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Troubridge Shoals Light Station signal cannon

Date: 1860
Overall: 320 x 1380 x 450 mm, 350 kg
Medium: Cast iron
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Transfer from Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Object Name: Cannon
Object No: 00045448
Related Place:South Australia,

User Terms

    This cast iron signal cannon comes from the Troubridge Island Lighthouse in South Australia. The Troubridge Shoals, a hazardous group of shoals and islands in Investigator Strait in South Australia, have been the cause of at least 33 wrecks. In 1856 the South Australian Government commissioned the construction of the Troubridge Island Lighthouse and equipped it with a signal cannon to warn ships of the danger.

    SignificanceThe Troubridge Island signal cannon is a well provenanced and evocative object, which is symbolic of the hazards facing seafarers coming to Australia in the 19th century.

    HistoryThe Troubridge Shoals, of which Troubridge Island is a part, are on the main sea route from Europe to Adelaide through Investigator Strait, the passage of water between Kangaroo Island and the Yorke Peninsula. The Island and the surrounding shoals and reefs are about four nautical miles south-east of Edithburg on the Yorke Peninsula.

    All immigrant and cargo ships voyaging to South Australia and its capital Adelaide had to sail along the northern coastline of Kangaroo Island, with the first landfall at Nepean Bay. From there the ships sailed past Cape Jervis on the mainland of South Australia, past Rapid Bay and then threaded their way through the Troubridge Shoals, before stopping at Holdfast Bay to pick up a pilot. (Phillips, 1977, 106-107)

    Matthew Flinders first surveyed Troubridge Shoals in 1802. He noted that the island consisted of a sandbar on top of a limestone reef, which was awash at high tide. By 1838 the sandbar had developed into a small vegetated islet 600 metres long and 300 metres wide.

    In February 1851, following the wrecks of the SULTANA and MANOR, the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce made a recommendation to the Colonial Secretary for the construction of a lighthouse on the shoal.

    In response to the increasing number of shipping casualities the Secretary of State for the colonial government of South Australia authorised the construction of a lighthouse station on Troubridge Island in 1854. The contract to design and construct the lightstation was given to Alexander Gordon, an English engineer who subsequently appointed Robert Augustus Hyndmen to commence survey and construction work. The contracts for the work were completed in 1855 at a total cost of 9396 pounds and the lightstation was commissioned on 1 February 1856.

    The Troubridge Island Lightstation was the second lightstation to be constructed in South Australia after the Cape Willoughby lighthouse on Kangaroo Island. The 24-metre high, cylindrical, cast iron tower was manufactured in England and shipped out and reassembled on Troubridge Island.

    The lightstation was first operated by Trinity House until the formation of the South Australian Marine Board in early 1870. In 1879 the Marine Board recommended that the lighthouse be strengthened so that the lamp room and its light could be upgraded to a First Order lens. This work was carried out in 1882 with the addition of a holophotal reflector apparatus and lantern. A further upgrade occurred in 1899 when a fixed red sector light was added to the platform to warn ships about sailing between the Island and mainland.

    Between 1925 and 1931 a Second Order Deville lens and a 2.19 metre high Chance Brothers lantern were installed and the operation electrified. In 1956 the light was upgraded for a third time to a 1000 watt, 120-volt tungsten-halogen lamp which had an intensity of 480,000 candelas and a range of 25 nautical miles.

    In the late 1970s the then Department of Transport built a new light on Troubridge Hill on the Yorke Peninsula. Following the completion of this new light in 1980, the power of the original Troubridge Island light was downgraded. An automatic operating system was installed, and the lighthouse was de-manned. In 1982 the South Australian Government purchased the island and lighthouse with the intention of creating a bird sanctuary on the island.

    In addition to aiding sailors by its light, lighthouses were often fitted out with fog signals. These audible warnings could be heard even when the light could not be seen. Lighthouse keepers were responsible for sounding these warnings, sometimes by ringing a bell, firing a cannon, or fuelling a fire to produce steam for a foghorn. In addition, the authorities equipped the Troubridge Island Lightstation with a small signal cannon. The cannon was fired by the lighthouse keepers during fog to signal ships of danger.

    An account from the Adelaide Observer of 7 January 1860 provides a detailed description of the Troubridge Island Lightstation and the signal cannon:

    'From a visit recently made to this lighthouse we are enabled to subjoin several particulars which will no doubt be interesting to many of our readers. The island on which it is erected is situated three miles east of Troubridge Hill, on York's Peninsula and is about a mile in circumference. There are three keepers, who all live with their families in comfortable cottages built on piles, on the island. The Lighthouse is 80 feet high, and is entirely composed of iron. A winding staircase extends to the top of the building, and there are three or four small rooms, in which oil and other things are stored and where a barometer indicating the state of the wind, weather and sea is kept...

    Should a vessel be in danger of running on any of the reefs or sandspits which abound in that locality, and the lighthouse keepers not be able to make her aware of her position by the signals, a cannon is provided, which can be immediately fired, as to inform the shipmaster of his perilous situation. In concluding this brief notice it may be remarked that visitors to the lighthouse will meet with every civility on the part of the keepers, and that a day might be spent in many a less interesting manner than by an inspection of this admirable establishment.'
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Signal cannon from Troubridge Shoal Light Station

    Web title: Troubridge Shoals Light Station signal cannon

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