Cape Jaffa Lighthouse

The Limestone Coast of South Australia has an unenviable record of shipwrecks and resulting loss of life.  In 1852 the crew and passengers of a ship called Margaret Brock were lucky to survive when they were wrecked on the rocks 8 kilometers off the point of Cape Jaffa.  The reef was subsequently named “Margaret Brock Reef”.  A further six accidents occurred before the decision to erect a lighthouse was made.   The Lighthouse began operation on 6th January 1872, and continued until  a new lighthouse at Robe began operation – 1st April 1973.  The future of the old lighthouse remained uncertain, until intense lobbying by members of the National Trust secured it’s relocation to nearby Kingston.  This immense task was completed in 1976 and thanks to the foresight of these people visitors get an opportunity to view an original lighthouse from the 1880’s.

I was very fortunate to recently take a boat trip out to the reef, where the original lighthouse platform now is a rookery for the Australasian Gannet.  The day before my trip, the seas had been very rough, and it would have been impossible to safely get close to the platform, so luck was certainly with us on this day of calm seas.  The trip was led by Ross, from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the other passengers were, I think I could say, birders.  Me?  I was out there for adventure and to see if I had any sea legs 🙂  The answer – yes!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA perfect calm morning at Cape Jaffa Marina.  This Marina provides much needed safe anchorage for boats in the area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few homes have been built but there’s plenty of room for more, so consider building here if you’re looking for a quiet marina in a great fishing area.  Local delicacy is lobster 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s where we’re headed!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe chugged along out to sea, until the platform came into view, and then you could feel the excitement as people reached for their cameras and binoculars!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt that stage, I wasn’t trusting my sea legs, and kept a safe central position while we were moving.  I needn’t have worried. 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpare a thought for the men who built this structure.  It was a lovely calm day like this when the man who won(?) the contract for building the lighthouse paid his first visit.  He later had to find out to his great financial cost, that there would only be 4months of the year of decent weather and this meant heavy penalties for every day over the stated one year for completion.  It took 3 years and I thought it a shameful part of history that this contractor was initially deceived about this situation, and then held at ransom when he couldn’t fulfill his original intentions.  I think it’s testiment to his own sense of decency that he stayed with the task – a lesser man could have simply left it undone and disappeared…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe screw piles.  What a task it must have been putting them into the rock! No modern diamond drills in those days!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoss pointed out the juvenile plumage on the birds to the left.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt pays to know your way around these reefs, even with the modern navigational aides.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the Margaret Brock Reef, and headed out to another destination, which I’ll write about in a future post.  Just for now, I want to stay with the Lighthouse story.

There were three lighthouse keepers and their families.  Two stayed out on the reef, while a third rested on the shore, and maintained the cottages and monitored the radio.  Back in July, I walked down the coast from Cape Jaffa to the site of the original cottages.  It’s a bit far to walk in summertime…..

CottagesSadly, these cottages were not saved……

RuinsIt is only the signs that give an indication of how they once looked.

FlowersLike many settlers in new lands before and since, they brought with them garden favourites, and these have naturalised the area.  The air was quite heady with their perfume, although really, they are an environmental weed.


Back on firm soil, I drove from Cape Jaffa to Kingston, and as it was school holidays, the Lighthouse was open for viewing.  It is staffed by volunteers, and the two I met obviously loved their task in explaining the history.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASteps….. and just the beginning of them!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis woman was one of the movers and shakers in getting the lighthouse relocated – and from the story she told of going out to inspect the building on the reef, quite an adventurer!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lower section of the lighthouse is decorated in the style of the period – including some original items!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo push button automatic washing machines in those days – and yes, I’ve experienced washing by this method in the days I lived out bush, and am quite happy to be done with it.  The flags were the method of communicating with passing ships.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe keepers journals survived, and I couldn’t help admiring the beautiful handwriting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the bedrooms…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe “bathroom”.  Haven’t things changed…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was time to climb some more, and this was the view that awaited me.

The heart of a lighthouse of course, is the Light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYes, this building pre-dates the Statue of Liberty and the Eifel Tower.  🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe engineering work is superb.  People took great pride in their work and I loved the details.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Light is housed on a bed of mercury, to ensure stability regardless of storms shaking the structure.  7 tons of it.

I had a little difficulty with absorbing all the facts from the wonderful guide, as I was adjusting to being up so high in such a small space…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I definitely didn’t want to step off the platform into that gap!  Next time I go there, I’m sure I’ll feel better 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll those shapes, just fascinating don’t you think?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEventually, it was time to retrace my steps…. and go down… and down…. and down…..

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…..   to one of the real treasures I found on this trip.


4 thoughts on “Cape Jaffa Lighthouse

  1. Lighthouses are wonderful generally, and this one’s splendiferous. It’s great that it’s been preserved, and beyond that, made accessible. And what a nice touch that so many of the decorations and furnishings are original. I’m glad that you captured some of the details of the stairs, the light, and so on.

    The gannets are interesting. They look a bit like a cross between a seagull and a cormorant.

    • I do have some other shots of various details Linda, which I’ll be posting soon. The stairs though, didn’t turn out well enough…. poor light is my excuse. Around the town, there are various letter boxes modelled on this building – quite quaint.

  2. What an exceptionally beautiful place, and a fascinating history. It must have been terrible out on the original lighthouse during a storm. Does ‘gannet’ have the same alternative meaning in Australia, i.e. someone who eats their food too quickly and in large quantity?

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