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Queenscliff Lighthouses

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Queenscliff Lighthouses - Cities, Towns and Localities

Shortland Bluff and the first lighthouse (1842). Point Nepean in the background.
Shortland Bluff and the first lighthouse (1842). Point Nepean in the background.

Lights to guide the ships
Lighthouses have always been important at Queenscliff for those attempting the perilous journey into Port Phillip Bay.

The first permanent building erected at Shortland Bluff was the lighthouse, built in 1842. It was later decided that two lights were needed to lead ships through the Heads and in 1853 a wooden tower was built lower down the Bluff.

By 1863, both had been replaced by the present ‘black’ and ‘white’ lighthouses, constructed of basalt. The two lighthouses have been aligned to show navigators the safe course to follow along the deepest channel through ‘The Rip’.

The wooden lighthouse was re-created at Point Lonsdale where it stood until replaced by the present lighthouse in 1902. Earlier, an oil lamp was kept burning on a flagstaff. That simple light and its successor have served since 1853 to identify the entrance to Port Phillip.


Why ‘The Rip’?
A number of factors combine to create extreme turbulence at the Heads, leading into Port Phillip Bay. It is these factors that cause the very strong tidal ‘rips’ which give the area its name. They include:
– strong tidal flows
– great variations in water depth
– the narrow opening
– the weather

To find out more about the history of Queenscliff drop into the

Queenscliff Historical Museum,
• 49 Hesse St, QUEENSCLIFF VIC 3225
• Ph: 03 5258 2511 (next to the Queenscliff Visitor Centre)

The Port Phillip Sea Pilots - a ‘fearless devotion to duty’
In 1837 Governor Bourke nominated Queenscliff (then called Shortland Bluff) as the site of a station for sea pilots.

George Tobin began pilot operations from the beach north of the Bluff in 1838. He used a whaleboat and four oarsmen.

A year later he became the first licensed Port Phillip Sea Pilot.

In 1852 the Pilots were provided with a cutter. This let them wait outside the Heads to pilot ships through the Rip. Cutters such as the Victoria, Akuna and Wyuna were used by the Pilots until 1979, when they were replaced by high-speed launches.

Pilot service operations have been operated since 1981 from a building located at the same place on the beach as the original Pilot’s tents. In all types of weather, the powerful orange-and-black launches can be seen braving the Rip, taking Pilots to and from ships outside the Heads. All ships entering or leaving Port Phillip must carry a Pilot unless the master has an exemption certificate.

Source: street signage - Queenscliff

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The Rip — Peaceful to look at, but dangerous below
The waters of the narrow entrance to Port Phillip, known as ‘The Rip’ or ‘the Heads’, are among the most hazardous in the world. The need for navigational aids, pilots, rescue and other maritime services has given Queenscliff and its residents many of their vital purposes.

Although Port Phillip Heads is about three kilometres wide, the effective navigable width is about one kilometre, and only 240 metres for deep draught ships.

The Rip has claimed numerous victims. Among the earliest vessels to come to grief were the William Salthouse (1841), Clarence (1850), and Mountain Maid (1856). On the 15 August 1991, the Pilot launch George Tobin was overwhelmed with the loss of three lives.

A scale model of the Rip, showing its seabed and navigation aids, is on display at the Queenscliffe Maritime Centre and Museum.
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