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State Indexes > WA > Wadjemup Lighthouse (formerly main Rottnest Island Lighthouse)

The Wadjemup Lighthouse on Rottnest Island

The original lighthouse on this site was Western Australia's first lighthouse.

The second, and current, is Australia's first ever rotating beam lighthouse.

The Rottnest Main Lighthouse on Wadjemup Hill [Photograph: Ian Clifford]
The Rottnest Island Lighthouse on Wadjemup Hill
Photograph: Ian Clifford


LOCATION: Latitude 32° 0.5' S, Longitude 115° 30.1' E (map)
OPERATOR: Australian Maritime Safety Authority
CHARACTER: Flashing Every 7.5 Seconds
LIGHT SOURCE: 120v 1000w Tungsten Halogen Lamp
POWER SOURCE: Local Mains Electricity, Diesel Standby
INTENSITY: 1,300,000 CD
ELEVATION: 80.5 Metres
RANGE: 26 Nautical Miles
HEIGHT: 38.7 Metres


Rottnest Island got its name in 1696 when Willem de Vlamingh landed there and found an animal that was a 'kind of rat, as big as a common cat'. He called the island Rottnest which literally means 'Rats Nest'. We know these a small marsupials today as quokkas.

The island was originally settled by Europeans in 1831, but was taken over by the Colonial Government in 1839 and converted to a penal settlement for Aboriginals.

The first lighthouse tower on the island was completed in 1849 using Aboriginal convict labour. Though it was 20 metres tall, it was still 3 metres shorter than originally planned and had taken 9 years to build due to poor skills and the penal environment.

Living quarters for the lightkeeper were built around the base.

Made from locally quarried stone from Nancy Cove, it was the first lighthouse to be built in stone in Western Australia. The lighthouse did not operate until 1851 when the revolving lamp and clockwork mechanism was fitted.

The machinery for the revolving catoptric light was designed and made in Fremantle. This enabled the light to be opened a year earlier than waiting for a apparatus to arrive from England.

The first light flashed for 5 seconds in the minute and was visible for 18 nautical miles. The light consumed some 3 gallons of coconut oil per week, although later kerosene was used as a fuel.

The lighthouse was officially opened on the same day in 1851 as the Arthur Head Lighthouse at Fremantle.

In 1881, the apparatus was replaced by a revolving first order dioptric with an improvement in clarity and range.

Plan of the Old Main Lighthouse [Plan Courtesy: Rottnest Island Authority]
Plan of the original Rottnest Island Lighthouse
Plan Courtesy: Rottnest Island Authority

The Main Lighthouse on Rottnest Island [Photograph Courtesy: Rottnest Island Authority]
The main Lighthouse on Rottnest Island

Photograph: Rottnest Island Authority

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, it was decided to replace the lighthouse with a new one twice as high and with a more powerful lamp, situated alongside the old one on Wadjemup Hill.

The small square stone building adjacent to the lighthouse is all that remains of this first lighthouse.

The new tower completed in 1896, was designed by W T Douglass, in London, who was also responsible for the Cape Leeuwin light. Construction was under the supervision of the colony's Engineer-in-Chief, C Y O'Connor.

C Y O'Connor is famous for the water supply pipeline to Kalgoorlie Goldfields in the dry inland of Australia. He took his life tragically when people lost faith in the scheme, and therefore never saw it successfully transform the goldfields to a booming inland city.

The new lighthouse, like the first lighthouse, was also built of limestone from Nancy Cove. This time the stone was transported to Wadjemup Hill along a short railway line.

The lantern room was fitted with a focal radius rotating lens (first order dioptric) manufactured by Chance Brothers and Co Limited, Lighthouse Engineers, near Birmingham. A new mercury bath and pedestal with clockwork mechanism was installed in 1929.

In 1936, light source consisting of a six wick kerosene burners was converted to electricity and made semi-automatic. The light was converted to fully automatic operation in 1986. The electric supply comes from the island settlements power station. The light was demanned in 1990.

The Rottnest Island Lighthouse at sunset
Photograph: Rob Ker

It is interesting to note that the first three lighthouse keepers committed suicide!

During the Meckering Earthquake a quantity of the mercury spilled out of its bath.

A subsidiary light was established on Bathurst Point in 1900.

As a major coastal light, the Main Rottnest Lighthouse was passed to Commonwealth control in 1915 under the Navigation Act of 1912. The Rottnest Island Authority has purchased the lighthouse and leased it back to Australian Maritime Safety Authority.


The lighthouse is on Wadjemup Hill at the centre of Rottnest Island. The island can be reached by ferries that leave from the Barrack Street Jetty in Perth, Northport in North Fremantle or Hillarys Boat Harbour. Flights leave from Perth Airport. It is not known whether tours are conducted.



Seeking information: William Brown: Keeper at Rottnest Island - Bulletin Aug 04


The Surrounding Area

The 30.4 Metre Rottnest Main Lighthouse [Photograph: John O'Brien]
The 30.4 metre Rottnest Island Lighthouse
Photograph: John O'Brien

The Rottnest Main Lighthouse and Old Base [Photograph: Ian Clifford]
The Rottnest Lighthouse and
original lighthouse tower base

Photograph: Ian Clifford
The Rottnest Main Lighthouse [Photograph: Ian Clifford]
The Rottnest Island Lighthouse
Photograph: Ian Clifford

The Rottnest Main Lighthouse at Sunset [Photograph: Brian Lord]
The Rottnest Island Lighthouse at sunset
Photograph: Brian Lord

The Rottnest Island Lighthouse from the air
Photograph: Winsome Bonham

Special Thanks to:

  • Brian Lord for Photograph

  • Ian Clifford for Photographs

  • John O'Brien for Photographs

  • Rottnest Island Authority for Photograph & Plan

  • Winsome Bonham for Photograph

  • Rob Ker for Photograph


  • All The News in a Flash by John Moynihan

  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority

  • Brian Lord

  • Gordon Samuel

  • National Trust of WA

  • Register of Heritage Places

  • Rottnest Island Authority

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