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The Iron Pot Lighthouse

Roaring 40s Kayaking blog - Iron Pot Lighthouse by Kerry ScramblerAs we glide over the river on our Hobart's Cliffs, Caves and Beaches kayaking trip, our eyes often wander to the river mouth where the Iron Pot Lighthouse stands guard over the River Derwent. Curious about its history, we asked South Arm local, Kerry Scambler, to tell us more about this iconic sight.

Listen to the last exciting hours of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and the commentators will always talk of when the leaders and their pursuers “round the Iron Pot and enter the fickle waters of the River Derwent”. It’s a landmark in the boating world, having been offering guidance to seafarers since 1832 but if you live around South Arm, it’s also part of our identity.

You’ll see the Pot in the logos of the Primary School, Residents Association and other groups and it’s the namesake of the local golf club. During the ANZAC Day dawn service at Fort Direction, the Pot stands with hundreds of us as we remember the fallen and watch the sun rise over our thankfully peaceful home. 

Looking at the bold, white upright structure with its striking red stripe, it’s almost incomprehensible to imagine the accompanying gothic style, two storey house and several outbuildings that also sat atop this 0.4 ha, rocky island. It was once a tourist destination in itself!

Roaring 40s Kayaking blog - Iron Pot Lighthouse in the 1800sHere’s some interesting points about our sentinel:

  • It was the first lighthouse built in Tasmania in 1832 and the second in Australia.
  • It’s the oldest original tower in the country and first to use solar power (1977).
  • In the late 1700s Matthew Flinders described some of the rocks in Storm Bay as affecting his compass. This has been identified as the cause of some shipwrecks around Hope Beach which prompted the light.
  • The seven children of keeper James Parkinson once lived on the island. The family also had a half acre garden on the mainland that “…grew vegetables all year round”. (Yes, South Arm was once a food bowl, back when it rained a lot more!).
  • A storm in 1895 threw waves that “poured over the balcony of the lighthouse, the top which is about 90 ft. above high water mark*”.
  • After nearly 90 years and 18 Head Keepers, the light was automated in 1920. The houses were dismantled and timber sold off.
  • It was first recorded as being used as a yacht race marker in 1843 when the government schooners, Eliza and Eleanor raced to the Pot with the latter winning.
  • Iron Pot Trophies have historically been presented to the handicap winner of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race and the King of the Derwent.

Roaring 40s Kayaking blog - Iron Pot Lighthouse - view from mainlandThe official records and letters from the lighthouse keepers have made its fascinating history accessible and a quick online search will find many images and stories.

The view of the Iron Pot is most enjoyable from the water and from a kayak, the islet’s dimensions are brought home.  Just imagine – seven kids… storms across the top of the lighthouse… and the rich sea life around the rocks in the waters below.


PS If you want a memento of the Iron Pot, I’m sure the local residents association will sell you one of their stubby holders with a magnificent image!


This article compiled from various sources including History of The Iron Pot by Suzanne Smythe and South Arm historian Maurice Potter. 

* From The Examiner (Launceston)

South Arm History Room open on Monday 10.30-12.30, Thursday 10-12 (Maurice Potter in attendance), Friday 2-4 , Saturday 1-3.


March 2019