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Lighthouses of Tasmania

State Indexes > TAS > Cape Bruny Lighthouse

Cape Bruny Lighthouse

The Cape Bruny Lighthouse is the third oldest Commonwealth lightstation in Australia.

The lighthouse is also the oldest continuous lighthouse tower in Australia under Commonwealth control.

The Cape Bruny Lighthouse [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
The Cape Bruny Lighthouse
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

Last Operation (1996)

LOCATION: Latitude 43⹮6' S, Longitude 147ฮ5' E (Map)
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
CHARACTER: Flashing 1 in 10 seconds
LIGHT SOURCE: 240 v 1,000 watt tungsten halogen lamp
POWER SOURCE: Diesel Generator Alternating Current
INTENSITY: 1,400,000 cd
ELEVATION: 105 Metres
RANGE: 26 Nautical Miles (<> km)
HEIGHT: 19 Metres

The Cape Bruny Lighthouse [Photograph: Robert Campbell]
The Cape Bruny Lighthouse
Photograph: Robert Campbell


The Cape Bruny Lighthouse is located on the south-western edge of the cape on South Bruny Island.

The first recorded European history is in 1642 when Abel Tasman attempted to land in Adventure Bay then nameless - but stormy seas prevented him.

Over a hundred years later Tobias Furneaux came in his ship Adventure and gave the Bay its name. James Cook and William Bligh followed in turn, seeking fresh water, fuel, new lands to chart, and a respite from months at sea.

The significance of this respite is outlined in Kathleen Stanley's book 'Guiding Lights' that states:

D'Entrecasteaux, on leaving Tasmania, was within reach of Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia when he decided that his supplies of water needed replenishing. It seems amazing, nowdays, that he regarded the nearest place as Adventure Bay, to which he returned for his fresh water. This belief among navigators of the period 1650-1798 or so, resulted Bruny Island's being well-known among seafarers long before the East Coast of Australia was sighted by Cook in 1770.

In 1792, Bruni D'Entrecasteaux by an error of navigation, entered the channel and discovered Bruny to be an Island - today the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and Bruny Island bear his name.

Because of the dangers of the newly discovered Bass Strait many captains preferred to take the longer journey around southern Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and therefore made Hobart a port of call. They used the more protected approach to Hobart via the narrow and poorly charted D'Entrecasteaux Channel between Bruny Island and the main island.

The first suggestion for the lighthouse was that it should be built on the outer island of Actaeon's Reef, the site of the wreck of the Actaeon in 1822, but the proposal was shelved until 1835. Instead, in 1825, a buoy light was placed on Acteaon Reef.

Aerial view of the Cape Bruny Lightstation
Photograph: Winsome Bonham

In 1835, three ships were wrecked in D'Entrecasteaux Channel. They were the 'Enchantress' with the loss of 17 lives, the convict transport George III, with the loss of 134 lives and the 'Wallace' without loss of life. This lead to action and the lighthouse was established in 1838, three years after the wrecks.

Cape Bruny is the third oldest Commonwealth lightstation in Australia. The lighthouse is also the oldest existing tower under Commonwealth (AMSA) control. The Iron Pot Island Lighthouse at the mouth of the Derwent River, is older by six years but is maintained by the State Government.

The tower was designed by John Lee Archer and was built by convict labour. It was the third tower to be built in Tasmania after Iron Pot and the first Low Head Tower (replaced in 1888).

The work was commenced soon after the wrecks and completed over two years using locally quarried rock to erect the tower, quarters and stores. The apparatus, providing the illumination, consisted of fifteen lamps, consuming almost one pint of oil per hour. Originally sperm (whale) and various other oils were used, but after 1892 the improved colza oil came into use.

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The Cape Bruny Lighthouse [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
The Cape Bruny Lighthouse
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

View to the South from lighthouse balcony [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
View to the south from lighthouse balcony
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

The quality of the oil was important as the poorer the oil the greater the use of consumables such as wicks and glass chimneys, which had to be brought all the way from London. The three lighthouses, Iron Pot, Low Head and Cape Bruny - used three hundred dozen chimneys per annum.

The original staircase was replaced in 1903 by the present cast-iron staircase and the original Wilkins lantern was replaced with a Chance Brothers lantern.

In 1912 and 1913 two reports by the Trades and Customs Department (who regulated Australia's coastal lights) recommended and acted upon upgradings of this light by:

  • Allotting a new dioptric white light flashing 3 seconds in every 22 seconds
  • Increasing the candelas from 22,000 to 120,000
  • Changing the illuminant from coal oil and wick to kerosene and incandescent mantle.

The light boasts Australia's longest-serving head lighthouse keeper, Captain William Hawkins having served as Superintendent at Cape Bruny for 37 years and 232 days between 1877 and 1914.

The lighthouse reserve was 184 acres of rough country that was used by the early keepers who fenced paddocks for grazing and grew crops, vegetables, the produced hay for the horses, and trained bullocks to transport stores over the sandy stretches between the jetty and the settlement. There are still the remains of the convict garden on the sheltered side by the beach.

Until 1915, many vessels, both sail and steam, served the Bruny light. Stores and livestock were landed at a jetty on Jetty Beach, a sheltered anchorage, on Great Taylor Bay, often sheltered in huts and brought up the three mile treck on the following day.

In 1899, the Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, His Lordship Bishop Montgomery, paid a pastoral visit, spending part of 8-9 June with the lightkeepers and their families.

On numerous occasions, assistance has been given to vessels which have suffered mishaps of varying degrees of severity. Often crews were given stores from the keepers' private supplies.

Before the installation of a telephone link, in 1902, between the lighthouse and the rest of the island, keepers had to walk or ride to a nearby settlement, usually Mills Reef.

Wireless telephone apparatus was installed in 1930 and a pedal wireless set on 28 March 1938. 

In 1931, the first motorised delivery of mail on Bruny Island serviced the lighthouse.

Tragedy struck the station itself with the death of two infants and one adult on different occasions.

It was discovered that, in 1875, the small daughter of Isaac Merrick, then a keeper there, had choked to death on a piece of raw turnip. Christina Merrick was aged two years and three months.

The infant child of assistant keeper A. Williams died at 4a.m. on 2 January 1898, from a severe attack of infant diarrhoea.

In 1937, Rupert Peters, a local farmer who did relieving work when keepers on leave fell while fishing off Trumpeters Rock, adjacent to the lighthouse. Sister Finn, the Bush Nurse for the Island came immediately on horse-back. Seeing the body, appearing to be alive, at the bottom of the cliff she made a difficult descent only to find this was not the case. The body was secured so it could be retrieved the next day. The doctor, who had travelled to the island, on hearing of Sister Finn's prognosis and having no desire to make the same descent, declared his confidence in her ability and thus she became the only person, not being a medical practitioner, to sign a death certificate and submit it to the Coroner.

The body was brought up from the bottom of the cliff the next day.

The lighthouse has been a popular sightseeing and picnic destination from the middle of the nineteen century. Visitors came by private yacht, steam launches and ferries.

The original 1837 cottages and stores building have since been demolished despite protests for their preservation.

A memorial has been erected over the graves of the infant children of 19th century keepers [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
A memorial has been erected over the graves of the infant children of 19th century keepers
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

Childrens' graves overlooking Cloudy Bay [Photograph :Ed Kavaliunas]
Childrens' graves overlooking Cloudy Bay
Photograph :Ed Kavaliunas

The lighthouse was replaced in 1996 by an automated solar lightstation on the adjacent headland.

The historic Lighthouse, no longer operational, was transferred to the Tasmanian Government in 1998 and the reserve has become part of the new Labillardiere National Park.

View to the north east from Bruny tower. Note: automated white lightstation to right of frame [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
View to the north east from the Cape Bruny tower. 
Note the automated white light to right of frame
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas


Cape Bruny lighthouse is on the southernmost tip of Bruny Island, off the coast of south eastern Tasmania and 100 km from Hobart.

Access to the station is by ferry from Kettering on the mainland to Barnes Bay at North Bruny, across D'Entrecasteaux Channel, and thence 1 hour by sealed and gravel roads. Tours are available by appointment.


The Surrounding Area

Other Cape Bruny Lighthouse Sites

The lighthouses surmounts a headland attaining a height of 105 metres [Photograph: Brian Lord]
The lighthouse surmounts a headland 
attaining a height of 105 metres

Photograph: Brian Lord

Special Thanks to:

  • Brian Lord
  • Deborah Taylor
  • Ed Kavaliunas for Photographs
  • Robert Campbell
  • Winsome Bonham


  • 40㯵th
  • Australian Heritage Commission
  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)
  • Brian Lord
  • Bruny Is Estates
  • Critic
  • Danielle Wood
  • Lighthouses: Do We Keep the Keepers
  • Guiding Lights by Kathleen Stanley
  • Roger Allnutt

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