Moon signals at Bustard Head

Wednesday 17 July 2013

I found this in the Queensland Figaro news­paper, 24 September 1903. The same story also ran in the Launceston Examiner, the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, the Melbourne Argus, the Hobart Mercury, the Zeehan & Dundas Herald, and the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin:

Moon signals

It was while
locum tenens at the rectory of Gladstone, Queens­land (says a writer in Chambers’ Journal for August) that I became aware that moon-signals could be used in the same way as those of the sun. It was my duty to go to Bustard Head Lighthouse every few months to hold service and visit the Sunday-school and people of the sta­tion. I usually went by land, and rode 30 miles to Turkey Station; and as soon as I arrived Miss Maud Worthington, the daughter of the station owner, would at once helio­graph the news of my arrival at Bustard Head, and enquire by use of an 8 in looking glass at what time a horse could be sent to meet me on the other side of the swampy ground, over which it was wiser to walk. There I was met by Mr Rookesby and his wife, who piloted me to the lighthouse station. Mr Rookesby is a well-known inventor in Queens­land. He erected the heliograph between Turkey Station and the lighthouse, but failed to make communication with Gladstone, 84 miles off, either because an 8 in mirror was too small, or because of other conditions peculiar to the lie of the country. He then experimented with signalling by moonlight, and discovered that​—​notwithstanding the feeble light of the moon as compared with sunlight​—​owing to the darkness of the night, the moon’s reflections were quite powerful enough to carry the intervening 10 miles between the two stations.

A heliograph, of course, is a gadget for sending text messages by using a mir­ror to reflect the sun’s (or moon’s) rays towards the person receiving the message. By pivoting the mir­ror back and forth the operator can send a series of long and short flashes to transmit the message by Morse code.


My father, Signalman Stanley Marquis-Kyle, operating a Royal Australian Navy heliograph. The photo may have been taken around 1942–43 on Magnetic Island near Towns­ville, where he was attached to the RAN sig­nal station. Note the navy issue protective clothing. (Since writing that caption I have been told this picture does not show Magnetic Island. My best guess is that it was taken somewhere in Moreton Bay (Moreton Island?) perhaps pre-war, when Stan was in the Naval Reserve.)

filed under History + Lighthouses + Technology

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More about the heliograph
Rained-in at Nobby's Head
Peter Garrett and Nobby's Head
Lesley Marquis-Kyle 1923-2010

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