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State Indexes > NSW > Macquarie Lighthouse

The Macquarie Lighthouse, Australia's First Lighthouse

The Macquarie Lighthouse is Australia's first and longest operating navigational light. There has been a navigational aid on this site since 1791 and a lighthouse since 1818.

The Barrenjoey Lighthouse at Palm Beach
The Macquarie Lighthouse, Australia's First Lighthouse
Photograph: Jeanne Vanessa Eve


LOCATION: Latitude 33屧 S, Longitude 151ᷧ E (map)
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
EXHIBITED: 1st Tower 1818, 2nd Tower 1883
CHARACTER: Group Flashing (2) every 10 seconds
LIGHT SOURCE: 120V, 1,000 Watt, Quartz Halogen Lamp
POWER SOURCE: Mains Power, Stand-by Diesel
INTENSITY: 800,000 cd
ELEVATION: 105 metres
RANGE: 25 nautical miles
HEIGHT: 26 metres
CUSTODIAN: Sydney Harbour Federation Trust
HERITAGE: Register of the National Estate, NSW Heritage Office, National Trust Classification

The Barrenjoey Lighthouse
The old 1818 lighthouse and the current, 1893, lighthouse
Photograph: AMSA

The Barrenjoey Lighthouse
The two De Meritens magnetos that provided power for the 2nd lighthouse
Photograph: AMSA

The Barrenjoey Lighthouse
The 150th commemoration stamp
Stamp: Australia Post

The Macquarie Lighthouse
Photograph: Grant Maizels

The ornate decoration including the NSW state 
emblem, the bust of Queen Victoria and the VR symbol

Photograph: Grant Maizels

A closer view of the bust of Queen Victoria
Photograph: Jeanne Vanessa Eve


A flagstaff was erected on this site at South Head in Sydney, in 1791, within one year of the First Fleet arriving to settle New South Wales.

A wood and coal fired beacon, a basket on a tripod, was established in 1793 and was the only guiding light for the next 25 years.

The 1818 Lighthouse:

The first lighthouse structure in Australia it was started in 1816 and completed in 1818 at the command of Governor Macquarie.

The work was undertaken by Francis Greenway, the famous convict Architect, responsible for many significant and beautiful buildings in early Sydney.

Governor Macquarie was so pleased with the quality of the work the Greenway was producing that he granted him emancipation for his efforts.

However, Greenway had warned that the poor quality of the sandstone being used would result in the rapid deterioration of the new tower.

The new light was a revolving apparatus, powered by a clockwork mechanism, and consisting of a number of oil burning lamps set in parabolic reflectors. It flashed once every minute and was visible for 22 miles.

As Greenway had predicted the tower soon began to deteriorate. Several large stones fell away as early as 1823.

Large iron bands were placed around the tower to prevent further movement.

The state of the tower was so parlous by 1878 that the New South Wales Government determined to build a new tower.

The 1883 Lighthouse:

The construction of the current Macquarie Lighthouse was begun in 1881 and the light was first exhibited in 1883.

It was designed by James Barnet and is a replica of the original tower, but stronger in materials and design. Barnet's crown was larger to accommodate a large lantern room and the larger apparatus. There was also a gunmetal railing. This design was to become the trademark of many other lighthouses that Barnet designed.

The new light's giant lens was a first order sixteen sided dioptric holophotal revolving white light based on the Fresnel system, about two metres in diameter showing an eight second flash every minute, and with a range of 25 nautical miles.

The lighting apparatus at the time was described by the builder, Chance Brothers, of Birmingham as the most efficient in the world. It was electric in operation, with the power being produced by two De Meritens magnetos weighing two and a half tons. These were driven by an eight-horse power "Crossley - otto cycle" silent horizontal coal gas engine at 830 rpm. Only one of the de Meritens generators is still in existence: it is owned by the Powerhouse Museum and on display at the Lighthouse. Likewise the original switchboard is owned by the museum but installed the Lighthouse. The Museum have one of the arc lamps, but it is not on display at either venue.

The electric apparatus was only used in bad weather. When the weather got really bad the second magneto was brought into operation producing a light of 6,000,000 candelas, the most powerful in the world at the time. In clear weather the illuminate was provided by a gas burner.

With the commencement of the new light, the lantern was removed from the old tower but the structure itself was not demolished for several years.

The power generators for the new light proved too expensive to run and in 1912 the apparatus was was converted to a vaporised kerosene incandescent mantle system.

With the connection of the city power supply in 1933 the light was converted back to electricity. At the time a smaller lens was installed and this is basically the mode of operation we see today.

The lighthouse was fully automated in 1976.The keepers were eventually withdrawn in 1989.


Australia's first lighthouse keeper was Robert Watson.

He was with the First Fleet as the Quartermaster on HMS Sirius and later Harbour Master at Sydney.

Watson was already an old man and died within a year of his appointment. Nearby Watsons Bay was named to honour his memory.

Keepers who served at Macquarie
WATSON Robert HK 1818
WEALANDS Thomas  SI 1826-1832
SIDDONS Capt. Richard SI 1832-1846
SIDDONS Joseph HK 1846-1897
PATTERSON Hugh Stirling EN 1883-1910
THOMAS William Henry EN 1883-1910
SILVA Frederick Emanuel AK 1888-1915
JOHNSON Robert Ferdinand AK 1892-1910
VANDERVORD James Henry HK 1898-1912
HUTCHINGS Henry AK 1911-1913
MCNALLY John HK 1913-1915
MILLER John William AK 1913-1915
CAMERON Jock AK 1929-1933
SI=Superintendent, HK=Headkeeper, AK=Assistant, EN=Engineer
Source: Jervis Sparks, Bruce Cameron, David Allen

Please note, this list is far from complete so we are aware that there may be omissions.

If you have a reasonable belief that a keeper should be added to the list please forward it with all you know so we can validate the information and add them to the list.

Please include this lighthouse's name, the keepers full name, what years they were keepers and their position. Also include the same information for any other lights they were on then send it to Web Keeper.

The Macquarie Lighthouse
Photograph: Grant Maizels

Preservation Issues

Some of the reserve has been sold off for housing, but the immediate area around the light is public open space.

The future of the buildings and remainder of the reserve as it is now under the control of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.


DISTANCE: <<>> (Vaucluse)
: 18km (Sydney)
ACCESS: Public Reserve
TOURS: Yes - Every second month. Booking is essential
: Sydney Harbour Federation Trust (02) 8969 2131

The Barrenjoey Lighthouse is on the Headland Jutting Into the Sea
The view of the entrance to Sydney Harbour from the Macquarie Lighthouse
Photograph: Jeanne Vanessa Eve


Macquarie Lighthouse at sunrise.
Photo by Jonathan Koster.

The Surrounding Area

To the north the Hornby Lighthouse
To the south the Cape Bailey Lighthouse


Australian Lighthouse Tour Bulletin Dec 00
Marguerite & Nick Stephen's NSW Trip: Part 1 Bulletin Jul 01
Lighthouses From the Air: Part 2 Bulletin Oct 01
Lighthouses From the Air: Part 7 Bulletin Mar 02
US Lighthouse Society Tours Australia - Part 1 Bulletin May 02
From Poland to Australia – A European's View of Sydney Lighthouses Bulletin Apr 03
Montague and After - Memories of Ian Cameron Bulletin Jun 03
Annette Flotwell's East Coast Lighthouse Trip: Part 3 Bulletin Sep 03


Report International Conference on Lighthouses - Hamburg, June, 1998 Bulletin Aug 98
The Romance of Australian Lighthouses is not dead Bulletin Dec 99
Australian Lighthouse Stamp Release Next Month Bulletin Feb 02
Rare Macquarie Equipment Under Review Bulletin May 02
Macquarie for Kids Bulletin May 02
Macquarie Open Day Bulletin May 02
Macquarie to Open for International Lighthouse Day Bulletin Aug 02
Ian Clifford Interviewed for Italian National Radio Bulletin Aug 02

Macquarie Lighthouse is spot lit at night
Photograph: Kristie Eggleston

Letters & Notices

Unmarked Grave of our First Lighthouse Designer Bulletin Jun 00
Looking for Information on John Sheedy Bulletin Jan 01
Looking for Lighthouse Keepers With Macquarie in Their Middle Name Bulletin Feb 01
Response to Search for Name Macquaries Bulletin Mar 01
Looking For Cecil Walsh Bulletin Jul 01
Johnson Family at Watson's Bay Bulletin Jul 01
Letters re Johnson Family Watsons Bay Bulletin Nov 01
Looking for William Woolley Bulletin Mar 02
Looking for Hugh Sterling Patterson Bulletin Jun 02
Macquarie Lighthouse open to the public Bulletin Sep 03
Lighthouse keepers in NSW - Josiah, Fred Sr, Fred Jr & Bill Warren Bulletin Sep 03

Aerial view of the Macquarie Lighthouse, with the Sydney skyline in the distance
Photograph: Winsome Bonham

Other Macquarie Sites

The Macquarie Lighthouse Grant Maizels
The Macquarie Lighthouse Mark Higgins
The Macquarie Lightstation Sydney Harbour Federation Trust
Macquarie Lighthouse Open Days Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Special Thanks to:

  • AMSA for Photographs
  • Debbie Rudder; Curator of Power Technologies Powerhouse Museum
  • Grant Maizels for Photographs
  • Jeanne Vanessa Eve for Photographs
  • Kristie Eggleston for Photograph
  • Winsome Bonham for Photograph


  • AMSA

  • Jervis Sparks

  • Brian Lord

  • Macquarie University

  • Bruce Cameron

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