Times Gone By: Lighting up the Coast: Construction Commences (Part 3)

Design of Lighthouse, South Solitary Island, by James Barnett 1878. Courtesy of Coffs Collections (coffs.recollect.net.au).


WHILE 1874 saw significant progress in establishing the lighthouse, the following year’s activity was limited to the 1875 government estimates for the building, which rose dramatically from £4000 to £10,000.

Two visits to South Solitary Island in 1876 and 1877 were made to decide on the final site of the lighthouse and to survey the island.

Government advertising for tenders to build the lighthouse appeared on 27 March 1878 and were due three weeks later.

To facilitate the tendering process, the government steamer Thetis took 15 contractors to inspect the site of the ‘principle lighthouse’ on South Solitary and another five sites where lighthouses were to be constructed.

Representatives from the government’s public works and colonial architect departments, along with a well-known artist also joined the week-long, fully catered voyage.

This trip proved quite enjoyable with the fine weather allowing fishing which resulted in the catching of numerous snapper.

Messrs McLeod, McMaster and Jennings were officially awarded the tender on 24 June 1878 though, just 10 days after the trip on the Thetis, the construction plant and a crane were shipped aboard the Saxonia, followed by the James Comrie and transported to the island.

Among the plant, specially purchased and imported by the contractors, was an Ingersoll Rock Drill.

Invented six years before for mining, excavation and tunnelling purposes, it resembled an adjustable tripod with a steel drilling-bit in the centre.

Weighing 818lb (371kg) and powered by steam transmitted through a hose from a separate boiler, it could drill a 1½ inch diameter hole to a depth of 24 inches (60cm) in under three minutes and was considered ideal to quarry stone for the lighthouse.

Over the following months the contractors, workers and supplies were transported to and from the island by steamships during their regular trips along the coast, and a system of signalling was arranged to send messages to passing ships, to indicate that all was well on the island and the level of progress made.

To be continued.



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