Victorian Lighthouses and Shipwrecks – Griffiths Island

Griffiths Island, often incorrectly spelled as Griffith Island, sits at the mouth of the Moyne River  within the boundary of Port Fairy itself. Griffiths has no permanent (human) inhabitants, and is connected to the mainland by a causeway and is only accessible by foot. It forms part of the Port Fairy and Belfast Coastline Protection Reserve and, as well as being a tourist attraction, is an important site in the context of the history of European settlement of western Victoria.

When we were in Port Fairy the sea mist (which we have not really seen before) was surrounding us, we could barely see a few feet in front of us. It made sightseeing difficult, although did make for some moody photos! It was hot and humid and quite eerie walking along the causeway from the mainland to the island, there are shallows full of swans, ducks and various birds, ghosting along silently on calm water. I put a post on Instagram about how it reminded me of the horror movie The Fog…….which strangely was liked by the Port Fairy Tourist Centre!

We walked the 1.5km walk on the short, easy side (no sand dunes) it is all bitumen and gravel paths on that side. Lots of lovely trees surrounded by mist and we spotted a wallaby as well………..not very shy, so we got lots of photos. The path takes you directly to the lighthouse which eventually appeared out of the mist, it is also located at the end of a short causeway surrounded by lots of rocks and a little sand. Part of the fence and gate is all that remains of the Gatekeeper’s Residence.

History

Griffiths Island was named after John Griffiths, an entrepreneur and merchant from Tasmania, who figured prominently in the early history of the area. From the mid 1830s until 1843 the island served as a base for a bay whaling station for Southern Right Whales, until the supply of whales was exhausted and the industry went into terminal decline.

Griffiths Island Lighthouse was built in 1859, from local bluestone. The stairway was constructed with each step being inserted in the next course of stone in the outer wall. The lighthouse was initially manned by two keepers, the last keeper to live on the island was there from 1929 to 1954, when the light was automated; the two stone keepers’ cottages were subsequently demolished in about 1956. The island is about 1.5 km long and 0.8 km wide at its widest point, with an area of about 31 ha.

Griffiths Island Lighthouse
Coordinates 38°23′06″S 142°15′04″E
Year first lit 1859
Construction bluestone tower
Tower shape cylindrical
Markings / pattern white tower with red trim and lantern
Height 11 m
Focal height 12.5 m
Original lens catadioptric lantern
Range 22 km
Characteristic group flashing white, twice every 10 seconds
Admiralty number K2146
NGA number 8028
ARLHS number AUS-086

Fauna

Some 80 plus bird species have been recorded on the island, especially seabirds and waders. There is a large breeding colony of short-tailed shearwaters, locally known as ‘muttonbirds’, with an estimated 100,000 burrows.  The shearwater colony is a tourist attraction in spring and summer, there is a viewing area to watch the birds as they return in a swarm to their burrows at sunset. There are other animals residents on the island include swamp wallabies, short-beaked echidnas, blue-tongued lizards and tiger snakes; we only saw the wallabies.

Shipwrecks

Port Fairy sits at the mouth of the Moyne River, and is one of Victoria’s earliest settlements, it began as a whaling station. Twenty ships were lost at Port Fairy when driven ashore by southerly gales between 1836 and 1876. During this period, Port Fairy grew from a sealing and whaling base to a thriving rural port. Here are just a few, we never saw any evidence of the wreckage.

Socrates 1821 – 1843 The British built whaler was wrecked with its cargo of cattle, sheep and oil from Tasmania when its cable parted during an easterly gale.

Lydia 1825 – 1843 The Liverpool-built South American trader was sailing from Sydney to London in ballast when lost after running ashore.

Thistle 1825 – 2837 The Indian-built schooner owned by the Hentys was wrecked when its crew was collecting wattle bark during the off-season from whaling.

Essington 1826 – 1852 Government-built in Sydney as a troop and convict transport, it was privately owned when wrecked in a gale while carrying general cargo from Sydney

-Julz

6 thoughts on “Victorian Lighthouses and Shipwrecks – Griffiths Island

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