If you think Cape Portland is remote, Swan Island is even more so.
The island is a nature reserve with deserted pristine beaches and clear
blue waters. If you like to swim, snorkel, fish, walk, watch seabirds
and visit penguin and shearwater rookeries away from the rest of the
world, this is the place to do it. Limited accommodation is available
at the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
Where Is it?
Swan Island is off Cape Portland opposite Musselroe Ray.
A granite island, with an area of 239 ha., it is part of
the Waterhouse Island Group, lying close to the north-eastern
coast of Tasmania.
Part of the island is privately owned and it contains an
automated lighthouse, several houses and an airstrip. It has
previously been subject to grazing by livestock. Several
shipwrecks have been recorded here of vessels passing through Banks
Strait; Brenda (1832), Mystery (1850), Union (1852).
Swan Island forms part of the Cape Portland Important Bird
breeding seabird and wader species are Little
Penguin, Short-tailed Shearwater, Pacific Gull, Silver
Gull, Sooty Oystercatcher, Pied Oystercatcher, Hooded
Plover, Caspian Tern and Crested Tern. Cape Barren
Geese also nest on the island. Reptiles present include
the Metallic Skink, White’s Skink, Bougainville’s
Skink and Tiger Snake. European
Rabbits and House Mice are present.
Cape Portland and Ringarooma Bay
Cape portland is the north eastern tip of Tasmania. Pointing west
across Ringarooma Bay, it was named after the Duke of Portland by
Matthew Flinders during his 1798 circumnavigation of the island in the
sloop Norfolk with George Bass. It is an important bird breeding area
for the Cape Barren Goose, Chestnut Teal and the threatened Hooded
Plover. There is a small fishing community at Cape Portland.
The clean, white sand of Musselroe Bay on the east side of Cape
Portland, is a popular spot for beach fishing and swimming. Situated
within Mount William National Park, it is also known as a place to
experience close encounters with Forester kangaroos and other Tasmanian
wildlife in their natural environment.
Swan Island Lighthouse
Swan Island lighthouse: Built in 1845, this lighthouse was the first
to be established in Bass Strait being completed before that of Goose
Island which had been started earlier. It is now the oldest tower under
Federal control, the previous eldest being Cape Bruny which, though
built seven years earlier, has been decommissioned.
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In its early days the light was tendered by convict watchmen. There
was inadequate housing for them – they often sheltered in the
base of the tower – discipline was difficult as the men resented
the solitary life and the Headkeeper had no authority to reprimand the
men. At one stage the convicts even hatched an escape plot. Another
time they raided a wreck and plundered its provisions. Eventually it
was agreed that employing convicts as assistants was unsatisfactory and
allowances were raised to attract free men to the positions. With
the construction of a new Georgian-style 4-roomed superintendents
cottage in 1850, the assistants who had previously been sheltering in
the base of the tower were able to shift into the original 1845 house
which was also used for stores.
The new 1850 house became known as Eliza’s Cottage. It became
the home of Charles Baudinet, the longest serving keeper on the island.
He took over as Superintendent in March 1867 and retired 25 years later
in 1891. Andy Gregory, the last keeper left in 1986.
Charles’ wife, Eliza, died of dropsy mortification and is buried
in the only marked grave on the island. However, two children who
drowned on the island are buried on either side of the grave their
wooden crosses having long since disappeared. It is also believe that
there are several unmarked graves of Aboriginals forcibly resettled on
the the island from the Tasmanian mainland.
The tower’s staircase is unique in that it is suspended off the
central column, where all other Tasmanian lighthouse staircases are
suspended off the tower wall. The lantern revolves in an anti-clockwise
direction, and along with a Victorian light the two are believed to be
only ones in the southern hemisphere to turn this way.
Waterhouse Island Group
The other islands in the Waterhouse Island Group, which
are all accessible by boat from Cape Portland, are Ninth
Island, Tenth Island, Waterhouse Island, Little
Waterhouse Island, Maclean Island, Baynes Island, Cygnet
Island, Foster Islands, Little Swan Island, Bird
Rock, George Rocks, St Helens Island, Paddys Island