The Lighthouse tower is a conical, or slightly tapered, cylindrical structure of mass concrete construction finished externally with white painted cement render. It is maintained by AMSA and remains as an operational navigation aid.
The tower composition is considered as a fine example of the work of the Colonial Architect, James Barnet. It is some 17 metres high and is surmounted by a lantern house which contains the optic which replaced the original Chance Bros. lantern in 1975. The simplicity of the rather squat tower is enlivened by the projecting balcony, supported on a simple moulded cornice, with the typical Barnet style outwards sloping gunmetal balcony railing.
At the base of the tower is a small annex, attached to the northern side and containing the original oil store. This structure is also of mass concrete and its classical lines form a visual counterfoil to the tower.
A circular cast iron geometric stair winds up the inner face of the tower walls, providing access to the upper stone external balcony and the new lantern house, which is constructed of cast iron, wrought iron and fibreglass. Trapezoid shaped glazing in aluminum frames provides little interruption for the light. The current lantern is a Chance 3700mm diameter murette surmounted by the NALI fibreglass and aluminium lantern, now powered by solar panels. The light is set at an elevation of 58 metres and has a range of 17 nautical miles.
The need for a light on South Solitary was first urged in 1856, but it was not until March 15 1880, that it was first exhibited. The total expenditure, including the cost of erecting a jetty and landing stage on the island was £32,000.
In 1877 the Marine Board accompanied by the Colonial Architect. Mr James Barnet, proceeded to the island to select the sites for the buildings, and landed on October 31.
Plans and specifications were then prepared by the Colonial approved by the Minister. Tenders were on June 17, 1878 for the construction of lighthouse and quarters.
Intending tenderers were offered the use of the S.S Thetis to inspect the of the proposed lighthouse.
Mr John McLeod tender of £23.000 was accepted. This did not include the cost of the lantern or landing stage or footpaths which amounted to £3,150 and £1,500respectively.
On July 9 Mr McLeod and his partners despatched their first steamer the James Comrie, with a full load of timber for the men's houses, stores, etc., together with boats and 21 men, Mr McLeod accompanying them.
After arriving safely and discharging some of their cargo, they had to run back to Trial Bay for shelter and wait there for three or four days till the weather moderated.
There being no fresh water on the island, a condensing machine was provided and used until tanks were sunk and a supply of rain water had been caught. Four tanks, each containing 12,000 gallons were sunk and provided with pumps.
Great difficulty was encountered in landing the heavy stores. Eventually a wooden crane with a forty foot jib was erected and due to the skill of the boatmen variouscargoes were landed safely. About thirty men and three boats were employed landing cargo, the heaviest being sixteen bluestones for the floor of the gallery, weighing thirty hundredweight each. The hardwood used came from the Bellinger River area.
The landing stage was formed with wrought galvanised iron leaded into the rock and well braced. On this stage was a travelling crane with a 20 foot jib, and it was by this means that lightkeepers and their families and all stores, were hoisted in a basket from boats in the open sea on to the Island—a rather terrifying experience.
The lantern was made by Chance Bros. of Birmingham, England, and is a first order light 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 twenty nautical miles to sea. The glass prisms float in a mercury bath. The mechanism, which was made by the Renault Company of France is wound up by hydraulic weights every half hour.
The lantern burned continuously from 1880 until 1975, when the present lantern and optical apparatus were installed and the station was unmanned. This apparatus consists of a lightweight PVC lantern, one FA251 self contained beacon inside lantern with FA250 standby on top of lantern one 12V lamp for light source and powered by a battery.
The original lantern was donated to Coffs Harbour Shire Council and is now housed in the town's Museum. It is hoped that the light, which had never been extinguished for 95 years, (except for a few nights during World War 11, in May, 1942 when several vessels were torpedoed and sunk near South Solitary Island) will again be seen in all its glory sending out its flashes to those who come to see this beautiful and unique exhibit.
Copyright © 2020 South Solitary Island - All Rights Reserved.