Montague Island Lighthouse Cemetery


Montague Island is about 80 hectares in size and nine kilometres offshore from the township of Narooma, NSW. You can only visit the island via a tour (approximately 4 hours and well worth taking) with a guide provided and run by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS]. The island is now a nature reserve.

The lighthouse was built in 1881 and in 1986 it was converted to solar power. The original light for the lighthouse is now on view in the Narooma Lighthouse-Visitors Centre.

There is one small cemetery on the island, set well away from the lighthouse and buildings and reached by via a dirt track. The cemetery is well cared for and contains two graves, surrounded by a white fence and a metal plaque set in front of the graves providing information on the burials as one of the headstones is now badly weathered.

The graves are for three of the family members of staff at the lighthouse in the late 1880s. Two children are in one grave and a single burial in the other. These graves represent the real isolation problem involved with these old lighthouses in that medical help could not be obtained for the three due to the rough seas and being able to contact the mainland (or passing ships) for help.

The two children were part of the family of the lighthouse keeper, John BURGESS, and his wife, Isabella (O'DELL). It is believed that one may have died from meningitis, but with no doctor being able to attend, the death certificate notes the cause as "Unknown"

* BURGESS, John Sydney O'Dell; Died 9th July, 1888, buried 11th July, 1888, aged 2 years and 10 months. The length of illness was noted as 3 days.

* BURGESS, Isabella Millicent; Died 24th January, 1890, Buried 25th January, 1890, aged 1 years and 8 months. Cause of death noted as "Whooping Cough".

The Cobargo Watch newspaper on the 29th December, 1894 ran an article     using information provided by Mrs John Burgess, mother of the two children, noting the problems of getting help for isolated lighthouse people. Ships did not respond to their distress fares and there was no cable or signal station on the island for communication with the mainland.

* TOWNSEND, Charles; Died 1st December, 1894, Buried 4th December, 1894, aged 37 years.

Charles Townsend was the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, married with 5 children. He was born at Holdbeach, Lincolnshire, England and married Ellen Young in Sydney. He unfortunately died when he was transporting goods delivered to the island by ship and the cart overturned and fell on him when the horse bolted. The inquest into his death was run by John Burgess, Marine Captain and Lighthouse Keeper.

The island has colonies of seals and a large bird population including sea eagles. The lighthouse was demanned in 1987 but rangers from the NSW NPWS are on the island on a rotating basis maintaining it and involved with the island's preservation. There island also has a great aboriginal significance for the Walbanga and Djiringanj tribes.

If you plan to visit the island it well worth taking the free tour of the Narooma Lighthouse Museum in the Visitor's Centre. It provides an excellent overview and history of the island.

David Weatherill
Bundoora, Victoria, Australia


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