THE IRON POT Lighthouse Keeper 1874 - 1887

Special thanks for Dr. Finbar McCormick for allowing me to use this information

  James Cumine Parkinson was the Lighthouse keeper on the IRON POT Lighthouse 1874 until his death in 1887. This light is located at the entrance to the Derwent river South Arm Tasmania Australia. He was born in Ireland on the 1st Febuary 1832.His father was a clergyman of the Established Church of Armagh. James went to sea as a midshipman,he soon tired of the sea and went into the gold fields of Victoria in the 1850's. James married Christina Coates Upton in 1866.. He eventually he ended up in the colonies of Tasmania. He acquired the post as keeper on the light house 1874. From letters that he wrote to his mother in Ireland we have been able to understand what life on the lighthouse was like. .

  The photo below is Christina, They had four children Annie, Willy, George, and Maria. Mention is made of others but unable to find photo's of them. During the years they saw many changes to the lighthouse and in 1885 the old stone building was removed to make way for the new two story house.This consisted of 8 rooms, four 14 feet by 12 feet with 11 foot ceilings, New quarters were built for the assitant keeper.It was about this time that a new Colza burning unit was installed for the light. .

  Below the family Photo..Life seem to be quite good for them,, (going on the letters that he wrote to his family in Ireland during this period) He mentions how they grew potatoes, beans, cauliflowers, etc on a parcel of land that was leased by the marine board (7 Acres) from the farmers on South Arm.. from whom they bought Mutton and beef as required for 4pence and 6pence per LB. A favorite was making Cape Gooseberrie jam of which he sent to many people in other parts of the world..In those days they would row a boat across the river (5 Miles) to Piersons Point to visit Captain Harrison who was in charge of the pilot station there..On another trip they visited Christania's sister who had property in the hills above North West Bay.Leaving the lighthouse at 2am and arriving back at 7pm that evening. On this trip they brought back Strawberries and Rasberries from the small fruit farm.. .

Due to the river trading in those years they had many visits from people from Hobart, and be picked up by a passing boat any time they wish to visit Hobart. Great interest was taken in the arrival of vessels from England, and great concern when any were over due. It took anything from 70 to 118 days for a sailing ship to cover the distance in those days..Some mention is made in 1883 that steamers are running now so the time for arrival is now about seven weeks. They talk of several times the children having some kind of sickness, so they would have to go into Hobart to see a doctor at a cost of 10 shillings a visit. James Parkinson took ill himself in July 1887 Below is the reprint of a letter from the hospital.


General Hospital Hobart,
Jan 11th 1888
Dr.s.s.Parkinson (no relation to James)

In reply to a letter from Miss K. Parkinson asking for information about your brother J.C. Parkinson's illness I will tel you what I know.I was returning from a trip to Port Arthur in a small steamer, when we were hailed by a small boat off the Derwent Lighthouse, which contained your brother and his wife. He was taken on board and I saw he was very ill-feverish and short painfull cough-so I advised them to take him direct to hospital when we reach Hobart-and this was done.When in bed I found he was suffering from acute pneumonia the whole of the right lung being dull with the usual signs. Everything was done to stimulate and support him but he sank rapidly and died the next morning July the 13th 1887. I believe he had been ill on the lighthouse for a week or more but had remained at his post to long unfortunately

Yours Truly

C.J. Parkinson


During James time on the Lighthouse and in the letters to his mother (letter 213) he writes of the terrible loss of life with several ship wrecks.. The SS Gothenburg was wrecked on the great barrier reef (Friday 12th March 1885) 102 lives lost, those saved 12 crew and 10 passengers.. Another was the British Admiral wrecked on King Island (Monday June 1st 1884) 79 people lost 49 of these passengers and only nine survived.


Following the death of James Parkinson his Daughter, Annie writes(14th Oct 1887) that she is teaching at Primitive Methodist Church Sunday school in Hobart.
Click here for more on the history BY Dr. Finbar McCormick.

updated Friday 13th October 2000