The ruin of Cape St George lighthouse is perhaps the most significant European site in the park. The ruin was listed on the National Estate Register in 1981 in recognition of the ruin's important setting, stonework and as a relic of early European occupation.
During the 19th century, due to the number of shipwrecks occurring near Cape St George, it was decided that a lighthouse was vital for the safe navigation of coastal shipping. Unfortunately, due to insufficient research and consultation, the lighthouse was built in the wrong spot, and it came to be regarded as a navigational hazard.
In 1857, the colonial architect Alexander Dawson and an assistant surveyor E.F. Millington, investigated Cape St George for sites suitable for a lighthouse. Unfortunately Dawson's choice of sites was largely based on ease of construction, rather than the efficient function of a lighthouse. Without the input of any maritime expertise, the chairman of the Pilot Board authorised the first of Dawson's site options. Despite glaring deficiencies in the planning stage and disagreement by a majority of the board, the lighthouse was commissioned on 1st October, 1860. Thirty eight years and many arguments later, a replacement lighthouse would shine its beam from the northern side of Jervis Bay, at Point Perpendicular.
St Georges lighthouse complex c.1877 This photo was probably taken by Samuel Elyard, the artist, who visited Cape St George several times during the 1870's. Research suggests that the people pictured here were members of the Gibson, Parker and Bailey families. Photo courtesy of the Lady Denman Heritage Complex.
Even unlit, the lighthouse caused navigational problems especially on moonlit nights when the golden sandstone tower glowed in the dark. Near the turn of the century explosive charges were used to reduce the tower and parts of the keeper's quarters to rubble.
Woe, disaster and misery
The people who lived at Cape St George Lightstation were eerily prone to tragic events. In 1867 Isabella Jane Lee, the daughter of the principal lightkeeper from 1863-1873, died of typhus fever. In 1882, another resident, 13 year old George Gibson, died from pleurisy. Typhoid struck again in 1885 killing Florence Bailey, the 11 year old daughter of the third assistant lightkeeper. Her father, Edward Bailey, supplemented his income by fishing for sharks on the rocks below the lighthouse. In 1895, he was washed from the rocks. Entangled in his lines in heavy seas, he drowned and was taken by sharks as his son watched in horror.
Francis Henry Hammer, the son of Mary Hammer (a single woman who lived at the lighthouse) had a habit of pushing large rocks over the cliff edge to amuse himself. He either toppled over or lost his footing when part of the cliff collapsed. He was only nine or ten years old.
William Markham, the assistant lightkeeper from about 1878-1883, was kicked in the head by a horse and died before he reached Nowra Hospital.
One of the most disturbing tragedies involved two teenage girls. In 1887, Kate Gibson (the principal lightkeeper's daughter), tripped while skylarking with a loaded firearm. The gun discharged, striking her friend Harriet Parker (the assistant lightkeeper's daughter) in the back of the skull, killing her instantly. Her gravesite can be found in the Green Patch camping area.
Wrecked at Wreck Bay
In colonial times the transport of people and goods relied heavily on shipping. Lighthouses aided navigation by marking treacherous sections of coast, but with large numbers of ships travelling in virtually all weather conditions shipwrecks were frequent.
Shipwrecks usually occurred in the most terrifying circumstances. Dark and stormy nights, huge seas, or heavy fog, made abandoning ship or rescue by other ships extremely hazardous. Lightkeepers were often the first to assist passengers and crews of wrecked vessels.
From 1875-1885, 198 vessels were lost of the NSW coast. Of the 2,563 passengers and crew involved in these wrecks nearly 10 per cent lost their lives.
The Wreck Bay coast acted like a trap for ships sailing too close to shore. Once inside the bay, where was no room to manoeuvre and ships were driven ashore. In 1886 the number of shipwrecks occurring in the Wreck Bay area prompted a reader of the Sydney Morning Herald to describe coastal shipping as 'a scheme for manufacturing widows and orphans . . .'
Shipwrecks in the Jervis Bay area 1805-1928
1805 Sloop 'Nancy' ran aground at Steamers Beach. Survivors took eleven days to walk to Sydney.
1835 Convict ship 'Hive' driven ashore Bherwerre Beach.
1836 Schooner 'Blackbird' wrecked while attempting to salvage stores from 'Hive' at Wreck Bay.
1850 Barque 'Juniper' wrecked (carrying wine to Sydney) at St George Head.
1855 Schooner 'Martha and Elizabeth' wrecked at Point Perpendicular.
1859 The brigantine 'Caroline' wrecked at Point Perpendicular.
1865 P.S. 'Mynora' wrecked at Steamers Beach.
1867 Barque 'Julie Heyn' lost south of Jervis Bay.
1867 Ketch 'Aeolus' loaded with timber, parted her cables and was blown ashore at Hole-in-the-Wall.
1869 Schooner 'Missie' lost at the mouth of Currumbene Creek.
1870 'Maid of Riverton' blown ashore in Jervis Bay
1870 Barque 'Summer Cloud' stranded at Wreck Bay and wrecked. This location now bears her name.
1874 Schooner 'Mary' driven ashore at Wreck Bay by a gale. Mary Bay is named after this vessel.
1874 The brig 'Rose of Australia' ran aground at Wreck Bay.
1876 'S.S. Dandenong' sank off Jervis Bay with great loss of life.
1882 Steam collier 'Plutus' ran aground at Currarong.
1883 The Schooner 'Agnes' foundered off Jervis Bay.
1886 The passenger steamship 'S.S. Corangamite' lost at St Georges Head.
1893 The schooner 'Result' wrecked near Beecroft Head.
1908 Scow 'Hilda' ran aground at Wreck Bay loaded with timber.
1909 The 'Naudura' grounded at Sussex Inlet.
1911 'S.S. Tilba' ran aground on rocks at Wreck Bay.
1915 Schooner'Advance' driven ashore at Wreck Bay.
1915 The coastal steamer 'Wandra' wrecked at Drum and Drumsticks.
1922 The coastal trader 'Mokau' beached for repairs at Wreck Bay and destroyed in rough weather.
1928 The passenger steamship 'S.S. Merimbula' ran aground at Currarong.