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  • taniapanozzoworral

Shine bright like a diamond

Updated: Jul 23, 2021

In June 1880, Eric the Red left New York harbour for the other side of the world. Aboard the three-mast wooden ship was precious cargo: among its 3000 tons were many meticulously packaged exhibits, artefacts and designs to take top billing at the Melbourne Exhibition. But 85 days of smooth sailing came to an abrupt end as the ship, with a crew of 24 plus two passengers miscalculated its vicinity to Cape Otway, despite the 21 original Argand oil lamps guiding them to shore and hit the reef at 1am, and again shortly after, when the ship broke up and sank in 12 minutes. Four people drowned and the remaining passenger and crew took to the boat or managed to cling onto wreckage. The Keepers and Telegraph Station staff searched the surrounding coastline for survivors. The sight they were met with is described in the Melbourne Argus on September 6th.

‘No wreckage came ashore at the Cape. Carried by the current and propelled by the wind, the remaining portions of the hull and an immense quantity of wreckage floated on to Point Franklin. I visited that point in the afternoon and saw a melancholy spectacle. This point is low land, and the beach was covered with debris piled several feet high, kerosene tins and timber being the most prominent objects. The ground is almost white with kerosene tins. There was a strong smell of kerosene, and the water lying in holes amidst the boulders bears on its surface much oil. Some of the cases, but not many, came ashore intact and there is an immense quantity of unbroken tins lying high and dry. It is surprising how so many escaped being smashed by this rocky coast. At Franklin Point, nearly the whole side of the vessel, about 200 feet in length, has been washed onto the rocks…pieces of American chairs, croquet balls, axes, tons of red pine wood, rat traps, American clocks, large Bibles, illustrated, are all piled together in one mass, and everything smells of kerosene…coils of wire of several descriptions, barrels of nails, and amongst other things observable are two small fly wheels with the word Sydney painted on them.’

The story of Eric the Red is historically significant as one of Victoria’s major 19th century shipwrecks. As we learnt on our recent visit to the Cape Otway Lightstation, it led to the provision of an additional warning light placed below the lighthouse to alert mariners to the location of Otway Reef. The site is also archaeologically significant for its remains of a large and varied cargo and ship’s fittings being scattered over a wide area.

The lighthouse itself the oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia, built in 1848, and known as the Beacon of Hope. Hundreds of lives were lost along the shipwreck coast – a sad but fascinating history which led to the building of the Lightstation on the cliffs edge. But for many thousands of 19th century migrants, who spent months travelling to Australia by ship, Cape Otway was their first sight of land after leaving Europe, Asia and North America.

The story of Eric the Red is only one of many Tales of the Cape ready to be discovered.


Yes, stay at the lighthouse! We loved having the grounds to ourselves once the gates were closed, free to walk, photograph and watch the sun set on the Southern Ocean. These are the choices:

Lightkeeper's Cottages, a homely heritage property that can sleep up to 16 guests – great for group stays and large families.

Lighthouse Lodge, fully self-contained and newly renovated, it can sleep up to 15 guests in warm, cosy surroundings.

Lightstation Studio, you can’t get any better than a beautifully renovated studio apartment to sit back, relax and take in the tranquil surroundings of Cape Otway.

Breakfast, including cereal and milk, toast and jam are supplied. With the nearest supermarket or cafes/restaurants at Apollo Bay, we pre-ordered a picnic hamper featuring local produce (including Prickly Moses Cider) for dinner. Just pick it up at the cafe on site before 4pm.

If overnight isn't an option, a sidetrip during a Great Ocean Road getaway is worth it. General admission includes a self-guided experience to explore the following, with history guides at the Lighthouse and at the Aboriginal Talking Hut:

  • Daily History Talks at 11am & 2pm (limited to 10 people)

  • Native Plant Talks at 12noon and 3pm (limited to 10 people)

  • 1848 Cape Otway Lighthouse – Climb the tower. (limited to 10 people at one time)

  • 1850’s Keeper’s Quarters and Workshop

  • 1859 Telegraph Station

  • The Talking Hut

  • WWII Radar Bunker

  • Whale Interpretation Site

  • Lightkeeper’s Cafe 10am – 4pm

  • Souvenir Shop

Prices are: Adult $18.50; Child (age 5 -16 years) under 5 years no charge $7; Seniors/Student/Concession $16.50; Family Pass (2 adults & up to 4 children aged 5-16 years) $47.00


Since our stay in September 2020, the Cape Otway Lightstation is facing the threat of closure, due to failed negotiations with the State Government over a long-term lease, and the lack of tourism during the Covid pandemic.

If you would like to support the fight to preserve this vital part of our Australian history, and secure the jobs of the 26 permanent staff, follow the link below to sign a petition and raise awareness.

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