“A Most Important Event” in the History of Australia’s Coastal Navigation

May 1, 1862

In Australia, the Point Stephens Light went into service in the colony (now state) of New South Wales (NSW). This lighthouse was built on Point Stephens, a point on a headland along the shore of Fingal Bay. The lighthouse is located 2.64 miles (4.25 kilometers) south of the entrance to Port Stephens, a large natural harbor. The Point Stephens Light was constructed to help guide ships making their way to Port Stephens and significantly reduce the odds of those vessels wrecking along the often dangerous coastline in the area.

In reporting on the lighthouse’s Thursday night debut, the Sydney-based newspaper Empire emphasized the safety benefits provided by the new structure. “The mariner sailing north or south between [the municipality of] Newcastle and Seal Rock Bay last night, or making the Australia coast in that direction from seaward, would be cheered by a friendly token from the shore,” noted the newspaper’s May 2 edition. “The night of the first of May, 1862, therefore, should be memorable in his log-book.” The Empire also asserted, “The lighting of this valuable harbour of refuge is a most important event in the history of our coast navigation.”

The Point Stephens Light was designed by Alexander Dawson in his capacity as the NSW government architect. Dawson designed the lighthouse in the form of a Doric column, a type of pillar that originated with the ancient Greeks. Dawson’s other unique architectural features for this project included an external stairwell for the lighthouse. In addition, he had the lighthouse keepers’ cottages on the property built in Victorian Gothic style; the end result of this design was that the principal keeper and both assistants had separate lodging facilities but the same roof and a shared terrace.

The Point Stephens Light continues to function today as a navigational aid. It is operated by the NSW Roads and Maritime Services, with the overall site managed by the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Service as part of Tomaree National Park. The Point Stephens Light and its adjacent structures have been on the NSW State Heritage Register for historic landmarks since 1999.

For more information on the Point Stephens Light, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_Stephens_Light.

Additional information on lighthouses and lightvessels in Australia is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lighthouses_and_lightvessels_in_Australia.

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