Several significant shipwrecks and groundings including the Bombay (1830), SS Lintrose (1832) and the Princess Royal (1832) with 300 free women settlers on board caused agitation from merchants and residents in Hobart Town for a light to be erected. Lt Hill, the Port Officer, drew up plans for a wooden light, which was approved and erected in 1832. It had a timber crossbar and the locally made apparatus was raised and lowered by hand. The light was manned by a keeper and two convict assistants living in harsh conditions in tents. John Lee Archer inspected the light and was dissatisfied with arrangement of light and recommended it be upgraded. His rubble tower was built within the timber framework of the existing tower and was completed and operating in 1833. Despite these improvements, the light apparatus still failed to meet up with expectation and in 1835 a new lamp was fitted. Ship owners still complained the light was inadequate but it was not upgraded. Finally, in 1851, another new apparatus installed, but the ship owners still considered the light unsatisfactory. In 1858 the newly formed Hobart Marine Board took control of light. By now a stone hut had been built for the keepers.
A curious episode happened in 1862 when one of the keeper’s children was claimed to have found a high grade gold bearing quartz nugget. The Iron Pot gold rush was on within hours of their father’s report, however the 200 potential diggers were disappointed with hours of their arrival as no further gold was apparent.
Light Houses of Australia
Then, in 1884, it was decided to build a home next to the lighthouse for its keeper James Parkinson and his ever growing family. In 1885 tenders were called for the construction of a 2 storey house and the keeper’s conditions were markedly improved when the new head keeper’s cottage was constructed. It was unusual to have two storey cottages on light stations but on the 0.4 hectare island, space was a premium. This resulted in one of the most unusual sights ever witnessed in Tasmania. Whilst the gothic style house would not have been out of place in central Hobart, to passing sailors it must have looked totally at odds within such dramatic wilderness. The home itself featured lead-light windows and a cast iron laced veranda. Dormer windows on the second level gave a bird’s eye view of the restless sea and a regular looking front door welcomed passing travelers. The home was built only 20 feet above sea level and made the most of a minimal amount of land. The first and only person born on the island was baby Essie (or Elsie) Margaret Roberts, born to the head keeper’s wife in 1895.
In the same year, 1895, a huge storm arose, driving waves right over the island. The assistant keeper’s quarters were abandoned for the safety of the head keeper’s cottage as they flooded. Full water tanks, sheds and a stone retaining wall were washed away. It is believed that the keeper and families then retreated to the lighthouse. In the morning, there was devastation everywhere. There was even kelp clinging to the uppermost rails of the lighthouse, over 20 metres above sea level. There had been no loss of life and the keepers had worked all night and kept the light going. For nearly 50 years the house stood as a testament to human endeavor until technology made the job of lighthouse keeper obsolete. The de-manning of the lighthouse was announced in a notice to mariners in 1920 – that the fixed white light on Iron Pot Island, Derwent River, will be replaced by a group flashing white light in July 1920. The lighthouse became automated and the house was demolished in 1921. Although no-one is certain of its fate, it is believed the home was transported back to Hobart by ship where it was sold off at auction piece by piece.
On the Convict Trail