The undated photograph above shows the Iron Pot Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Tasmania.

It is known for its square-shaped tower.


The Iron Pot Lighthouse is located on Iron Pot Island, just off the coast of the South Arm Peninsula. It marks the entrance to the Derwent River.


The Iron Pot Lighthouse began its life as a wooden light tower in 1832. It was manned by a keeper and two convict assistants.

Its light was inadequate, so the whole lighthouse was upgraded. A new stone tower was built and the apparatus was improved, but the light was still not up to scratch. A new lamp was fitted in 1835, but people said it was still not satisfactory. Further improvements were made to the apparatus in 1851, but the light was still not acceptable.

By 1858, a new stone hut had been built next to the lighthouse.

In 1862, it was claimed that a gold nugget was found on Iron Pot Island by one of the keepers’ children. Two hundred potential diggers flocked to the island, but they were disappointed when no further gold was discovered.

Twenty-two years later, the Iron Pot Lighthouse was renamed to the ‘Derwent Lighthouse’.* A new Chance Bros colza-burning light apparatus was installed shortly before this.

A new two-storey cottage was built next to the lighthouse for the head keeper in 1885.

A decade later, Essie (or Elsie) Margaret Roberts became the first and only person to be born on Iron Pot Island. She was the daughter of the head keeper.

A storm devastated the island in 1895. Living quarters were flooded as water tanks and sheds were washed away. A stone retaining wall even collapsed! Fortunately, no lives were lost. The keepers worked all night to keep the light going.

A light apparatus that burned incandescent petroleum was installed at the Iron Pot Lighthouse in 1904. It was the first in Australia to use vapourised kerosene.

Sixteen years later, a revolving cylinder was installed at the base of the apparatus so that the light could rotate. At the same time, the apparatus was converted to use acetylene gas.

In 1921, the keepers were withdrawn from the Iron Port Lighthouse. The huts and cottages were sold under the condition that they be dismantled. The materials extracted from them are said to have been recycled into other buildings in Hobart.

Solar panels were installed at the lighthouse in 1977, making it the first lighthouse in Australia to be powered by sunlight.


The Iron Pot Lighthouse is still active.

The crane that once lifted supplies on and off Iron Pot Island is still intact.

The Iron Pot Lighthouse today.

* The new name did not stick. The lighthouse continued to be referred to as ‘the Iron Pot’, even on official documents.


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Tas That Was is a column that includes:

  • anecdotes of life in Tasmania in the past;
  • historical photographs of locations in Tasmania; and/or
  • documentaries about locations in Tasmania.

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