The collection helps record the history of navigational aids in South Australia. It is significant in terms of economic history-documenting lighthouses, channel markers and beacons that provided the infrastructure essential to shipping, commerce and passenger travel. These aids warned mariners away from hazards and marked shipping channels and harbours.
The collection is socially significant in documenting the lives of the small communities of keepers and their families who crewed the lights on isolated islands and reefs.
The focus of the collection is the Port Adelaide lighthouse. Planning for a lighthouse at the entrance to the Port Adelaide River began in 1864. A prefabricated tower and lantern were imported from Chance Brothers in the United Kingdom-the company that supplied prefabricated lighthouses throughout Australia and the British Empire in the 19th century. The lighthouse was erected on a timber platform near the entrance to the Port River and first lit on 1 January 1869. The light was found to be too dim and on 3 February 1875 a revolving lens of the first order (the largest size) was installed. By the 1890s the stability of the light tower was questioned. It was replaced by a new lighthouse built in a more prominent place, Wonga Shoal, a reef two kilometers from the entrance to the Port River. That light used the lantern and lens from the Port Adelaide lighthouse.
There had been calls since 1874 for a light on South Neptune Island to mark the entrance to Spencer Gulf. The iron tower from the Port Adelaide Lighthouse was taken to the Island and lit with a second order lens on 1 November 1901. The light was replaced by an automated light in 1985. The original lighthouse was moved to Port Adelaide to become part of the Maritime Museum’s collection in 1985.