Standing on a bald rocky headland with a precipitous cliff on the east
side, and a sheer drop of approximately 100 metres, Cape Byron
Lighthouse is the most easterly light in Australia, and one of the most
Built in the style used by NSW colonial architect, James Barnet, Charles
Harding his successor, prepared the plans for the Cape Byron
Lighthouse. Due to the elevation of the site, a tall structure was not
required. Construction began in 1899 with the levelling of the site by
contractors, Mitchell and King. The total cost was £10,042 (pounds) to
the contractors, £8,000 for the apparatus and lantern house, and £2,600
for the road from Byron Bay township.
The tower is constructed from concrete blocks made on the ground, lifted
and cemented into position and finally cement rendered inside and out.
This technique saved erecting framework.
The eight ton optical lens was made by the French company, Societe des
Establishment, Henry Lepante, Paris. It is a dioptric first-order
bivalve double flashing lens and contains 760 pieces of highly polished
prismatic glass. The lens revolves on a bath of 7cwt mercury. The
original illuminant was a concentric six-wick kerosene burner. This was
replaced in 1922 by a vaporised kerosene mantle burner, which increased
the intensity from 145,000 cp to 500,000 cp. In 1956, the light was
converted to mains electricity increasing the intensity to 2,200,000 cd.
The original lens weight driven mechanism, which works on a similar
principle as that of a grandfather clock, was also replaced with an
electric drive motor when the light was converted to electric operation.
An auxiliary fixed red light is exhibited from the tower to cover
Julian Rocks to the north.
The installation of the lighthouse was regarded as a great event in the
district of Byron Bay. A banquet was arranged and special trains carried
visitors from Lismore and Murwillumbah for the opening. The Premier of
the day, the Hon. John See (later Sir John See), was accompanied by a
number of his colleagues who left Sydney in the Government steamer
‘Victoria’. However, bad weather prevented the vessel from arriving on
time, and when the party should have been banqueting the steamer was
some thirty miles away. She arrived in the bay just before midnight on
30 November 1901, but again, the weather made it impossible for the
party to land until dawn.
The Lighthouse Opened
After landing, the party was informed that the banquet had taken place
on the previous evening, and the necessary toast had been heartily drunk
in the absence of the Premier and his party. Mr See, after making an
acrobatic performance in landing, was cordially cheered, and later
formally welcomed at the Great Northern Hotel. Interestingly, the
lighthouse was christened with a rich and sumptuous vintage burgundy –
not dashed against the tower to waste, but sipped by the ladies and
legislators to compensate for having missed all the good things of the
banquet held the night before.
Visit our Cape Byron Headland Reserve page for more information on the Cape.
Courtesy Cape Byron Trust