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Lighthouses of Tasmania


State Indexes > TAS > Swan Island Lighthouse

The Swan Island Lighthouse

The tower was the first established in Bass Strait and is now the oldest tower under Federal control.

The staircase is unique in that it is suspended off the central column, where all other Tasmanian lighthouse staircases are suspended off the tower wall.

Swan Island under wind power [Photograph: AMSA]
Swan Island under wind power
Photograph: AMSA


Operation

LOCATION: Lat. 40 43.81' S, Long. 148 07.5' E [map]
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
EXHIBITED: 1845
CONSTRUCTION: Masonry
CHARACTER: Flashing  (1) in 7.5 seconds
LIGHT SOURCE: 500 Watt 12v, Tungsten Halogen
POWER SOURCE: Solar Panels, Battery Standby
INTENSITY: 60,000 cd
ELEVATION: 30 Metres
RANGE: 20 Nautical Miles
HEIGHT: 27 metres
AUTOMATED: 1985
DEMANNED: 1986
DEACTIVATED: No
CUSTODIAN: The island was privately owned by a German company, and was purchased in 2004 by a couple from New South Wales.

View of Swan Island Lighthouse when powered by wind generator [Photograph: AMSA]
View of Swan Island Lighthouse when powered by wind generator
Photograph: AMSA


History

Many shipwrecks occurred around the island, the first being the brig 'Brenda' in 1832.

Built in 1845, the light from tower was the first to be established in Bass Strait being completed before that of Goose Island which had been started earlier.

It is now the oldest tower under Federal control, the previous being the oldest being Cape Bruny, though built seven years earlier, has been decommissioned.

The lighthouse is a round masonry tower built with convict labour. Originally painted white with a red lantern room, it is now completely white.

The staircase is unique in that it is suspended off the central column where all other Tasmanian Lighthouse staircases are suspended off the tower wall.

The lantern revolves in an anti-clockwise direction, and along with a Victorian light are believe to be only ones in the southern hemisphere to turn this way.

The original light source was a new style of single oil wick lamp that consumed a third less oil than its multi-wick predecessors. It was replaced by an incandescent kerosene mantle in 1923.

In 1938, the light was converted to electricity supplied by twin diesel generators.

Wind generation was experimented with from 1986 till 1990 when the light was finally converted to solar operation.

Early living conditions were harsh with buildings being sandblasted by the prevailing winds. Fresh water was scarce and barely fit for drinking.

There was inadequate housing for the convict watchmen who often sheltered in the base of the tower.

Discipline was difficult as the men resented the solitary life and the Headkeeper had no authority to turn to reprimand the men. At one stage the convicts even hatched an escape plot. Another time they raided a wreck and plundered its provisions.

Despite this there was one occasion where the convicts redeemed themselves as found in a letter written in March 1850 to Lieutenant Walker, RN, by Thomas S. Downes:

I do myself the honour to report to you as head of the Marine Department, the meritorious conduct of two prisoners of the Crown attached to the Light Station at Swan Island under the Superintendence of Mr Johnson on the melancholy occasion of the wreck of the schooner Mystery then under my command on the 2nd inst. The men in question exerted themselves on perceiving the wreck of the vessel in the most exemplary manner for the preservation of the ship's cargo, spars and gear although with imminent peril to themselves in which noble conduct they were assisted and cheered on by Mr Johnson to whom in particular I respectfully beg leave to tender my warmest thanks.

As however the men to whom I have first alluded are in situations which call for encouragement and reward of a different kind I trust that you will bring their meritorious conduct under the notice of His Excellency the Governor in the hope that he will be pleased to bestow upon them Indulgence!

Eventually it was agreed that employing convicts as assistants was unsatisfactory and allowances were raised to attract free men to the positions.

The island was connected to the Tasmanian mainland by telegraphic cable in 1886. The cable link was not strong enough to withstand damage from the reefs and seawater and was closed in 1893.

With the construction of a new Georgian-style 4-roomed superintendents cottage in 1850, the assistants who had previously been sheltering in the base of the tower were able to shift into the original 1845 house which was also used for stores. The new 1850 house became know as Eliza's Cottage.

The Swan Island Wind Generator [Photograph Courtesy: AMSA]
The Swan Island wind generator
Photograph: AMSA

The old Swan Island two-way radio [Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas]
The old Swan Island two-way radio
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

Swan Island under diesel power [Photograph: AMSA]
Swan Island under diesel power
Photograph: AMSA

The Swan Island Lighthouse at Dusk [Photograph: Jeff Jennings]
The Swan Island Lighthouse at dusk
Photograph: Jeff Jennings

A new five-roomed brick cottage was built for the Headkeeper in 1908. At this time additions and alterations were also made to Eliza's Cottage.

In 1927, a fibro assistant's cottage was built. At this point the 1845 house was abandoned and has since fallen into ruins. The 1927 house was renovated in the 1990s.

The island was found to be more infested with snakes than swans with a keeper in 1930 reporting that he killed 1,000 in that year. More recent reports claim that one a day 'would be about average'.

In 1936, radio communication was established with twice daily reports being relayed to Wilsons Promontory.

The 1950s saw the delivery of provisions being made by air.

The boat shed and the jetty were destroyed by fire in 1982.

The light was demanned in 1986 and all the land except that which the light stood on was sold in 1987.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority only owns the light, an out building and the small plot of land it stands on. The island was privately owned by a German company and had a caretaker living there - it was sold in March 2004 to a couple from New South Wales. It is believed that the lighthouse buildings are to be developed for accommodation.


The unique central stairway. [Photograph: AMSA]
The unique central stairway
Photograph: AMSA


Keepers

Charles Chaulk Baudinet was the longest serving keeper on Swan Island. He took over as Superintendent in March 1867 and retired 25 years later in 1891.

Charles' wife, Eliza, died of dropsy mortification and is buried in the only marked grave on the island. However, two children who drowned on the island are buried on either side of the grave their wooden crosses having long since disappeared.

It is also believe that there are several unmarked graves of Aboriginals forcibly resettled on the the island from the Tasmanian mainland.

Andy Gregory, the last keeper left in 1986.

Eliza's Cottage on Swan Island, built in 1850, was the home of Charles Baudinet, the longest serving keeper on the island. Alterations & additions were carried out in 1908. [Photograph: AMSA]
Eliza's Cottage on Swan Island
Built in 1850, the home of Charles Baudinet, the longest serving keeper on the island. Alterations & additions were carried out in 1908.
Photograph: Erika Johnson


Charles Baudinet
Lighthouse Keeper on Swan Island
Photograph courtesy: Erika Johnson


Access

NEAREST TOWN: Bridport
DISTANCE: 40 nm/74 km (Bridport)
: 40 nm/74 km (St Helens)
: 120 km (Launceston)
: 250 km (Hobart)
ACCESS: The island is just (2 nm/3.7 km) off the north east tip of Tasmania. Access is by air from Bridport or Launceston.
TOURS: No
ACCOMMODATION: Yes

The old Swan Island diesel generator [Sketch: Ed Kavaliunas]
The old Swan Island diesel generator
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas


The Surrounding Area


Features

Eliza’s Cottage Bulletin Nov 02
Lighthouses of the Air - Tasmania Bulletin Apr 02
Islands in the Strait Bulletin Oct 99

News

Auction results - Split Point Lightkeepers' cottages and Swan Island Bulletin Apr 04
Swan Island for sale Bulletin Feb 04

The Swan Island Boat Shed and Jetty were destroyed by fire in 1982 [Photographs: AMSA]
The Swan Island boat shed and jetty were destroyed by fire in 1982
Photograph: AMSA

Letters

Seeking information: Samuel Westbrook: Keeper at Swan Island Bulletin Aug 04
Seeking descendants of convict Charles Watson Bulletin Aug 03

Other Swan Island Sites

Maintenance at the Swan Island Lighthouse LoA
Vladi Private Islands - Swan Island WPI


Swan Island Lighthouse from the air
Photograph: Winsome Bonham


Special Thanks to:

  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority for Photographs
  • Ed Kavaliunas for Photographs
  • Jeff Jennings for Photographs
  • Erika Johnson for corrections and photographs
  • Winsome Bonham for Photographs

Sources:

  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority
  • Guiding Lights by Kathleen Stanley
  • Stephen Clarke

Page last updated:
Page created:
23/09/03
27/09/99

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