FASCINATING INSIGHT into the NAVAL and MARITIME HISTORY OF TOWNSVILLE
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The Bay Rock Light House

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Located in the grounds of the Maritime Museum, the Bay Rock lighthouse was officially opened to the public in September, 2003.

Bay Rock is a small mound of granite situated west of West Point, Magnetic Island. The lighthouse was one of the first to be erected in Queensland in 1886. Its light was essential for the safe passage of vessels entering Cleveland Bay from the north or for anchoring in the main shipping anchorage off Bay Rock, or for those vessels making for the Quarantine Station at West Point. Shallow water and reef in this area made early navigation both difficult and dangerous.  

The light source was an open flame kerosene burner of 1000 candle power, and in clear weather was visible for about 14 nautical miles. The tower itself is 8m tall, and when positioned on Bay Rock, the light was 29m above sea level. A small house was also built on 'the rock' to accommodate the light keeper's family.

The last light keeper was John Lawson, who had been on Bay Rock for less than a year when a tragedy befell him in March 1920. Returning to Bay Rock with five friends in a small fishing boat one evening, the vessel was capsized in a sudden squall. The weakest three stayed clinging to the boat, while the others swam to Bay Rock in order to raise the alarm and return to pick up their friends in the light keepers boat. Although they searched all night, no sign of either Lawson or the others was found. The search continued for several days but yielded only the small boat.

Following this incident it was decided to replace the manual function of the light with an automatic mechanism. This meant that light keepers and their families did not have to live on this isolated rock again. Mrs Lawson and the five children were relocated to the mainland.

Today, visitors can learn about the history of the lighthouse and the accident. In one of the survivors words: 'The squall was of hurricane force....the capsize was almost instantaneous' (John Wells under oath, 30 March 1920)

And how, according to the local newspaper of the day '...During the swim, a horrifying event occurs: Burgess is attacked by a shark. Wells later describes seeing the fin and hearing a splash, and sees Burgess being tossed through the air to land close to Barrie. Wells feels the extent of the wounds across Burgess's chest and back. Together with Barrie, the three swim closely together for Bay Rock....'

The importance of the lighthouse today

Although only the top section is original, the lighthouse is of historic significance, being associated with the safe passage of local shipping in the years before and following Federation. It is also associated with local light keeping families, many of whose descendants remain in the Townsville area. 

With the help of the emergency services helicopter and generous community members, the lighthouse was relocated to the museum from Bay Rock in 1992.

bay rock lighthouse
  Bay Rock lighthouse in the museum grounds 
bay rock lighthouse
The small house built for the lightkeepers and their families, Bay Rock 
bay rock lighthouse
Emergency Services delivering the top of the lighthouse to the museum