Green Cape Lighthouse
Built in 1883 and perched on the edge of a peninsula, Green Cape Lighthouse was once the tallest and is most southerly in NSW.
The light first shone from Green Cape Lighthouse on 1st November, 1883, and its oil-fired lantern could be seen 19 nautical miles out to sea as it flashed every minute on a revolving, clockwork mechanism. It is still, today, the second tallest lighthouse in NSW. The tower stands 29 metres from the base to the top of the lantern house and was the largest concrete structure in NSW at the time that it was built.
Excavation for the site had begun in 1881 after funds for its construction were initially allocated in 1879 and the site surveyed in 1880 as part of a plan by Francis Hixson to "light the coast like a street with lamps".
It was also the first lighthouse built to an octagonal design on a square base, which made construction of the wooden formwork easier. Its design is remarkably similar to the earlier, timber-framed lighthouse situated on Lookout Point in Eden, which was the first lighthouse ever erected in the colony and was subsequently destroyed by fire.
The aggregate came from local sandstone cliffs, while the cement, sand and stores were landed at Bittangabbee Bay to the north, and transported along a purpose-built, seven kilometre timber tramway.
A telegraph station was also established so that Sydney could be alerted to the impending arrival of ships
The original lighthouse needed a team of three lighthouse keepers to keep the beacon going. The keepers were on duty at all times and each would take a five hour shift overnight to keep watch and make sure the light never went out. Before electrification the keeper had to crank a handle and raise a set of iron weights up through the centre of the lighthouse every 45 minutes with each winding process taking five minutes or more. The weights would slowly descend again, keeping the light turning on its axis.
Each keeper was given a large stone cottage for himself and his family. The Head Keeper's cottage consisted of six rooms with a detached kitchen and store. The semi-detached Assistant Keeper's cottage consisted of four rooms with a detached kitchen and store. These quarters were described at the time as "commodious and comfortable". After the origonal lighthouse was decommissioned in 1992 two of the cottages were converted into self-contained guest houses and the third is used by the caretaker.
In 1913 the speed of the flashes was increased by inserting a new mechanism and the original kerosene lamp was also altered and in 1926 the power and speed of the lamp were again increased. In 1962 the light was electrified and after two subsequent increases in power it was finally increased to 1 million candelas in 1967.
The lighthouse was automated in 1983 and has most recently been used as an automatic weather station for the Bureau of Meteorology.
In 1992 it was converted to a solar power and the old light was decommissioned in favour of a new steel framed latticework tower located further toward the point. The original lenses and mechanisms are still housed in the old tower.
The site itself is now managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service who conduct tours of the lighthouse site and tower 5 days per week, with a caretaker in attendance who also looks after security and cleaning.
Many vessels have been driven ashore and lost in or near Twofold Bay and Green Cape but the most famous was probably the “Ly-ee-moon” (Flying Fish) which began life in 1859 as a sister ship to the Royal Yacht “Victoria and Albert”, but by 1886 (after many refits) was plying passengers between Melbourne and Sydney. After rounding Cape Howe on May 29 in a strong on-shore wind she drifted from her due North course and around 9 p.m. struck the rocks below the Green Cape Lighthouse. Despite heroic rescue attempts, only 5 of the 45 passengers and 10 of the 41 crew survived and only 24 bodies were subsequently recovered from the sea.
Among the bodies was that of Mrs Flora MacKillop, the mother of Mary, Sister of St. Joseph, the foundress of the Order of St. Joseph of North Sydney and Australia’s first saint. Sister Mary established the Convent of St. Joseph in Eden in 1888 as a means of showing her appreciation for the rescue attempts, recovery of her mother’s body and subsequent kindness displayed by the residents of Eden in her distress.
The captain of the “Ly-ee-moon” was later charged with gross neglect, but to his credit spent the remainder of his life assisting the Royal Shipwreck Society.
Some of the bodies from “Ly-ee-moon” are buried in a small cemetery located north of the lighthouse about 100 metre of the access road.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service: Green Cape tours