South Solitary Island Lighthouse History


Desirability of lighthouse discussed by Governments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.


Legislative Council recommended that provision should be made on the estimates for the erection of a lighthouse.


A conference of the marine departments of the Australian colonies was held at the Marine Board Office, Sydney, to discuss the question of lighthouses generally.


On 31st October 1877 the Marine Board, accompanied by the Colonial Architect, Mr James Barnet proceeded to the Island to select the sites for the buildings.


On 17 June 1878 plans and specifications were prepared by the Colonial Architect and approved by the Minister and tenders called for

On 9 July 1878 after the tender was accepted, Mr McLeod and his partners, despatched their first steamer the James Comrie to the island.

First gantry (jetty) constructed, 5 metres above sea level.

Horse Tramway and temporary barracks for men constructed.


Jetty storehouse constructed from 1879 - 1880.


On the 1st March 1880 the first Head Keeper appointed - Captain Leddra at a salary of £180 per annum. His two assistants were Mr Skelton (£108 p.a.) and Mr Burgess (£96 p.a.)

18th March 1880 the Light first exhibited.


On 8th December 1886 there was a collision between the Keilawarra and Helen Nicholl, 48 lives lost.


George Dammerel appointed Signal Master at Emerald Beach on the mainland (now Dammerel's Headland).


On the 5th April 1888 George Dammerel's young son, George Jnr, aged 10 dies.


Buildings re-roofed by George Boothby.

New washhouses constructed near the fowl house.

On 10th November 1894 George Dammerel’s wife, Sarah dies in childbirth (the child stillborn).


On 1st March 1900 George Dammerel's eldest daughter, Hannah marries.


On 12th November 1901 Steamer, Wyong, is wrecked on the island after losing its propellor and becoming unmanageable.


On 15th January 1902, Keeper William Henry Williams appointed.


A larger Gantry (jetty) was constructed after first gantry was destroyed.


On 25th April 1905, George Dammerel's second eldest daughter, Matilda marries.


Flagstaff erected on the island.

On 1st March 1910, Keeper David Robert William Gow appointed.


On 18th September 1912, George Dammerel's third daughter (fourth child), Maud marries.

On 21st November 1912, Lydia Gow aged 17 years, eldest daughter of the head keeper, Mr D Gow, dies on the island from Typhoid/Enteric Fever.


Jetty further reconstructed and repaired in 1913, 1914 and 1915.


Signal Station closes down (note: various dates of closure are recorded)


1930 to 1935 - Keeper - Wilfred Reginal Tulk

25th May 1930 to 13th May 1932 – Keeper – Henry Thomas Parker


Jetty further reconstructed and repaired.


Wireless communication started via Morse Code Keys.


In May 1942, light extinguished for a few nights during World War II.


Harry Fanning commenced operating a launch service from Coffs Harbour.


From 1947 to 1951 Keeper is Jim Duncan


In January 1958 the first known helicopter lands on the island.


Jetty built, 13 metres above sea level.


Partial enclosure of verandahs on cottages for weather proofing.


Flag pole removed and a helipad was constructed.


On 22nd August 1975 the Lighthouse is automated.

On 29th December 1975  all residents leave, buildings left to the birds and nature.


On 7th September 1977, RAAF Chinook removed the old lantern to the Regional Museum.


Lighthouse becomes solar powered.


Handed over to NSW National Parks and Wildlife as custodians.


From 31st May to 17th August 2004 stabilisations works are completed.


On 31st March 2009 there is storm damage to the Regional Museum forces closure of the museum and no public access to the lantern.


In September 2014 new Regional Museum opens at 215 Harbour Drive Coffs Harbour, with collection of South Solitary Island artefacts and relics. No access to the original lighthouse lantern.


In July 2020, A Management Plan commissioned by the Coffs Harbour City Council recommended thata the optimum position for the long term location of SSILO should be adjacent to the harbour within sight of the sea.

It was strogly recommended that integration of SSILO into the planning for this be considered by the Project Advisory Steering Committee.

In October 2020, a motion was carried unanimously at Council meeting of 22 October – ‘To advocate for the inclusion of the South Solitary Island Lighthouse Optic in future plans for the Coffs Harbour Jetty Foreshores precinct, so it can be put on public display at that location within a suitable facility to support and interpret this heritage object and to make it readily accessible to both residents of and visitors to the City.’


Authorisation of the execution of the Coffs Harbour Jetty Foreshores Community Building Development Agreement with Property NSW, which also requested the incorporation of the South Solitary Island Lighthouse optic into the building in a manner that protects and preserves the heritage significance of the optic.


South Solitary Island Lighthouse Optic finds its new and permanent home at the Jetty Foreshores.

Do you have a story to share about the history of the South Solitary Island Lighthouse? 

Submit your SSIL Story


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A group to share experiences, photos, videos and all things lighthouse, particularly South Solitary Island Lighthouse.

First Head Keeper appointed and Light first exhibited

First known helicopter lands on the island

Lighthouse automated and all residents leave

New home for the lighthouse optic at the jetty foreshores

First Order Chance Brothers Optic finds its home at the Jetty Foreshores

The new home for the 143 year old First Order Chance Brothers optic from South Solitary Island Lighthouse will soon attract thousands to the Jetty Foreshores to see this iconic piece of Coffs Harbour’s and Australia’s maritime history.

Keep an eye out for news of events planned surrounding the official opening.

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