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16 January 2017

The role of the Light House Keeper.



One of the many important rolls of the Jervis Bay Lighthouse Keepers was the daily reporting of ship movements along the coast.

The keepers of lighthouses all along the coast would keep a careful vigil over the sea looking for passing vessels.  Once a vessel was sighted details of the vessel including the name, type and any distingushing features would be recorded, this information was then passed onto the Department of Navigation by wire telegraph.

The reports were advertised in the Sydney newspapers under a column titled “Shipping Movements.”.

Before direct ship to shore radio communication,  this was the only way the authorities and relatives had of knowing where a vessel was at any particular time.

When vessels were overdue,  it came as a great relief to the relatives, loved ones,  owners and merchants
to read the name of a vessel in the shipping movements column.

Speculative reporting.
Concerns were often raised by speculative reports like the one below which appeared in Newspapers across the country.
They would speak of the loss of a ship and all on board,  many times without any evidence to back up their story other than a vessel being late.  In this case wreckage was found off Botany and concerns for the ketch Arab were raised.


In 1907 The story above and many like it appeared in the morning papers.
This would have undoubtably have many interested parties concerned and fearing the worse. Fortunately in this case the news was found to be wrong.

Point_Perpendicular_Lighthouse_1917Jervis Bay Lighthouse 1914

”The welcome news was flashed over the telegraph wires from the Jervis Bay lighthouse keeper that at 8.am
the ketch Arab was observed safe,  and bound south.  This news came as great relief as fears were held for the safety of the Arab as she was known to be heading south in foul weather and nothing had been heard of her for some time”.

It has to be remembered these ketches were very small vessels by todays standards, carrying  redimentary safety equipment and no means of communication with other vessels or the shore other than flags and flares..

The mystery remained. To which vessel did the wreckage belong?.
The news that the Arab was safe created even more speculation as to which vessel the wreckage might have come from. The Department of Navigation could throw no light on the matter,  as so far no vessel is reported missing.

Captain Snoor of the steamer Allowrie had seen the wreckage and alerted the authorities,  he stated “ that when strain was put upon the wreckage it came away quite freely,  indicating that it is not attached to a vessels hull.”

Captain Newton, Superintendent of the Navigation Department, ordered, the pilot steamer Captain Cook to proceed to  the scene, and the vessel left at 3 p.m.  steaming south against a big sea, under Captain Sweet's command.  The wreckage was sighted, a boat lowered,  and a line, made fast to the submerged mast.  The Captain Cook then towed the wreckage out of the track of shipping towards Botany Bay, where it is expected it would drift ashore and  might possibly be identified.


Pilot Steamer Captain Cook.

Below are a few examples of the type of simple notices in Sydney newspapers that would mean so much to waiting friends and businesses.






imageAnother headline which had many people concerned for the safety of the ketch Arab.

In 1902 she had a lucky escape from disaster.
The ketch Arab was a well known small coasting ketch of 87 tons, she had been in the timber trade since 1898 and did regular trips between Sydney and south coast ports.  On one occasion she left Bawley Point with a full cargo of timber destined for Sydney and ran into a tremendous blow off Jervis Bay, with the wind and mountainous sea behind her she sped along the coast weathering severe squalls and rain, she handled the condition well throughout the night.  As the new day began the conditions became much worse, by this time she was abreast of Port Hacking  -  “ The little ketch was buffeted about by the violent elements in such a manner that at one time tears for her safety were entertained.” – the buffeting continued. – “Suddenly, without any warning, a tremendous sea broke over the bows, completely swamping the vessel those on board state that the mountainous sea was at least 10ft. above the rails fore and aft, and that the ketch was for a few seconds almost totally submerged.  The galley and other buildings on the after port of the deck were struck with such violence that they were reduced to atoms, and a large portion of the deck fittings was carried away, the cabin was completely flooded and damages of a more or less serious nature were suffered in other directions.”

She limped into Sydney harbour a sad and sorry sight and all on board were glad to be safely at anchor off Moore’s wharf.

Ketch - a two-masted, fore-and-aft rigged sailing boat with a mizzenmast stepped forward of the rudder and smaller than its foremast.

Example of a ketch from around this time period.


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