australia.

Assistant Lightkeepers Quarters from Tower
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

Note the tower with wiring and ground grid are a correction station, part of the Global Positioning System (GPS) which is making many traditional lighthouses redundant.

The Cape Schanck Lighthouse is on the southern tip of the Mornington Peninsula. It is part of a triangle of Bass Strait lights, the other two being Cape Otway and Cape Wickham Lighthouses, of radio controlled lights and signals.

The lantern at Cape Schanck

Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

Adoption of Lanterns

The well known Fresnel lens (see Bill's The Fresnel Lens & Pete Amass' The Fresnel Lens) were slow to be introduced to Australia and most of the early lights were catoptric (polished reflectors only).

Only after Chance Brothers converted to the use of Fresnel lens were the then colonial authorities convinced to introduce the dioptric and catadioptric systems.

Chance Brothers developed a range of intensity called "orders". Most Australian landfall light are 1st Order, being on the higher end of the scale.

Australia adopted the flashing character for most of the lights in the early part of the 20th century.

Early lights were powered by a range of oils, kerosene and acetylene. With the introduction of electricity throughout the 20th century many lights were adapted and fitted with 120 volt, 1000 watt tungsten-halogen lamps. This raises the power of many light to 1,000,000 candelas.

Sadly, with GPS, the trend is to downgrade lights with 30,000 cd lamps and lens based on the Fresnel theory, but made from acrylic materials.

Use of Kerosene Burners

The development and use of kerosene is described in Gordon Reid's book, "Dusk Till Dawn":

    Kerosene became available in the 1860's as the oil industry developed in the United States and as crude oil was produced from shale in Europe. ...The incandescent mantle, using Vapourised kerosene, soon became the most common system of illumination... Chance Brothers perfected the kerosene vapour lamp, in which kerosene is preheated, producing a vapour which then burns under slight pressure as it strikes the mantle.

    The next step was to produce a pressurised fuel tank which forced the kerosene to the lamp... Pressure-kerosene burners had become almost universal in lighthouse early in the 20th century. These burners coupled with Chance Brothers lens could produce one million candelas. The chief disadvantage of the kerosene system , however, was that lamps had to be watched throughout the night, in case a mantle broke, and the pressure tanks had to be maintained by hand-pumping each hour or so... The last system in Australia was replaced by an electric system at Pine Islet, off the central Queensland coast, in 1985.

Using Acetylene

Even though acetylene was known of since 1836, it was not used in lighthouses until after 1900 because of its volatility.

Gustav Dalen pioneered the use of acetylene in lighthouses using a safe method of storing the acetylene in porous material with acetone under pressure in a cylinder.

The flasher had a continuous pilot light and by the use of flashes created the character of the light.

By 1980, there were 80 automatic acetylene lights maintained by the Australian Government.

Clock Mechanisms

In the late nineteenth century it was necessary to use a clock mechanism, to rotate the turntable upon which the lamp was placed.

This mechanism consisted of a series of heavy weights and pulleys, similar to that of a grandfather clock, and had to be rewound every hour to keep the lamp rotating.

The turning of the lamp was dramatically improved by replacing the bearings and rollers, on which a lamp weighing as much as 5 tons turned, with a mercury bath in which the lamp floated. The result was that even the heaviest of lamps could be turned with the pressure of only a finger.

An early lantern

Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

A kerosene vaporiser unit

Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

An acetylene flasher
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

An early clock mechanism
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas


The lighthouse is located on the southern most point of the Mornington Peninsula and is easily accessible by road.

Guided tours of the tower and museum are conducted on weekends. Admission is charged.

The Surrounding Area

Special Thanks to:

  • Ed Kavaliunas for Photographs
  • Mrs Laurie Sharp


  • From Dusk Till Dawn by Gordon Reid

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