Raine Island is situated approximately 600 kilometres north-west of Cairns and around 120 kilometres east-north-east of Cape Grenville, with the island’s name said to derive from its rain drop shape. Whether or not this is the true basis for the island’s name, Raine Island is recorded as being the location of the oldest European structure in tropical Australia, this being a stone beacon, dating from 1844.
The area surrounding Raine Island was especially dangerous for early shipping with more than thirty shipwrecks occurring in the vicinity by the middle of the nineteenth century. The most famous of these is the wreck of HMS Pandora. As a consequence of this on-going danger to shipping, a stone beacon was constructed by convict labour in 1844, on the orders of the British Admiralty. The stone used to construct this beacon was sourced on the island, with the timber needed being salvaged from shipwrecks, as well as shells being burnt to provide lime for the mortar. This was to be a major undertaking, with construction taking approximately four months. Although the beacon never served officially as a lighthouse, it was visible for more than thirteen nautical miles. The structure was designed by Mr. Moore, the carpenter on HMS Fly, stands at more than twelve metres in height and is approximately nine metres in diameter. Originally a wooden dome was affixed to the top of the tower, covered by painted canvas. As well, there were three storeys inside the structure, connected by ladders. A storage tank, believed to have been salvaged from the ship Martha Ridgeway, wrecked in 1842, was also built in with pipes leading from the roof, ensuring that fresh water would be available.
Over time, the structure deteriorated due to climatic conditions and natural erosion. In 1994, the Raine Island Corporation carried out extensive repairs as well as undertaking on-going maintenance, ensuring its longer term preservation. The beacon is considered to be one of the most important historical monuments in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and, in acknowledgement of its important place in Queensland’s history and development, is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register.
This image shows the Raine Island beacon, prior to its restoration by the Raine Island Corporation.
Brian Randall, Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland