Written By: By Jennie Timmins
In early 1882 a project to establish leading lights at the Tamar Heads, was set up to replace the unlit marker towers/beacons. From as far back as 1858 the ship’s captains made numerous requests to have the old towers lit for night navigation, but for a long time the Government refused to do anything about in on the grounds that there was no funding available. At the same time of the project, it was envisaged to have a tower located on Hebe Reef at the entrance of the Tamar.
“In calm weather and half tide there is nothing to indicate the presence of the menacing black rock that lies direct in the course of ships coming through the Heads and in particular from the westward where the largest portion of ships brought trade to the ports”.
In the Cornwall Chronicle 29 June 1859 an article headed ‘Sailing Directions for the Port of Launceston Authority’, the Port of Launceston Authority was contemplating placing lights on the towers at Lagoon Beach. A short time prior, the PLA lodged a report regarding loss of the line brig Kate, within a short hull-mile of these pillars. The article stated that the accident would not have occurred, had they been made useful by night, as well as by day.
The tower lights were still a contention as reported in the Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List in August 1859. In a letter addressed to the Master Warden of Hobart Town from the Master Warden of Launceston Marine Board in response to an article published in the Mercury, it appears it was all down to the cost as the Master Warden wrote:
“Commenting upon the necessity there exists for placing lights on the towers at Lagoon Beach, near the entrance of the port. It is evident that the writer of that article is unacquainted with the difficulties and dangers attending the navigation of this port, or even the position of the towers; but, independent of that however desirable it may be to place lights on the towers now erected at Lagoon Beach, the funds collected from light dues and placed at the disposal of your board, are found barely sufficient to disburse the current expense attendant upon the present lighthouses on our coasts. In order to meet any expenditure for the purpose of new erections, it will be necessary to petition the Government for a grant in aid, or by some fresh enactment obtain an increased revenue from the light dues. It was estimated that the first cost of these lights would be about one thousand pounds, but there must also be taken into consideration the annual expense of maintaining them.” An article headed ‘Leading Lights’ reported in the Telegraph September 1882 that the old towers at Lagoon Bay had been blackened and the leading light towers answered the purpose of day marks. We can assume that this is where the name Black Tower originated. As early as 1906 we read of the demolishing of the beacon towers:
“NOTES AND NEWS – BEACON TOWERS AT LOW HEAD
The secretary of the Hobart Marine Board has forwarded to the Launceston board the following report of the inspector of lighthouses: The beacon towers mentioned in the correspondence under notice were originally painted white and were for the guidance of masters when entering Low Head at daytime. They were under the sole control and management of the Launceston Marine Board. In December, 1882, the Marine Board of Hobart completed the erection and lighting of two new towers, as day and night light to navigation. When erected these lights, Captain Stanley, R.N suggested to Captain Gilmore that when the new lights were opened the old ones be blackened, so as not to mislead anyone, and at some future time to demolish them. The Launceston board can, in my opinion, order their removal now. I am of opinion these beacons are of little use to navigation. There would be no necessity to remove the foundation mentioned.”
In 1924 reference to the black beacon/tower was found in an article ‘The Cause of the Mishap’. The ketch Evaleeta a trading vessel plying between Melbourne and Hobart had put into the Lagoon Bay for shelter. Under the command of a new owner, Captain Spaulding the vessel laid over the western shore. It appears that there was light breeze and enough to take the vessel out the Heads on the ebb tide. The captain wasn’t concerned when the vessel did not come up to the wind and gradually drifted to the eastern shore. This was the first time the captain visited the Tamar and he expected to come round with plenty of water under him. Opposite the black tower however, the vessel struck hard and began at once to make water which soon had two cabins awash and mounted some distance up the companionway. A hawser, a heavy cable or rope, was passed to the beacon made fast and signals of distress hoisted, presumably answered by the Low Head Pilot Station nearby.
What remains of the foundations of the Black Tower today is a reminder of bygone years and the short life of the beacon towers at Lagoon Bay Beach waiting to be explored and played in as we did as kids.