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Cape Moreton Lightstation

  • 600257
  • Cape Moreton, Moreton Island


State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
3 December 2004
Transport—water: Light station
Transport—water: Lighthouse
5.4 Moving goods, people and information: Using shipping
7.2 Maintaining order: Government and public administration
Colonial Architect's Office
Construction periods
1857, Cape Moreton Lightstation - Lighthouse
1928, lighthouse tower extended
1930, addition of three new keepers' residences
unknown, addition of lightstation outbuildings (1930s)
Historical period
1840s–1860s Mid-19th century
1919–1930s Interwar period


Cape Moreton, Moreton Island
Brisbane City Council
-27.02982536, 153.45805444


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The Cape Moreton Light Station survives as an important demonstration of the evolution of a lighthouse complex from the mid-19th century. Evidence of this evolution includes the alterations to the lighthouse to incorporate changing technology; the three residences which are associated with a period of labour intensive lighthouse operation; and various outbuildings such as the fuel store and powerhouses which have been added to the complex to support the operation of the lighthouse.

Erected by the Government of New South Wales and still in use as part of the coastal navigation system, the lighthouse maintains its association with the establishment of a navigation system for the east coast of Australia from the early 19th century. As the first lighthouse to be erected at Moreton Bay following the closure of the penal settlement, the lighthouse also demonstrates the early development of Brisbane as a shipping port for northern Australia.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

The lighthouse contains rare surviving elements including the external masonry and internal cast iron staircases.

Criterion CThe place has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Queensland’s history.

The light station site has the potential to provide archaeological evidence of building construction techniques from the mid-19th century, and also of lighthouse operations, and the lifestyles of the lightkeepers, until the early-mid 20th century, when the majority of structures were demolished and replaced.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

The structure is the only example of a stone lighthouse in Queensland, the stone being quarried locally.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

Located on a prominent and dramatic headland, the lighthouse is an imposing building, and is a recognised landmark.


The stone lighthouse, which commenced operation in 1857, was the only lighthouse along the Queensland coastline at the time of separation in 1859. It was the only lighthouse in Queensland to be built of stone, and survives as one of five extant lighthouses erected by the New South Wales Government prior to 1862, when the Queensland Department of Ports and Harbours was established.

During the early period of the Moreton Bay penal settlement, vessels entered Moreton Bay primarily through the South Entrance, which was the passage between Moreton and North Stradbroke Islands. At this time, the south entrance was considered superior to the Northern Entrance around Cape Moreton, as it was much shorter for vessels coming from Sydney; it provided a better anchorage; and vessels were able to head to sea in a northerly wind, which was difficult to do around Cape Moreton. The first navigation aids were placed in Moreton Bay in 1825, and marked the south entrance. A Pilot Station was established at Amity Point on North Stradbroke Island by 1827.

The south entrance proved to be difficult and hazardous for vessels, and during the 1830s, consideration was given to the advantages of using the northern entrance into Moreton Bay. Despite the hazards however, the southern entrance remained the main entrance to the Moreton Bay settlement as it better suited the colony, the entrances were already marked, and the pilot station was already established at Amity Point.

During the penal settlement period of the 1820s and 1830s, the Regulations for Penal Settlements provided, amongst other matters, that "No unauthorised or strange vessel shall be allowed to come to an anchorage at a penal settlement except in cases of distress or necessity, in which case they shall receive a military guard on board during their stay...". Following proclamation of Moreton Bay as a free settlement in 1842, the Regulations were revoked, and shipping activity in Moreton Bay increased. Brisbane was declared a Port of Entry in 1846, and a Warehousing Port in 1849.

By the mid 1840s both the north and south entrances were used by vessels entering Moreton Bay. Captain Wickham and Lieutenant Yule carried out extensive surveys in Moreton Bay in 1846, and buoys marking the northern entrance were laid soon after. Sailing directions for the northern entrance were published in the Moreton Bay Courier in April 1847, in preparation for the closure of the southern passage as the main entrance to the Bay. Following the sinking of the Sovereign in 1847, a harbour master was appointed for Brisbane. Additional buoys were laid to better indicate the northern entrance, and in 1848 the pilot station was moved from Amity Point, firstly to Cowan Cowan then to Bulwer, on Moreton Island. The pilot station marked the first official European settlement of Moreton Island.


With the northern entrance now regarded as the main entry point for Moreton Bay, additional navigation aids were required to guide vessels. Brisbane residents petitioned the Government in 1850, seeking the erection of a lighthouse at Cape Moreton. Planning for the structure commenced in 1852 and a site was selected in 1853. The lighthouse was designed in the NSW Colonial Architect's Office, and the drawings dated September 1854, shortly before the resignation of Edmund Blacket as Colonial Architect. Blackett was succeeded by Alexander Dawson, NSW Colonial Architect from 1856-1862. Further drawings for the lighthouse are dated April 1856. The contractor for the lighthouse was Mark Farrell, and the erection of the lighthouse was supervised by Alexander Beazeley, Foreman of Works in the NSW Colonial Architect's office.

The lighthouse and lightkeeper's quarters were mostly completed in stone, quarried from an area on the Island near the lighthouse site. Labour for the construction of the lighthouse and quarters was reputedly provided by prisoners. Tenders for painting the lighthouse tower were called in December 1858. The external masonry and internal cast iron staircases which were part of the 1857 lighthouse are still extant, and are now considered to be rare.

The light consisted of 21 Catoptric lamps, in a sixteen sided iron lantern. The manufacturers of this first light are not known for certain, and although the English firm of Wilkins and Sons is considered to have been the preferred manufacturer of such lights by Colonial Authorities during the mid-nineteenth century, a 1916 report on the lighthouse described the light as being of French origin. The lighthouse was 67 feet (just over 20 metres) high, and the light is recorded as being visible for a distance of 26½ nautical miles in clear weather.

The light was exhibited for the first time in February 1857, and updated sailing directions for the north entrance into Moreton Bay were published at this time. The beginning of operations of the light is also recorded as generating much public interest, with the commencement of pleasure cruises/day trips from Ipswich and Brisbane into the Bay.

Additional navigation aids were erected on Moreton Island from the 1860s, and included lights at Comboyuro Point, North Point, Cowan Cowan Point and Yellow Patch.

The original oil wick lamps at the Cape Moreton lighthouse were replaced with kerosene burning lamps in 1873.

In October 1913 the control and supervision of coastal lights, including Cape Moreton, passed to the Commonwealth Government, although the actual change-over did not occur until July 1915. A survey of light stations along the Australian coast was carried out from 1911-1913 by Commander Brewis, who found that although the tower was in good condition, the catoptric apparatus was out of date, and he proposed that the present light be replaced by a modern quick-flashing apparatus.

The lighthouse tower was extended in 1928, to its present height of 23 metres, presumably to increase the range of the light. The original lantern was dismantled in 1930 and replaced with a Chance Brothers lantern, housing an AGA four panel catadioptric lens, on an AGA pedestal fitted with an AGA acetylene lamp. The lamp incorporated a sun valve which automatically activated the light at sunset. Chance Brothers and Co became the main British manufacturers of lighthouse equipment in the late 1900s, and were subsequently favoured by lighthouse authorities for the supply of the dioptric and catadioptic systems which had been perfected by the firm. In 1937 the light was converted to electric 110V DC operation; a new 240V AC power supply was installed in 1967. It has been suggested that a new lens was installed at this time; probably the pedestal, bearing and optic drive were also replaced. The range of the light is recorded as 27 nautical miles.

The two red bands were painted on the tower in 1942.

The present tungsten lamp was installed in 1988. The lighthouse was converted to solar power and fully automated in 1993.


Stone quarters for the head lightkeeper were completed in 1857 as part of the lighthouse construction. Quarters for assistant lightkeepers appear to have also been built at this time. Other buildings erected during the 1860s and 1870s included store rooms, cart shed, feed shed, timber schoolhouse, watch house and stable.

Supplies for the lighthouse and lightkeepers were landed at Bulwer Pilot station, then taken by sled to the light station.

During the period in which oil provided the source of illumination for the light, the main duty of the lightkeeper was to maintain the integrity of the light. Light stations were therefore generally attended by a head lightkeeper and one or more assistant lightkeepers who worked in shifts. The subsequent use of kerosene as the illuminant was similarly labour intensive, as the lamps were required to be watched throughout the night in case the mantle broke. The introduction of electric illumination during the 1930s gradually enabled the number of shifts and, depending upon the other duties and the remoteness of the light station, the number of lightkeepers to be reduced.

A telegraph office opened at Cape Moreton in August 1864, followed by a schoolroom in 1879. A telegraph line was constructed during the 1890s, to service the lighthouse. A Morse Lamp for signalling was installed at Cape Moreton c1910. The lamp is recorded as having a range of 20 miles and as being in constant use for signalling purposes. Signal flags were used for daytime communication. A post office opened at Cape Moreton in 1915, and closed in the early 1920s. The Lightkeepers also served as the Post Masters during this period.

An inspection of the residences in 1913 reported that the timber floors and partitions in the buildings had been damaged by ants, and the timber was replaced in the same year.

The stone quarters and associated buildings were demolished, and three new residences erected in 1930. The siting of each residence provided an interesting reflection of the hierarchy of lightkeepers at the station; the Head Lightkeeper's residence was closest to the lighthouse and topographically, the highest of the three. A similar pattern of proximity to the lighthouse and relative position on the side of the hill was followed with the first and second assistant lightkeepers' residences. Alterations were undertaken to the residences during the 1960s and the 1980s, and included the enclosing of verandahs and the replacement of kitchen fittings.

Additional structures including a workshop, powerhouses, fuel store, office, garage, and POL store were added to the light station from the 1930s, and reflect the changes in technology and function of lightstations from this time, including conversion to electric light, and taking weather recordings.

A number of graves are reputedly located in the area surrounding the light station complex but there is no evidence available to confirm their existence.

In 1988 a display of lighthouse and sea navigation equipment and memorabilia was established in the second assistant lightkeeper's quarters.


The Cape Moreton light station is located at the northern end of Moreton Island, a large sand island in Moreton Bay. A complex of detached buildings, it occupies an elevated position on a grassy headland above the rocky cape. The stone lighthouse, the focus of the light station precinct, is positioned at the highest point amongst a cluster of timber framed fibrous cement buildings, newer brick buildings and ancillary structures.

Around the base of the lighthouse are three small sheds; the workshop, former powerhouse and fuel store. On the same level but further to the north are the headkeeper's residence and, north of the residence, a small office. A second residence and two brick sheds are located on a lower level to the west of this group. Some distance from this main grouping is the third residence, to the south west, and a small brick fuel store to the north.

The lighthouse is a cylindrical tower of rockfaced sandstone laid in regular courses which tapers inwards slightly towards the top. The stone tower which comprises a ground level and a main shaft supports a cast iron lantern. Two red bands are painted on the upper part of the tower. An external stone stair which wraps around the shaft leads to the first floor level. External access to the first floor and ground floor levels is via timber doors located at the top and bottom of the stone staircase.

The ground level has a concrete floor and thicker stone walls than the rest of the shaft. Internal access to the first floor level is via a steep ladder stair leading to a trapdoor in the timber floor above. An internal cast iron spiral stair with simple wrought iron handrail supported by a square section iron post at every third step leads from the first floor level to a landing just below the lantern. The final part of the climb to a trap door in the concrete floor of the lantern is via a short ladder. The shaft has painted internal walls. The interior of the tower is lit by small square glass panels in timber frames with splayed reveals.

The lantern which houses the light consists of a conical roof of sheet copper on metal straps surmounted by a ball type vent and wind vane supported by cast iron and glass walls. The lower part of the lantern wall is made up of six cast iron panels bolted together to form a cylinder. This cast iron wall supports a continuous band of curved fixed glass with diagonal cast iron glazing bars. In the centre of the space a new solar powered light, which recently replaced the four panel catadioptric optic, is mounted on a steel box. Encircling the lantern and accessible via a cast iron door in the lantern wall is a concrete gallery with a painted pipe balustrade. The new light is powered by solar panels mounted on the gallery. A small steel or cast iron catwalk runs around the lantern at the junction between the lower wall and the glazing.

From the lantern there are extensive views in all directions, out to sea in the northerly and easterly directions, along the ocean beach to the south and across the island to the south west. The smaller lighthouse at North Point is visible to the north west of the Cape Moreton Lighthouse.

The three residences, built to a standard square plan with a hip roof, have central rooms with no corridors and enclosed verandahs. They are timber framed single storeyed structures clad in fibrous cement sheeting set on splayed concrete stumps. The headkeeper's quarters is closest to the lighthouse with the first assistant's quarters nearby but lower and the second assistant's quarters, an isolated structure, set further down the slope some distance to the south. Although similar in layout a variety of modifications have been made to these dwellings. The headkeeper's quarters and the second assistant's quarters retain corrugated fibrous cement roof sheeting while the first assistant's quarters is roofed in corrugated zincalume. A part of the second assistant's quarters has been fitted out as a small museum. Each house is serviced by two large spherical steel rainwater tanks. The headkeeper's house still maintains a small fenced garden. Remnant planting survives around the other residences.

The three sheds which surround the lighthouse are all rectangular gable roofed timber framed structures with fibrous cement walls and corrugated fibrous cement roofs. On the southern side of the lighthouse is the workshop. Consisting of two rooms, it is fitted with timber framed doors and pivoting sash windows and has no internal lining. This building is built on a raised plinth with two short flights of steps in the northern side which appear to be of sandstone construction. This is probably the remains of an earlier stone building built on the site. The former powerhouse, west of the lighthouse has a reinforced concrete floor, timber double hung sash windows, double timber framed doors and internal fibrous cement wall sheeting. The fuel store, a similar structure to the powerhouse, is located just north of the lighthouse.

The office, a timber framed structure with walls sheeted in fibrous cement and a corrugated fibrous cement roof, is a small square planned room raised on short concrete stumps. The single room overlooks the sea through a continuous band of windows interrupted only by the entry door on the western side.

The garage, powerhouse and P.O.L. store are all small brick buildings with metal deck roofs and reinforced concrete floors.

Image gallery


Location of Cape Moreton Lightstation within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
20 February 2022