The lantern was made by Chance Bros of Birmingham, England, and is a first order dioptric revolving white light, with eclipses every thirty seconds and is one of the finest made. The light is an oil burner which is stationary, but eight cut glass prisms, giving a light of 205,000 candle power, revolve around the burner, throwing out eight flashes at once, which are visible 20 nautical miles to sea. The lens system rotated in a bath of mercury and was driven by a clockwork mechanism.
The clockwork, which was made by the Renault Company of France, was driven by a weight wound up at half-hourly intervals through a tube running at the centre of the lighthouse tower, from the lantern room to the tower base.
The clockwork unit has a governor to regulate the speed at which the optic rotated. The optic is made up of eight sections bolted to the mercury float bowl and each of the bottom sections has eight glass prisms while the top section has 18 prisms. The centre section is made of 11 prisms formed into rings and in the centre a large magnifying glass.
The lighthouse, which had been manually operated since 1880, was vacated on 29 December 1975 and became automated on August 22, 1975. This apparatus consisted of a lightweight PVC lantern, one FA251 self-contained beacon inside the lantern, with an FA250 standby on top of lantern, one 12v lamp for light source and powered by a battery.
The light, which had not been extinguished for 95 years, (except for a few nights in May, 1942, when several vessels were torpedoed and sunk near South Solitary Island), has been solar-powered since 1985 and will continue to be seen to aid shipping passing in this area.
When the lantern from South Solitary Lighthouse was removed in 1976 by theDepartment of Transport and replaced with a modern automatic light, it was offered to the Coffs Harbour Shire Council, who readily accepted it, as a historical monument and as a tourist attraction.
As the Coffs Harbour and District Historical Museum was then under construction, it was decided that this building would be a good home for it. So, on September 7, 1977 the century old parts were air-lifted to the mainland by an R.A.A.F. Chinook helicopter as a "goodwill gesture" by the Air Force, then transported to the Council Workshop.
Mr Peter Richmond was then entrusted with the challenging task of restoring and assembling the lighthouse lantern on its original pedestal. He now tells his story:
"When we were confronted with so many parts - heavy pieces such as lantern, pedestal and base, mercury bath, float bowl, lantern floor, and lots of smaller sections, not in any order, it was like sorting out a giant jigsaw puzzle. As the workshop staff commenced rebuilding the pedestal and lantern, many parts were found to be damaged and it took many hours' work to repair them. When layers of paint and grime were cleared away we found certain units had numbers stamped on them - put there by Chance Bros. in England almost a hundred years ago. Once these numbers were found it was much easier to fit all pieces into their correct places. Many parts were made of cast iron and had numerous coats of paint applied over the years. These were sand-blasted back to bare metal and repainted. Other parts, which were of gun metal or brass, were cleaned and coated with a clear paint."
First a hole, five feet deep and twelve feet across, was prepared in the rear of the building to take the pedestal, which is eight feet high. while it is ten feet from the lantern floor to the top of the lantern optic.
The lens system rotated in a bath of mercury and was driven by a clockwork mechanism. The clockwork was driven by a weight wound up at half-hourly intervals through a tube running at the centre of the lighthouse tower, from the lantern room to the tower base.
The clockwork unit has a governor to regulate the speed at which the optic rotated. The optic is made up of eight sections bolted to the mercury float bowl and each of the bottom sections has eight glass prisms while the top section has eighteen prisms. The centre section is made of eleven prisms formed into rings and in the centre a large magnifying glass.
Original illumination was from a vapourised kerosene light, situated at the centre of the optic, giving 205,000 candle power to the light. But for display purposes a 200 candle power electric bulb has been fitted.
A large crane was used to place the pedestal, mercury bath (minus the mercury), float bowl and lantern floor in the Museum before the roof was put on. Lastly the lens was re-assembled in the correct order, with the use of scaffolding.
After months of work the South Solitary Lighthouse pedestal and lantern were finally installed in the Museum - a beautiful and unique exhibit.
April 2009 - Severe storm damage has closed the Museum.
The light was not damaged in the flooding, but it looks as though the museum will need to be relocated. The light will need a new home!
The new lantern on South Solitary Island
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