The Low Head Light Station was established in 1833. The original lighthouse was the second lighthouse in Tasmania and the third in Australia. The Light Station has been developed over a period of 170 years and includes a suite of buildings including the light house, various residential quarters, a fog horn building, former stables, workshops, a meteorological recording station and garages.
Low Head is associated with the earliest phases of European exploration and settlement in northern Tasmania. The current Low Head Lighthouse is located on the eastern side of the entrance to the Tamar River in Tasmania, about six kilometres north of Georgetown and fifty nine kilometres from Launceston. It was built in 1888, replacing an older lighthouse that was erected on this site in 1833.
The first recorded Europeans to enter the Tamar River were Bass and Flinders in 1798. Flinders noted that 'the entrance is certainly a dangerous one'. In 1804 Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson established the first proper settlement in the region, relocating settlers and convicts from Norfolk Island and soon intermittent pilot services were established. By 1806, there were a total of 276 people around Port Dalrymple. The community was dependent for its very survival upon the safe passage of vessels from Bass Strait into the mouth of the river.
Low Head has played a fundamental role in the navigation of shipping in the Tamar River since these times, when the first navigational beacons were positioned in the channels at the mouth of the Tamar and a flagstaff was erected on the headland at Low Head. The construction of the first Low Head Lighthouse commenced in 1833 from a design by Colonial Government Architect, John Lee Archer which came as a result of a recommendation by the Government Committee for Pilotage in 1826.
Built predominantly of locally quarried stone, the tower was the only one of its type in Tasmania that incorporated two rooms at the base for keepers' accommodation. It was powered by a fixed light comprised of 25 small whale oil lamps with reflectors. These were replaced in 1835 by a new revolving lantern. The original Lighthouse was demolished in 1888.
The present lighthouse was completed later in 1888, at a cost of 1800 pounds for the tower and internal iron staircase. It was built to a design by the architect Robert Huckson. The lighthouse was provided with a light apparatus that comprised several panels of tin parabolic reflectors, each one fitted with an oil wick lamp, and mounted on a framework that was rotated at slow speed by a weight driven clockwork mechanism. In 1916, this apparatus was replaced by a revolving Chance Bros 375mm focal radius triple flashing apparatus and a 55mm incandescent kerosene burner, effectively increasing the power of the light from 2 000 to 90 000 candelas. A cast iron table pedestal and a mercury float pedestal were also installed in the lower lantern house.
In 1941, the light was converted to electric operation and the kerosene apparatus replaced by a 500-watt electric lamp, which provided a fourfold increase in the light's intensity. At the same time an electric motor was installed to rotate the lens in place of the clockwork mechanism. The light was further modernized in around 1988. The building that is now referred to as the 'Old Quarters' was probably constructed during the 1880s or early 1890s. It may have been built as the First Assistant's Quarters, which is known to have been erected in 1891. It is currently used as an interpretive display centre, with one room set aside as a generator room for the lighthouse.
The lightstation precinct also contains a number of other buildings including the former Head Keeper's Quarters, built in 1891, and later used as Assistant Keeper's Quarters, Head Keeper's Quarters, built in 1941, and Assistant Keeper's Quarters, built in 1916. In 1929, the fog signal building was constructed. Uniquely, its signal apparatus remains substantially intact and in working order.
The lighthouse is owned and operated by the Australian Marine Safety Authority, while the remainder of the Light Station is managed by the Parks and Wildlife Service. The whole of the site is listed on the Register of the National Estate and on the Tasmanian Heritage Register.