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Montague Island
- European History

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Montague Island - European History
Montague Island was sighted by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770, although he mistakenly thought it was the tip of a cape extending from Mount Dromedary. It was discovered to be an island by the master of the the convict ship ‘Surprise’ in 1790 and later named after George Montagu Dunk, Earl of Halifax.

The island was visited several times by shipwrecked sailors (Pacey, 1991). During the mid-nineteenth century goldrush at Nerrigundah, the island was harvested for sea bird eggs to sell to the miners at the Gulf Mine on Mount Dromedary (Gibbney, 1989).

The coastline saw an increase in foreign and coastal shipping trade during the 1880s. Finally in 1878 the construction of the lightstation commenced, although the light was not finally lit until 1881.

Lightstation on Montague Island.

The lighthouse itself was created using the granite on the island. Granite was a valuable building material in the late 1800s, and as well as being used to build the lighthouse, it was also shipped to Sydney and used in some of the extensions of the General Post Office. Rubble from the quarrying on Montague Island was used to build a wharf on the island.

Located in a sheltered cove some 500 m south of the present day jetty, the rubble landing stage was used to offload supplies. This system saw the lightstation’s whaleboat rowed over the rubble wharf at high tide to be unloaded later when the water level fell. It operated through until 1896, when a timber wharf was built to provide a more conventional landing platform.

The granite-strewn track between the lighthouse and Old Jetty Bay was a perilous pathway in the the late 1800s. In 1894, one of the lightkeepers, Charles Townsend, died when the horse pulling the cart he was driving along this track bolted. The cartwheel struck a granite boulder on the track edge and Townsend was thrown into the air to land stomach first across the side of the cart-tray. He died soon after from injuries he received in the fall and was buried on the island.

The early lightkeepers lived an isolated lifestyle, dependent on boats and the rudimentary signalling systems for contact with the mainland. Keepers and their families had to be self-sufficient and depended on livestock such as chickens, milking cows, goats and rabbits, as well as the produce from their garden. Seabird eggs were also harvested from the island.

Trips to the island by locals and tourists for picnicking, fishing and shooting were very popular until the 1953, when the island became a reserve under National Trust protection. During the 1890s, there were several large public excursions to the island of up to 200 people at a time (Pacey, 1991).

When a black marlin was caught off Montague Island in 1993, big game fishing began in Australia. During the 1930s, it is believed that several fishing shacks existed on the western shore, although no evidence remains of these today.

The first recorded scientific visit to the island was by amateur ornithologist A. F. Basset Hull in 1907, with other visits following. Members of the National Trust became regualar visitors from the 1950s onwards as were visits by CSIRO scientists, working in a private capacity, from the early 1960s.

The Royal Australian Navy operated a defence facility on the island during the Second World War, but details of its purpose have yet to be revealed.

Source: Montague Island Nature Reserve, Plan of Management (November 1995)
- NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
and Montague Island Conservation Plan (Feary and Constable, 1992)

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