Beacon Tower | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Beacon Tower

Item details

Name of item: Beacon Tower
Other name/s: Lead Light Tower
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Water
Category: Beacon
Primary address: 76 Tyrrell Street, The Hill, NSW 2300
Local govt. area: Newcastle
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
76 Tyrrell StreetThe HillNewcastle  Primary Address
36 Brown StreetThe HillNewcastle  Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

The Beacon Tower, also known as the Lead Light Tower, has historic and aesthetic significance for its close association with Newcastle's maritime history and navigation within the port of Newcastle. Its presence is a physical reminder of 19th century Newcastle, when the main line of communication to Newcastle was via the sea and when in-harbour navigation was guided by using this structure as one of two reference points. Sitting atop The Hill, it remains an important local landmark in Newcastle. The landmark structure was designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet, and constructed by a local builder under the supervision of Clerk of Works Mortimer Lewis Jnr. It was extended to its present 20meter height in 1877.
Date significance updated: 05 Jun 13
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: James Barnet with Morimer Lewis Jr supervising architect
Builder/Maker: William Dart
Construction years: 1865-1877
Physical description: Beacon Tower is located on the corner of Tyrrell and Brown Street. It is a solid masonry structure, 7 brick courses wide at the base (900mm thick walls at the base), with joint material of Portland cement, which is cement rendered with ashlar banding and painted. Originally there was a gas lantern securely fixed at the top. The whole structure is cylindrical in form with a castellated parapet which gives it a medieval appearance. It has several small openings which were designed to emit the light.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The tower has no roof and the ground level entry has been sealed. The interor is modified and there is no internal stair access to to the top of the tower. The only means of inspecting the interior is via a cherry picker.
Date condition updated:23 Apr 08
Modifications and dates: Beacon Tower was extended in 1877 to a height of 20m.


Historical notes: Beacon Tower was one of two towers erected in 1865 to be used as a navigational aid. Beacon Tower was initially 7m high but it was rebuilt in 1877 to 20m as a result of a parsonage built nearby, lower down the hill, which obscured the view of the tower from the harbour. The parsonage has since been demolished. Beacon Tower was designed by colonial architect James Barnet. Another navigational work for which Barnet was responsible was the Macquarie Lighthouse on South Head (ADB online).

The base of the other navigational tower remains in the front yard at 54b Perkins St, which is 70 metres away. Beacon Tower displayed a white light, while the other tower supported a red light, and by aligning the two towers, navigators could steer through the heads (EJE Architecture, p. 32).These lights were criticised by mariners, who argued that they were too close together, and that ships could stray up to 200ft from the main centre of the channel before the lights seemed to open. After the loss of a number of ships on the Oyster Bank, the lights became known as the 'misleading lights' and were not trusted by mariners. Although there was continual pressure on the government for new lights, they were not replaced until 1917. In 1917, new steel frame light towers were erected further down the hill in Church Street as well as on the harbour foreshore (EJE Architecture, p.32).

Other navigational devices for entering Newcastle which existed at the same time as the Beacon Tower were the Obelisk, which is still extant on Obelisk Hill, a navigation point on Flagstaff Hill, and Nobby's lighthouse at Nobby's Head which was constructed in 1854. The use of visual markers for navigation in the mid 19th century was common to harbours up and down the east coast. Newcastle was a heavily used and significant port for vessels under sail and steam by this time, and as such, navigational devices were essential. (Emma Dortins, 2006, p. 185).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Beacon Tower has historical significance at a local level because it is closely associated with Newcastle's maritime history. Its presence on The Hill is a physical reminder of 19th Newcastle, when the main line of communication to Newcastle was via the sea and when in harbour navigation was guided by using this structure as one of two referee points.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Beacon Tower is associated with the development of the port of Newcastle and the need to improve the safety of the harbour entry for ships coming into the port. It has associational significance with the development of the port.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Due to its construction as a navigational device, Beacon Tower is naturally a prominent feature when approaching the harbour. Its medieval style gives it a striking presence especially in its current residential location. Beacon Tower has local technical significance as an example of the navigation system of the 19th century in Newcastle Harbour.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Beacon Tower has the potential to add value to research on the navigational technology and port infrastructure of the 19th century in Australia. It also has the potential to be of interest for architectural historians as unusual example of the work of James Barnet.
SHR Criteria f)
The Beacon Tower is one of only a handful of navigational beacons based on a system of traingulation that is known to survive on the NSW East coast. It is considered to be rare at the state level as an example of a Lead Light Tower.
Integrity/Intactness: From what could be observed externally, Beacon Tower is intact. It was not possible to ascertain the integrity or intactness of the interior and whether the light still remains.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanNewcastle Local Environmental Plan 2012I60715 Jun 12 64 
Heritage study     
National Trust of Australia register      
Register of the National Estate     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Newcastle Heritage Study1990279Unknown  Yes
Review of Items of Potential State Significance in the Newcastle City Area2008 Sue Rosen and Associates Heritage Assessment And History (HAAH)Julia Kensy, Emma Dortins and Rosemary Kerr Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenEJE Architecture2007Section 170 Register: Newcastle Port Corporation
WrittenEmma Dortins2006South Head Thematic History in South Head - draft conservation management plan,
WrittenUniversity of Melbourne and ADB Australian Dictionary of Biography Online

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2170279
File number: 279

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