Smoky Cape Lighthouse

Go to the Commonwealth Heritage List for more information.
Lighthouse Rd, South West Rocks
Kempsey Shire
Smoky Cape Lighthouse, established in 1891, is significant for its association with the development of New South Wales maritime navigational aids during the nineteenth century. A major light in the NSW system, Smoky Cape has important associations with shipping over a lengthy period and it reflects growth in coastal trade by the end of the nineteenth century. Further, the concrete remains of a wartime military installation reflect the site's connection with the Second World War. (Criterion A.4) (Themes: 3.8.1 Shipping to and from Australian ports, 3.16.1 Dealing with hazards and disasters, 7.7.3 Going to war)

The lighthouse is one of only three nineteenth century mass concrete lighthouses in NSW (the others being South Solitary Island and Green Cape), and the survival of the original Chance Brothers revolving apparatus and lens, together with the lantern house, adds further significance and makes the site an important example of late nineteenth century industrial maritime technology. (Criteria B.2 and D.2)

The lighthouse was designed by James Barnet who, as NSW Colonial Architect, had a huge influence on the colony's architectural development for over 25 years. (Criterion H.1)

The lighthouse stands on top of a granite headland 140 metres above sea level, making the light the highest on the NSW coast. Its dramatic siting and its prominence in a remote setting create significant aesthetic qualities. (Criterion E.1)

Well known among tourists and local people, Smoky Cape Lighthouse is of social significance for the community. (Criterion G.1)

Smoky Cape was named by Lieutenant James Cook in May 1770. The early coastal trade in the region was predominantly cedar gathering. The conference of Principal Officers of the Maritime Departments of the Australian Colonies of 1873 reported the need for a lighthouse at the cape. But no further action was taken until 1886 when Alexander Kethel, member for West Sydney in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, called upon the government to erect the lighthouse. The argument for the light was the increase in coastal trade off northern NSW. The Colonial Architect, James Barnet, and members of the Marine Board subsequently surveyed the recommended site and prepared the necessary specifications. Barnet designed the lightstation not long before his dismissal and the reorganisation of the government architecture office. Barnet had played a seminal role in the colony's architecture for 25 years. Tenders for the lightstation were called in January 1889. The contractor, Mr Oakes, unfortunately died during the course of construction, but the project was completed under his executors. Smoky Cape was a major light in the NSW system, and the light was first exhibited on 15 April 1891. In 1912 the original light source was replaced with an incandescent vapourised kerosene burner. During the Second World War, the lighthouse precinct was used for military purposes, and a searchlight battery and light gun emplacement, together possibly with a radio room, were in operation. In 1962 the kerosene burner was replaced with electric power and electricity also replaced the clockwork weights system which turned the light. The introduction of electricity saw the light's power increase from 316 000 candelas to 1 000 000 candelas. The lightstation was demanned in 1995, several years after it had been automated. The Commonwealth (ie the Australian Maritime Safety Authority) retains the light tower, the service building at its base, the flag locker and the wartime concrete slab, while the rest of the complex is held by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.


The tower is 9.8 metres from ground level to the floor of the lantern room and is 17.4 metres total height. It is built from poured concrete with an aggregate of locally quarried granite, and is cement rendered inside and out. It is one of only three nineteenth century mass concrete lighthouses in NSW, the others being South Solitary Island (RNE 3416) and Green Cape (RNE 1016). The lantern floor or gallery is of tooled granite voussoir blocks supported by granite corbels. The tower has an octagonal external cross-section. An elegant gunmetal handrail is attached to the gallery. A steel tube in the shaft of the tower once accommodated the weights and clockwork mechanism which was manually wound to drive the revolving lens. The original Chance Bros first order dioptric lens and revolving pedestal remains, as does the cast iron and copper lantern room. The light source is a 120 volt 1,000 watt tungsten halogen lamp and the apparatus gives a character of group flashing three every twenty seconds, with a nominal visible range of 26 nautical miles. The tower is divided into two storeys with iron floors, and stairways are iron. Walls taper in thickness towards the top. There is an aperture in the tower wall beneath the gallery which was designed to house a subsidiary red light to cover Fish Rock. At the base of the tower there is a concrete screen wall.

The service or generator building at the base of the tower is also of mass concrete and has a hipped roof which is now clad with zincalume (replacing corrugated asbestos cement). Windows are eight-pane double-hung sashes. There is also a radio aerial attached. The separate flag locker or signal house is of mass concrete, with a vaulted roof, and render to the inside of the walls. The keepers' cottages, garage, former stables, workshop etc are outside the Commonwealth area (see RNE 3478).

The tower stands on a granite headland 140 metres above the sea, making the light the highest in NSW. It is one of the most dramatically sited lighthouses in the state and is a very prominent feature in a remote setting. As well as having aesthetic values, the lighthouse also has social significance as it is widely known among tourists and locals.