The South Australian Maritime Museum preserves the oldest nautical collection in Australia. In 1872 the Port Adelaide Institute began a museum collection to complement its library and its educational and social programs. That collection grew over the following century reflecting the seafarers and the ships that visited Port Adelaide. It is now held in trust at the South Australian Maritime Museum.

The Maritime Museum’s collections ranges from the Port Adelaide Lighthouse that was first lit in 1869 to a plaque that explorer Matthew Flinders left at Memory Cove in 1802 to mark the loss of eight seafarers. It includes figureheads, nautical instruments, bathing costumes, shipwreck artefacts, paintings, models and vessels.

Our scope is the maritime heritage of South Australia from the coast to inland waters. The collection of over almost 20,000 objects and over 20,000 images is at once a window to the heritage of the local community and to the ships of the world.

Signal Lamp, South Neptune Island

Kerosene lamp used by lighthouse keepers on South Neptune Island lighthouse to signal to passing ships in Morse code. The pulses of light for the code's dots and dashes were produced by opening and closing shutters at the front of the lamp.

Communication with the outside world was difficult from the isolated island. Initially signal flags or a signal lamp were used to send messages to passing ships. A lighthouse tender vessel called once a month with the mail. One keeper on the island resorted to lighting fires on the beach to attract the attention of passing ships after his daughter suffered a firecracker accident. Wireless equipment was finally installed during the First World War and then again in 1936 for emergency use only. In 1943 a radio transceiver was installed for keepers to make regular contact with the Cape Borda radio station and to exchange weather and shipping reports.

Creator: WM Still & Company, London, United Kingdom

Associated locations: South Neptune Island, South Australia


Caption: Signal Lamp South Neptune Island

AccessionNo: HT 2008.0606 a-e

Material: timber, tin, brass, glass, felt, paint

Date Created: c. 1901

Physical Description:
The signal lamp casing is a black timber box (a) with removable lid and leather handle/strap. Underside of lid has "Directions for Trimming and Lighting Lamp Signalling". Signalling "B" typed on paper adhered to the wood. Wooden box has two compartments, one for the lantern and one for the lenses. Three glass lenses are wrapped in felt holders. One lense has (c) large broken section at its narrow end, another has broken completely at the (d) mid-section and third lense is intact (e). b: Lantern is a rectangular tin and brass box with openings at rear and top and large protruding circular lens at front. An extendable wooden handle folds down on top of the box over the maker's label. Circular lens/lamp opening at top of box with lid attached by link chain. The metal casing has been painted black at some point and much paint has worn away. Loose chips of paint are still being lost. There is considerable rust and flaking all over. Wooden box is stencilled "Signalling Lamp South Neptune" in white paint.

Documents work of the lighthouse keepers responsible for the Museum's Port Adelaide Lighthouse.

The lamp forms part of the equipment of the Museum's Port Adelaide Lighthouse during its time on South Neptune Island. The lighthouse was originally erected from a prefabricated kit (sent from London) at the entrance to the Port River in 1869. In 1901 it was moved to South Neptune Island where it stood until it was transferred to the Maritime Museum in 1985. See HT2005.852(m) for further information on the Port Adelaide Lighthouse. South Neptune Island is located at the bottom of Cape Spencer. The barren island had three keepers' cottages made of cement and rubble. The island lacked vegetation or a natural water supply and all supplies were shipped in from Adelaide. A new light was erected in 1985 measuring 5.2 metres (eight metres including lantern room). The new light was diesel powered and in mid-1990s the last lighthouse keepers were withdrawn and the lighthouse converted to solar power.