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Lighthouses of Victoria

State Indexes > VIC > Cape Nelson Lighthouse

The Long Stone White Walls are a Feature of the Lighthouse
The long stone white walls are a feature of the lighthouse
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

The Cape Nelson Lighthouse

The white and red tower and the long stone wall are the features that give the Cape Nelson Lighthouse a whole character of its own.


LOCATION: Latitude 38° 25.9' S Longitude 141° 32.5''E (Map)
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
CHARACTER: White, Group Flashing 4 every 20 seconds
RANGE: 21 Nuatical Mile
HEIGHT: 32 Metres


The lighthouse was finally lit in 1884 after the building had been delayed by difficulty in obtaining suitable bluestone for the project. The stone that had been originally quarried from close by soon ran out and consideration was given to completing the tower with steam bricks from Melbourne. However, suitable stone was found at a location eleven kilometres away. But there was no direct road and the stone had to be carted via Portland, a distance of twenty-one kilometres. Some 20 hands and 25 cutters were employed at the quarry and 15 teams were engaged to cart the dressed stone to the lighthouse site.

This tower is believed to have replaced an earlier square wooden tower built in the 1870s.

A remarkable feature of the lighthouse reserve is a rubble wall 1.75 metres high, 0.4 metres wide and 435 metres (1450 ft) long surrounding the keepers quarters and extending out to the light to protect the keepers from the harsh winds.

An auxiliary light was added to the base of the tower in 1890.

The original lighting apparatus was replaced in 1907 with a incandescent vapourised kerosene mantle.

In 1934, the light was one of the first to upgraded to electric operation. The power was provided by a generator plant. At the same time it became group flashing and a clockwork mechanism was installed to turn the light.

In 1977, a major overhaul of the lantern room was undertaken and the cupola (dome) was replaced. In 1987, the light was connected mains power.

The Lighthouse from the Road
The Lighthouse from the Road
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

The Cape Nelson Lighthouse
The Cape Nelson Lighthouse
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas

The lighthouse was connected to Portland by telephone in the later part of 1884. At this time the "Russian Scare" was well and truly at its height, so a telescope, which was described as the biggest of its kind in the Western District, arrived at the lighthouse on 29 May 1885.

The telescope was 2.1 metres long, had an object glass of 10 centimetres in diameter and was to be used "to sweep the horizon to a distance of 25 or 30 miles and scrutinize passing ships of hostile intent". The telescope pictured is still at the lighthouse, however the front lens has been cracked.

The Huge Telescope Was Used to Scan the Horizon for Ships With Hostile Intent
The huge telescope was used to scan the horizon for ships with hostile intent
Photograph: Ed Kavaliunas


The lighthouse is 13 kilometres south of Portland, Victoria. Access to the reserve is by tour only. Accommodation is available.

Aerial view of the Cape Nelson Lighthouse
Photograph: Winsome Bonham

News & Features

US Lighthouse Society Tours Australia - Part 2 Bulletin Jun 02
Lighthouses From the Air- Part 3 Bulletin Nov 01
Cape Nelson Lighthouse - New Life for a Lightstation Bulletin Oct 01
Australian Lighthouse Tour Bulletin Dec 00
Photographic Expedition Bulletin March 98


Seeking information - John MacDonald, Gabo Island lighthouse keeper Bulletin Jun 04
Lost Fellow Keepers of Cape Nelson and Bruny Bulletin Mar 02
From Cape Nelson to Gabo Island Bulletin June 01

The Surrounding Area

Special Thanks to:

  • Ed Kavaliunas for Photographs
  • Linda Lucas
  • Winsome Bonham for Photographs


  • AMSA
  • Brian Lord
  • From Dusk Till Dawn by Gordon Reid
  • J Amstrong
  • The Lighthouses of Victoria by Dacre Smyth

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