Take one lighthouse, a harbour and some boats, stir in Eric the Red and the City of Rayville, and what do you get ? Answer – The Cape Otway Lighthouse.
The Cape Otway Lightstation is the oldest, surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia. The light, which has been in continuous operation since 1848, is perched on towering sea cliffs where Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean collide. For thousands of immigrants, including my ancestors, after many months at sea, Cape Otway was their first sight of land after leaving Europe. Quoted fromThe Cape Otway Lightstation
Note Some readers have questioned the use of oldest above so I have added some further notes at the end of the page.
From the family album -the lighthouse in Jan 1948. And a recent photo (2)
That tall radio mast has now disappeared.
Up the tower in Jan 1948 And the same view to the north-east in recent times.(3)
There were many shipwrecks along the Australian coast and the reefs around Cape Otway had their fair share.. As Apollo Bay was a fishing village the fishing boats became used to turning out to help ships in trouble. Some of the shipwrecks were quite notable.
In September 1880 Eric the Red was heading to Melbourne with American exhibits for an International Trade Exhibition in Melbourne when it went down two miles from Cape Otway with the loss of four lives. There was plenty of wreckage from the Eric to be found along the coast which was salvaged and used in the construction of houses and sheds around Apollo Bay, including Milford House (since burnt down in bushfires), which had furniture and fittings from the ship, and the dining room floor made out of its timbers. A ketch named the Apollo was also built from its timbers and subsequently used in Tasmanian waters.. Waste not, want not ! A relation, Claud Telford, is reputed at the age of fifteen to have walked to Cape Otway from Apollo Bay on 3 or 4 days to help in the recovery. (just oral history). (4)
Another major shipwreck occurred in 1940. Look at the photo of these survivors photographed beside the distinctive foreshore trees at Apollo Bay. I found in The State Library of Victoria in a collection from the now defunct Argus under Wartime Rescue Photos. Early in the war a German minelayer had laid 40 mines off Cape Otway, as well as at other select places along the Victorian coast (5)
These men have the distinction of having been rescued from SS City of Rayville, the first American ship to be sunk in the Second World War, more than a year before Pearl Harbour . Only one life was lost. The lighthouse keeper at Cape Otway saw the flames from the explosion when the ship hit a mine and billiard players in Apollo Bay heard the explosion. Three boats set out from Apollo Bay and found the ship’s crew had been able to take to their lifeboats. These lifeboats with 37 sailors were then towed back to Apollo Bay, arriving at dawn on November 9th, 1940. (6)
The survivors were well looked after. This photo, loaned to me by a Telford relation whose mother is in the photo, shows a mixture of the sailors, hotel staff and others, taken outside the hotel.
(1) View of the Lighthouse from the Cape Otway Lightstation site
(2) Thanks Flickr
(3) As seen on Flickr
(4) Heritage Victoria has a good description of the incident using the Captain’s own words describing the incident.
(5) Photo of survivors from the Argus collection at the State Library of Victoria
(6) A detailed report on the City of Rayville incident
There is also an Age report in 2009 about the diver who eventually discovered the wreckage and a video from Deakin University exploring the wreckage,
I wonder what became of these sailors and their families ?
They started building the Cape Otway Lighthouse in 1846 and the first light shone in 1848.
It was the second lighthouse completed but is the oldest surviving lighthouse.
It was decommissioned in January 1994 after being the longest continuous operating light on the Australian mainland.
It has been replaced by a low powered solar light in front of the original tower
Meanwhile the Macquarie Lighthouse began as a tripod mounted iron basket which originally burned wood, and later coal.
A sandstone lighthouse was built and began operation in 1818 but the sandstone eventually crumbled and a new lighthouse was built 4 metres away from the first one, lighting up in 1883 when the following photo was taken.
Woud I be right in saying Macquarie can claim the continuous area title and Cape Otway can have the continuous building/light title !
In 1976 the Macquarie Lighthouse was fully automated