Discover the story of the evolution of lighthouse lamps from the earliest oil wick burners, kerosene and acetylene powered lights through to an early laser light and currently used equipment. Learn the principles of the Fresnel lens and how a flame in a kerosene lamp can be seen by mariners many kilometres away.

The Lighthouse Gallery displays the ex-Cape Don Light (Northern Territory), originally installed there in 1915 and restored to operation by Museum volunteers. The 1883 lens from Archer Point near Cooktown revolves on the 1863 pedestal and motor gearbox from Bustard Head (between the town of 1770 and Gladstone).

In the grounds is the ex-Bulwer Island Tower which came to the Museum from its location near the Brisbane River mouth where it operated from 1912 to 1983. The Tower is a perfect example of the type of construction unique to Queensland.

This collection, comprising more than 1200 items, records the development of lighthouse technology from the late 19th century to the present. It is one of Australia’s most significant collections of lighthouse material. Prior to Federation, the Australian colonies were responsible for the provision of navigational aids in their waters. In 1915 the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service (CLS) was established and assumed responsibility for major navigational aids along the Australian coastline while the states continued to be responsible for minor equipment.


QMM’s collection represents material from the world’s major manufacturers of navigational aids—British, French, Swedish and United States—as well as a few Japanese examples, wartime beacons recovered from New Guinea. Lighthouse technology developed around two key elements: manned and unmanned facilities. During the 19th century, permanently staffed lighthouses used oil and later kerosene to fuel the lights and, if these rotated, the motive force was provided by a clockwork-weight mechanism that was wound every few hours. In the early 20th century Swedish inventor Gustaf Dalen (later to receive the Nobel Prize) developed acetylene technology by which gas was used to fuel the lights and sun valves, opening automatically at sunset, controlled the supply of gas. Dalen’s apparatus provided the correct mix of gas and oxygen to the burner and at the same time operated a mechanism that rotated the lens. This ingenious device enabled many of the smaller lights and lightships (such as QMM’s CLS2) to be unmanned.

The Benard & Barbier pedestal ca 1897 is thought to be the sole remaining example world-wide of one of the first electrically driven pedestals. It was purchased by the Queensland Government and installed on North Barnard Island in North Queensland and was intended as an un-manned light. It proved difficult to maintain and was replaced.

Besides lighthouse components and equipment, QMM’s lighthouse collection includes drawings, photographs, films and an extensive technical library. The collection’s largest item is the former Bulwer Island Lighthouse which operated at the mouth of the Brisbane River from 1912 to 1983. This towering structure, erected in the QMM grounds, is a distinctive Queensland type, its tower being built of hardwood clad in corrugated iron. Another key item is the abovementioned lightship CLS2 Carpentaria, built in 1916–18 and used mostly in marking the Carpentaria Shoals.

Other notable examples include:
  • the original lens of the Archer Point Light, near Cooktown, ca 1883;
  • a model of the Brisbane Bar Pile Lighthouse made for display at the Australian Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne in 1888–89;
  • the Dalen apparatus and other components from Cape Moreton Light;
  • a cargo basket with a trapeze, used for lifting goods and people to inaccessible lights atop cliffs;
  • a coal basket, ca 1900, used for bunkering coal-fired lighthouse service ships;
  • a rare manual fire extinguisher from Maatsuyker Island Light, Tasmania;
  • the original lens, lens table, pedestal and kerosene equipment of Cape Don Lighthouse, NT, 1917; this third-order lens was one of only two of this size to be installed in Australia;
  • the pedestal and gearbox of the Bustard Head Light, near Gladstone, ca 1930;
  • the Point Danger laser light, ca 1967, which was the first trial of laser technology in Queensland lighthouses; and
  • large photographic collection from Russell Colestan, a former CLS technician, recording the construction and maintenance of lights around Australia by the CLS.