Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Ghost of Point King Lighthouse, Albany, Western Australia




Following the Crimean War, British authorities had entered into a contract for a direct Royal Mail service packet from England to Australia, with Albany being the first port of call. Outlying islands and a narrow entrance to the harbour sometimes made navigation difficult. For this service to be successful, lighthouses needed to be constructed so that the lucrative mail-boats could arrive and depart from Princess Royal Harbour in safety. In the hope of bringing more passenger liners and mail ships to the Port of Albany, the Point King Lighthouse was built in 1858.

The British Government agreed to build two lighthouses - one at Point King and the other on Breaksea Island, with building commencing in 1857.  Point King shone its light for the first time on 1st of January 1858, with William Hill appointed as the first Keeper. Point King Lighthouse originally comprised a Keeper’s house which sat 47ft above the high water mark and was integral with the 17ft square, wooden tower fitted with an oil-fired light which was visible from 12 miles and required daily trimming of the lamp’s wick.

Lightkeeper positions unfortunately changed hands quickly and with inexperienced Lightkeepers being appointed, the lighthouse started to fall into disrepair.  Fortunately, this was remedied when Samuel Mitchell was appointed to the position in 1867 and remaining on-station until 1903 when he was replaced by John Gregory Reddin.  Reddin was to become the last resident Lightkeeper when it was decided in July 1911 that the Port Pilot Crew would be charged with the responsibility of trimming the light each night.  

The march of technology led to power being installed in 1913 and with the automation of the light, the wooden structure and equipment were neglected and deteriorated rapidly until the light sadly ceased to work.

During her service, the Point King Lighthouse guided hundreds of vessels into Albany’s harbour from 1858 and ghostly tales were whispered from time-to-time, of a man seen dripping salt water whilst making his way along the lighthouse passageway and climbing the ladder to the tower. Perhaps some long-dead Keeper felt drawn back to make his nightly inspections and trim the wicks?



Today, the lighthouse with the Keeper’s cottage is sadly a ruin which still sits nestled on the rocks below, but it has become a photographer’s haven with its backdrop of the rugged coastline and tales of John Gregory keeping it very much alive.  Stories tell of a ghostly old and bearded Lighthouse Keeper still on duty in a dark coat bearing brass buttons and wearing a black hat, with pipe in hand.  He has been seen to suddenly materialise on vessels as they headed into the harbour!

This story has been reinforced in the late eighties by the yachting family of Jennifer Smith, her husband and children, whilst sailing their yacht from Hamelin Bay to the Port of Albany.

On that occasion, the night was dark as the family approached Albany waters in a rising sea and wind.  They had become confused about the navigation lights and confronted with poor visibility, were unsure where to go.  Suddenly, a figure appeared on the bow of their yacht!

Jennifer described the vivid scene: 

'He wore a large dark coat with brass buttons in two rows down the front of his coat, his collar was pulled up and a flat black hat pulled down on his head. He had a short-cut beard and in his hand, a pipe. He nodded his head and his pipe at me and in that moment the harbour opened up before our eyes.'

Is this the ghost of John Reddin, the Lighthouse Keeper from 1903 to 1911, continuing with his nightly duty of making his customary inspections of the lighthouse?

Perhaps it is John Reddin protecting and guiding seafarers in distress?

We would all like to think that it is!