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Artwork of the month
Georgetown Lighthouse and Signal Station | c1836
Mary Ann Friend
18.5 cm x 16.5 cm
Watercolour on paper
Possibly the only surviving painting of the original convict built Lighthouse and timber signal station at Low Head near Georgetown, Tasmania.
The attribution to the artist Mary Ann Friend is derived from a pair of labels attached to the work.
Colonel William Paterson arrived on 16 February 1804 aboard HMS Buffalo as the newly appointed Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land with the first settlers. The first navigation marker he installed at Low Head was a simple flagpole in 1804. Later that year, Paterson established a pilot station and Signal Station in the sheltered bay below Low Head. He also installed a fire beacon at Low Head to mark the hazardous entrance of the Tamar River. When a vessel was sighted after sunset, a fire would be lit and attended all night by convicts to allow the vessel to maintain sight of the port.
Several serious shipping accidents occurred near the mouth of the Tamar River early in the history of George Town. The first and most infamous of these occurred on 15 June 1808, when the Hebe struck a reef between Low Head and Western Head at the entrance to Port Dalrymple. The ship was wrecked on the rocks at the mouth to the Tamar River, which have since that day carried the name Hebe Reef. Responding to this ongoing threat to shipping, the local Committee of Pilotage recommended in 1826 that a light station should be built at Low Head.
Australia’s first lighthouse, Macquarie Lighthouse in Vaucluse, NSW was lit in 1793. Australia’s second lighthouse, Iron Pot Lighthouse at the entrance to the River Derwent was lit in 1832. Low Head Lighthouse, constructed by convict labour and first lit on 27 December 1833, became Tasmania’s second and only the third one to be built in Australia.
The station is situated 7km North of Georgetown and 50 km from Launceston on the East side of the Tamar River.
The 1833 lighthouse was designed by Colonial Architect John Lee Archer. The construction was overseen by Huckson and Hutchison of Hobart and was initially known as the George Town Station. It was constructed of local rubble with a coat of stucco to make the structure durable. The crown was built of freestone from Launceston, and the lantern room was built of timber, also from Launceston.
The keepers quarters were designed by William Moriarty and consisted of four rooms each. The quarters were attached to either side of the tower, the only lighthouse in Tasmania with attached quarters. The structure, 15.25 metres (50 feet) from the base to the top of the lantern, was erected by Mr Walmsley of Launceston.
The lantern was constructed at the Launceston Timber Yard, and the original lamps and reflectors were manufactured by Mr William Hart. He supplied “six dozen lamps, including reflectors, at three shillings and sixpence each”, and burned sperm whale oil.
In 1835 a revolving shutter, rotated by a clockwork mechanism was installed and in 1838 the original reflectors and Argand lamps were replaced by a catoptric system sourced from Wilkins and Co of London
The tower was falling into disrepair, and it was necessary to rebuild it in 1888. The original convict-built stone tower was pulled down and replaced with the present double brick structure, and painted white. The new tower utilised the original revolving catoptric apparatus.
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