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The Lighthouse That Wrecked More Ships Than it Saved

For more than forty years a lighthouse stood on a large anvil-shaped peninsula jutting into the Tasman Sea near Jervis Bay, in southern Australia. It stood at a place where it shouldn’t have, luring ignorant ships into the very rocks they were trying to avoid.

The cliffs around Cape St George just south of Jervis Bay was notorious for shipwrecks, and so in the mid-19th century, it was decided that a lighthouse was needed for the safe navigation of coastal shipping.

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Photo credit: John Eggers/Wikimedia

In 1857, the Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson and an assistant surveyor E.F. Millington, began looking for a site suitable for a lighthouse on Cape St George. Unfortunately, Dawson was more interested in the ease of construction rather than providing an efficient navigation aid. When the Pilots Board, which was the controlling authority, went to verify the location Dawson chose they found that the site was not visible from the required approaches. They also found the map prepared by Millington and Dawson suffered from “discrepancies of so grave a character that it is impossible to decide whether either position marked on the map really exists.” The board also suspected that Dawson chose the site solely because it was situated closer to a quarry he planned to obtain stones from.

Despite the glaring deficiencies in the planning stage and disagreement by a majority of the board, for reasons not known, the chairman of board authorized the construction of the lighthouse. For the next four decades the ill-sited lighthouse, which was visible neither from the northern approach to Jervis Bay, nor from the south, was responsible for some two dozen shipwrecks. Eventually in 1899, the lighthouse was replaced by the Point Perpendicular Light in Point Perpendicular, a much more suitable location for a lighthouse on this part of the coast.

Even after decommissioning, the lighthouse continued to cause navigational problems especially on moonlit nights when the golden sandstone tower glowed in the dark. So near the turn of the century, the tower was reduced to rubble to prevent any further disaster.

The Cape St George lighthouse was ill-fated not only for ships but for the lighthouse keepers as well. A string of tragedies seemed to struck whoever lived there. One lighthouse keeper drowned while fishing, another one was kicked in the head by a horse and died. The most talked about incident involved two teenage girls, who were playing with a loaded firearm when the gun discharged shooting and killing one of them.

Still in ruins, the Cape St George lighthouse is now on a protected list because of its unusual history.

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Photo credit: Michael Dawes/Flickr

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