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State Indexes > WA > Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse

The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse

1907 was an eventful year for this lighthouse with the wreck of the Carnarvon Castle and the impact of a fireball on the tower and quarters.

Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse [Photograph: Annette Flottwell]
Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse
Photograph: Annette


LOCATION: Latitude 33㲮0' S, Longitude 115ಮ0' E (Map)
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
CHARACTER: Group Flashing 2 every 10 seconds
LIGHT SOURCE: 120v 1000w Tungsten Halogen Lamp
POWER SOURCE: Mains Electricity; Diesel Stand-by
ELEVATION: 123 Metres
RANGE: 25 Nautical Miles
HEIGHT: 20 Metres

The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse [Photograph: Ian Clifford]
The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse

Photograph: Ian Clifford


At least 12 ships have come to grief in the strong currents and dangerous reefs which lie off Cape Naturaliste's sharp point.

The Halcyon was completely wrecked in 1844. The Day Dawn, the Gaff and the Dao all went ashore during gales at Quindalup or near Toby's Inlet. The Phoenix, a 684 ton Danish ship loaded with jarrah was swept ashore in 1895, and the Paragon met with the same fate.

American whalers frequented the coast in great numbers during the 1840's. During January 1841 there were 17 ships in Geographe Bay, nearly all were whalers. Three American whalers were wrecked on the south west coast of Western Australia on 8 July 1840 in a gale: the Samuel Wright, the North America and the Governor Endicott.

The lighthouse's predecessor was known as 'The Tub' - it was a barrel on top of a 30 foot pole in Busselton which marked the best landing place for passengers and stores.

Later a lantern hung from the top of the pole so it could be seen at night.

In 1873, this was replaced by a wooden structure called 'The Lighthouse'. This in turn was later pulled down.

The Cape Naturaliste tower, positioned on a 100 m high bluff overlooking Geographe Bay, was constructed in 1903 from local limestone, quarried about one mile from the lighthouse at what is known as the "Quarries".

Bullock wagons carted the stone from the quarry and most of the other materials and apparatus landed at nearby Eagle Bay. This included the lens and turntable weighing 12 1/2 tons.

Late one evening, during the lighthouse's construction, while being unloaded from a ship on the Quindalup Jetty, a jar of valuable mercury fell into the sea. Despite a warning to stay away until it could be reclaimed by the proper authorities, a sailor dived for it, but drowned in the course of trying to bring the heavy weight to the surface.

The next day in the morning light no sign of it could be found. The heavy weight and movement of water had moved the jar well below the sand.

The mercury has never been recovered. so, some small fortune of mercury lies hidden beneath the encroaching sand dunes at Quindalup.

The steps loading up the tower were made from wooden teak blocks dowelled together and placed grain-end up for long wearing. These step are still in good order and in use today.

The three keepers' quarters, of stone construction, were built in 1904.

The light was exhibited for the first time in 1904.

The apparatus was originally powered by an incandescent vapourised kerosene lamp.

The power was increased to 1,213,000 candles in 1924.

The light was converted to automatic operation in 1978 and the keepers were reduced to one.

The light is painted with a special acrylic to match the original stone.

Although Cape Naturaliste was relatively close to settlement, life was still hard for lightkeepers and their families. With no paid annual leave or travel assistance, lightkeepers remained at their isolated stations for many years. Once a fortnight stores were delivered from Busselton. The nearest school was 20 kilometres (14 miles) away at Quindalup.

The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse Doorway [Photograph: Ian Clifford]
The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse doorway
Photograph: Ian Clifford

The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse [Photograph: Annette Flottwell]
The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse
Photograph: Annette

1907 was an eventful year for the lightstation. The wreck of the Carnarvon Castle, which had caught fire off the the south east of Western Australia, saw the rescue of 14 seaman after weeks at sea in lifeboats. The crew stayed at the headkeeper's home until they were well enough to travel.

The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse [Photograph: Annette Flottwell]
The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse
Photograph: Annette Flottwell

The other major event was a fireball that did immense damage to the station. Ethel Baird (Mrs E Bovel) whose father, Patrick David Baird, who was appointed officer in charge when the lighthouse was built and opened in 1903, describes the experience.

"All this happened a few years ago at Cape Naturaliste lighthouse, which stands high on the hill, the ocean all round, on three sides. The three cottages are at the bottom of the hill below the lighthouse.

It was July 1907 when we experienced the impact of the fire ball. Father was the only one on duty, the time was 9.00am one of the Assistant Lightkeepers had gone 25 miles to the small town of Busselton, for supplies and food for the three families. The second Assistant had gone to Yallingup Cave House to collect all the postal mail, papers etc. for the lighthouse which was collected once a week.

It was 8.30am, a storm had been raging for 5 days, then it turned into a severe electric storm with terrible flashes of lightning and thunder which was deafening, then everything went quiet all of a sudden. We were standing looking out of the window facing North East, wondering if we could now go outside. It became very dark, then a large red ball of fire slowly appeared on the horizon. We watched it as it slowly moved towards us, the air became very warm. We were very frightened and then as it came closer, Mother quickly pushed we children under the beds. She got under a heavy dining room table, only just in time an the fire ball struck our house, breaking windows, the telephone rang violently, then it burst from the wall with a loud explosion, the noise was terrible. Mother became worried as Father was on duty up at the lighthouse. She put a coat on and rushed out leaving us screaming under the beds, to see if Father was safe. The pathway was all ripped up, to a depth of approximately 4' along the underground phone line from our house to the lighthouse. The wind was so strong that it almost knocked Mother over.

When she reached the lighthouse and went upstairs, on to the first landing, things were in a mess. Father said later that he put his hand on the phone to put through a weather report, and it blew up and out from the wall, knocking my Father unconscious. A long large cupboard, which was strongly bolted with long bolts to the wall, was blown from the wall. It had a lightning conductor running up the wall behind the cupboard from the ground to the top of the lighthouse dome and outside. This was twisted and torn. Everything was tossed and smashed up, that had been in the, path of the fire ball. It was terrible.

After the fire ball struck, there was loud thunder and lightning, like hell let loose for about an hour. Then the severity of the storm subsided and it became very quiet. Very heavy rain came down and lasted for a few hours, slowly stopping. Then everything cleared, the sun shone through and it looked so peaceful with raindrops glistening on trees and flowers.

The absence of the two keepers placed a heavy burden on Mother. We two children were her only helpers at the time. so she sent us two miles to ask the Farmer, Mr. Curtis, for help. He had to ride horseback twelve miles to Caves House, Yallingup, to the nearest 'phone, for help from Busselton

A doctor had to be brought 25 miles to the lighthouse. We were cut off with no 'phones. Father was ill and had a long cut on his head which had to be sutured up (stitched). Mother was also suffering from shock. Father was ill for eight weeks and off duty.

It's surprising the amount of damage a fire ball causes, when it strikes its terror and I never want to see another one. It left us all in a highly nervous condition for come time and every time there was a bad storm we were all terrified an to what would happen next. In the years to follow, we had many severe storms in the winter, but we never saw another fire ball, which seems to be something that rarely happens.

It takes years to overcome the fear of storms. "

It is interesting to note that the storm must have been severe as the lightkeeper was still on duty at 9.00am in the morning.

The View from the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse [Photograph: Ian Clifford]
The view from the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse
Photograph: Ian Clifford


The lighthouse is set in an 8 hectare reserve which abuts the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park. Busselton, the nearest major town, is located 27 kilometres to the south east. Access is obtained by road.

The Cape Naturaliste Tourism Association operates the tours.

View of the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse and cottages from the air
Photograph: Winsome Bonham

The Surrounding Area

The Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse celebrated its centenary in 2004
Photograph: Pauline O'Brien

Special Thanks to:

  • Annette Flotwell for Photographs

  • Ian Clifford for Photographs

  • Pauline O'Brien for Photograph

  • Winsome Bonham for Photograph


  • Brian Lord

  • Busselton Historical Society

  • Geographe Bay Tourist Association

  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority

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