Cape Capricorn Lightstation
||Go to the Queensland Heritage Register for more information.
||North eastern tip of Curtis Island
|GLADSTONE REGIONAL COUNCIL
|Established by 1875, with further development in the 1930s and 1960s, the Cape Capricorn Lightstation occupies an integral part in understanding the establishment of maritime navigational aids along the Queensland coast and reflects the growth and development of Queensland after its separation from New South Wales.
The Cape Capricorn Lightstation is significant for its association with Commander George Poynter Heath, the first Portmaster of Queensland [1862-1890], a significant figure in the development of the Queensland lighthouse service. Heath was responsible for supervising the opening of 13 new ports, establishing 33 lighthouses, 6 lightships and 150 small lights and marking the inner route through the Barrier Reef. Established by 1875, with further development in the 1930s and 1960s, the Cape Capricorn Lightstation occupies an integral part in understanding the establishment of maritime navigational aids along the Queensland coast and reflects the growth and development of Queensland after its separation from New South Wales. Located on a commanding position high on a promontory with a panoramic view of the surrounding ocean, the Cape Capricorn Lightstation is important for its strong aesthetic significance. The Cape Capricorn Lightstation is especially significant for its strong association with the life of the lightkeepers, their families and maintenance and stores people, who, for more than a century, contributed to the continuum of a system dedicated to the single aim of maintaining the navigational aids.
Constructed to a design by the Office of the Colonial Architect, FDG Stanley, the original Cape Capricorn Lightstation was operational by July 1875. The extant lighthouse is the third to be built on the site. Later developments in the 1930s and 1960s included the replacement and refurbishment of the lightkeepers' residences, stores buildings and sheds.
Up until 10 December 1859, the colony of New South Wales extended as far north as Cape York Peninsula. In 1859, the new colony of Queensland acquired over 5000 kilometres of coastline which had few safety features in place, and became responsible for all navigation lights and harbours along this coastline. At the time the only lighthouse which existed had been built at Cape Moreton  by the New South Wales Government in 1857.
In 1862, the Queensland government had appointed a Portmaster, Commander GP [George Poynter] Heath and had passed the Marine Board Act 1862. GP Heath [1830-1921] was born at Hanworth, in Norfolk, England. Late in 1859 as a lieutenant, he applied for the government post of marine surveyor in the new colony of Queensland and was appointed. In his thirty-three tenure of office in what became the sub-department of harbours, lighthouses and pilots, Heath was responsible for supervising the opening of 13 new ports, establishing 33 lighthouses, 6 lightships and 150 small lights and marking the inner route of the barrier reef. In November 1887 he retired from public service because of ill health and later returned to England.
In the two years following the establishment of the Marine Board Act 1862, due to a lack of funds to spend on marine safety, activity concentrated on dealing with pilots and harbour lights, The issue of coastal lights was not taken up until 25 May 1864, when Members of the Legislative Assembly moved that a Select Committee be appointed to inquiry into and report upon the state of the harbours and rivers in the colony. The Committee consisted of Messrs Macalister, Douglas, Sandeman, Cribb, Challinor and Bell and convened for the first time on 27 May 1864. The Committee widened the terms of reference to include the question of the necessity of additional lighthouses on the coast of Australia, within the colony of Queensland.
Due to the significant relationship of Curtis Island to the mouth of the Fitzroy River and the Port of Rockhampton, it was necessary to provide a pilot service for shipping from an early date. Therefore, in 1861, Rockhampton's first permanent pilot station was erected at Cape Capricorn. Three years later, however, it was moved to Grassy Hill, as this was considered to be a more convenient location for the pilots, with its ready access to fresh water and position overlooking the mainland. Despite the establishment of the local pilot station on Curtis Island, the need for a lighthouse at the outer point of Curtis Island was still considered a priority by the colonial authorities.
Early in 1874, FDG Stanley, who had by then been appointed to the vacant position of Colonial Architect wrote that plans for the Cape Capricorn lighthouse had been prepared and that the building would be constructed of hardwood cased with sheet iron. He estimated the cost of the building with cottages to amount to £1460. Tenders were called, but by the closing date [20 February 1874] none had been received in Brisbane and only one in Rockhampton, this was from John Ferguson for £2850, with the work to be completed in twelve months. Stanley commented that his carefully estimated cost was £1600 for the tower and £600 for the two cottages and Ferguson's was greatly in excess of a reasonable sum of work. His recommendation was for fresh tenders to be called for the construction of the tower only and leaving the remainder of the work to be carried out by the government. Two tenders were received in the second attempt.
James Midson of Charlotte Street, with a tender for a total amount of £1046/10/- was successful on this occasion in acquiring the contract. The lighthouse was to cost £549/10/- and the two cottages £497 and were to be completed in fourteen and ten weeks respectively. Midson must have completed the construction some time in October 1874, for on 2 November, Stanley wrote to the Under Secretary, Public Works advising him that the lighthouses and cottages had been framed together in Brisbane and were ready for shipment to the site. He submitted a 'tender' from Midson and Son for the construction of the buildings complete on the site for the sum of £753. It would appear that tenders were not called from the general public by means of the Government Gazette so that Midson and Son likely made a private offer or quotation to erect the buildings on the site at Cape Capricorn.
The Executive Council approved of Midson and Son's offer whereby as stated in the Memorandum of Agreement they agreed
'to provide the materials for and perform the various works required in the construction and erection of a lighthouse and cottages at Cape Capricorn at or for the sum of seven hundred and fifty three pounds, and has agreed to complete the same within three months from the date of the acceptance of the tender.'
The May Queen [Quinlan & Co] was chartered to convey the prefabricated buildings and the various ancillary effects from Brisbane to Cape Capricorn. The tender for this service was £40/- ton and Stanley estimated that 150 tons of materials would have to be transported. Incredibly, the construction of the lighthouse did not take into account the inclusion of the fitting up of a lamp room, lantern and associated apparatus. As a result, Stanley on reporting the estimated completion by 19 June 1875, requested authority for the expenditure of £180 to rectify the omission. Initially, it had been intended by the Portmaster that the lamp room was to have been made of cast iron and sent from England with the lantern. This arrangement, however, was altered at the last minute, resulting in the tower having no lamp room. Stanley, describing the work as urgent, stated that it would be necessary to provide for the construction of a lamp room with iron galleries in timber framing with iron plating.
Midson having completed his contract to the 'full satisfaction' of the Colonial Architect's Office, had the 'detention money' on the contract returned to him on August 1875. It may be estimated that the lighthouse was complete and the light operating in late July 1875. Besides the lighthouse itself, two other lights were operating at Cape Capricorn. In 1895, a survey of Queensland's existing marine safety measures included entries for two small auxiliary lights, both fixed, located to the north and south-east of the main lighthouse.
Throughout the rest of the 19th century, the Cape Capricorn lightstation was serviced from Rockhampton. A steamer, the Fitzroy, was constructed in Maryborough in 1879, and then acted as a regular link between Rockhampton's port and the lighthouses and beacons at Cape Capricorn, North Reef, Pine Islet and Broad Sound. The delivery of supplies to lightstations was often a precarious and difficult business, with Cape Capricorn being no exception. There, supplies which were brought to the base of the hill by steamer, had to be winched up over 91 metres of jagged rocks.
In 1912, a major assessment of all the lightstations and beacons along Australia's north-east coast was made by Commander Brewis. The report contained not only an assessment of the existing marine safety network, but also provided recommendations to facilitate the standardisation and rejuvenation of the whole system which was brought under the control of the Federal government from July 1915. A summary of Brewis' recommendations was that the power of the light be increased, the auxiliary light on the eastern side to be moved and adjusted, renovation of the lightkeepers dwellings and 'extensive tramway repaired and the steam winches supplied.
It took some time for Brewis' recommendations to be implemented at the many surveyed sites along the coast-line, and it was not until 1923 that the first alterations were made to the light. At this time, the original oil wick burner was replaced by a 55mm incandescent kerosene mantle. Thirteen years later, plans dated 3 January 1936 were prepared for the conversion of the light to electric operation. In the same year, the Commonwealth government decided to replace the whole of the tower at Cape Capricorn with a new concrete block lighthouse six metres in height. Plans for this new building were prepared on 21 September 1937. It appears that an engine house was included at the base of the tower. Part of the base of this tower survives adjacent to the new powerhouse.
The new lighthouse had a square plan, with a circular cantilevered balcony and a small circular lantern above. This lantern had a different fenestration from the original, and a squatter, less round, roof. Other buildings at the lightstation also underwent changes in the late 1930s. The residences and service buildings were also replaced then. The two new residences were timber framed with asbestos cladding, and the service buildings (including the old powerhouse, store and winch house) had a similar construction.
Plans for a new lighthouse to be erected at Cape Capricorn were prepared in July 1963. A concrete engine had already been designed in the previous year, on 9 January 1962. These two buildings appear to have been completed by 1964. It is not clear why the relatively recent lighthouse and powerhouse of 1937 needed to be replaced so soon. Four years later, in 1968, the optical apparatus was converted to 240V AC operation.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Cape Capricorn served as the base radio station of the lightstation network which included North Reef, Lady Elliot, Pine Islet and Dent Island. In effect, this meant that the personnel at Cape Capricorn were responsible for the well being and continued operation of these lightstations and the provisions or organisation of assistance should any accidents or problems have arisen at these stations. On 18 December 1978, the role of base station was transferred from Cape Capricorn to Bustard Head. The latter lightstation had already been provided with computer equipment for monitoring the newly decommissioned North Reef lightstation, and was subsequently allocated the role of key monitoring and communications station for the area. Also, at this time, Cape Capricorn's experienced head keeper Harold Simpson was moved to Bustard Head to continue his role as communications officer. In August 1988, the power of the station was again converted, this time to solar energy.
In 1983, the Commonwealth government prepared a report, Lighthouses: do we keep the keepers, making as assessment of the relative significance of the buildings at the site , with a view to putting the consequences of de-staffing into perspective. The Cape Capricorn lightstation was included in a group of 24 lightstations, were it was found that that economic benefits of de-staffing outweighed the social and other benefits, therefore, the removal of a presence at the lightstation was thought to be justified.
During the early 1990s, the property was transferred to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for four years, but in 1995 reverted to the ownership of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The property passed into the ownership of the State government in July 1997. A caretaker is currently occupier one of the lightkeepers residences.
The Cape Capricorn Lightstation is situated on the north-east side of Curtis Island, located approximately 40 kilometres north of Gladstone. Cape Capricorn is regarded as the gateway to Keppel Bay.
The 6.4 metre lighthouse  has a square plan with chamfered corners. It is constructed on concrete blocks, with a small enclosed porch at the base. The lantern which was originally at the top of the tower has been removed and now a self-contained beacon is mounted on the gallery platform.
The two keeper's quarters replaced earlier timber framed weatherboard buildings in the late 1930s.
Timber-framed, clad with asbestos cement sheeting with timber cover battens, with hipped roofs clad with corrugated iron, the buildings are of a similar style to the quarters at Lady Elliot Island , Sandy Cape  and Bustard Head . The buildings retain much of their original form.
Most of the service buildings are of the same age as the residences, constructed in the late 1930s. The exception is the new powerhouse which is contemporary with the 1964 lighthouse.
The Store is a timber framed building, lined, with painted asbestos cement sheet with cover battens, resting on a high concrete foundation. The structure has a gabled roof clad with corrugated iron.
The Old Powerhouse is a timber framed building, lined, with painted asbestos cement sheet with cover battens, resting on a high concrete foundation. The structure has a gabled roof clad with corrugated iron.
The New Powerhouse is constructed of concrete block walls on a projecting concrete foundation which forms a plinth. The structure has a projecting flat concrete roof to the main room with a similar lower roof to a small attached porch.
The Winch House is a timber framed building lined with painted asbestos cement sheet with cover battens, resting on a concrete foundation. The building has a gabled roof clad with corrugated iron. Associated equipment and landscape features include a motor, winch and coiled metal rope, an attached trolley [timber on a metal base] and cement pathway carrying steel rails down the hill to the beach.
There are a large variety of sheds, from medium to small in size, on the site. These are mostly timber framed utility buildings with corrugated iron walls and roof. A concrete helipad is located approximately 120 metres to the south-east of the lightstation. Two auxiliary [lead] lights are located to the west and east of the lightstation complex. One, to the west, is timber framed clad with fibrous cement. The eastern lead light is concrete. The lead lights are not in working order. The remains of the previous lighthouses are located in a gully to the north of the lightstation.