Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse is one of the shortest lighthouses in Australia yet it towers above the wild, dramatic coastline. Built in 1875 to warn of the perils of Seal Rocks, it was Colonial Architect James Barnet’s first lighthouse design.1
Shipwrecks were an unfortunate part of life. In 1876 three vessels stranded simultaneously during a storm. Two ships reached safety but the captain of the ‘Hoolet’ hesitated, wanting to save the vessel. Eventually the two passengers and three crew had to abandon ship. On reaching the shore the lifeboat capsized throwing all occupants overboard. One passenger, thrown on the beach, was drawn back by the waves and never seen again. His wife however survived and was cared for by the lightkeepers while the crew walked to Newcastle barefooted and ragged to report the incident.2
The ‘Ellen’ set sail with nine crew in 1891 when the ship came to grief in bad weather. They escaped in a derelict lifeboat and floated for ten days without food or water. One by one the men died from starvation and delirium after drinking saltwater. Just as the last four reached shore the boat capsized and three men died on the beach from exhaustion. The lightkeeper managed to save one.3
The ‘Catterthun’ is one of Australia’s worst maritime tragedies. During a violent storm in 1895 the ship bound for China foundered in rough seas at Seal Rocks and 55 people died. Owing to the wildness of the night not a sound reached the keepers. They were alerted the next day by a telegraph from the Cape Hawke Pilot Station.4
Author: Janine Roberts
1 Rosemary Broomham, Myall Lakes National Park: A people’s history, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW, Nelson Bay, NSW: 2010.
2 Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 1876.
3 Freeman’s Journal,1 August 1891; Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1891.
4 Australian Star, 25 September 1895.