Historical information

Lid for ship's tanks used for early domestic water storage (1860's) at the lightstation The water tank and lid are probably from the same unit that was used for transporting
drinking water or perishable dry goods on ships. The unit comprised a large, riveted metal tank which was fitted with a heavy cast iron round lid to form a hermetically sealed container. It had a rubber sealing ring ‘which was screwed tight with the aid of lugs cast into the lid and wedges cast into the rim of the loading hole’. A raised iron rod welded across the outer face of many lids allowed for screwing the lid tight. Ship tanks were invented in1808 by notable engineer, Richard Trevithick and his associate John Dickinson. Their patent obtained the same year described the tank’s superior cubic shape that allowed it to fit squarely as a container in ships and thus use space efficiently, while its metal fabric preserved and secured its contents, whether liquid or solid, from damage. The containers revolutionised the movement of goods by ship and made wooden casks redundant. Research by Michael Pearson has determined that they were carried on passages to Australia from at least the 1830s, conveying ships’ victuals and water storage as well as general goods heading for the colonies, and by the 1870s they were in common use. Once in the colonies, the tanks were often recycled and adapted for many resourceful uses such as water tanks, packing cases, dog kennels, oil containers and food stores and this invariably led to the separation of the lid and tank. Raised lettering on the lids indicates that nearly all of the ship tanks transported to Australia came from London manufacturers, and it was usual also for the brand name to feature as a stencil on the associated square tank but in most cases this eventually wore off. It is not known if the Wilsons Promontory tank retains its stencil, and the heavy lid will need to be turned over to reveal its manufacturer’s name. How it came to the lightstation is also not known, but it was either brought to the
site as a recycled tank or salvaged from a shipwreck. Pearson writes that Ship tanks show up at a wide range of sites, many of them isolated like lighthouses. They were, I think, usually taken there for the purposes they filled, usually water storage, as they were readily available, relatively light to transport, and probably very cheap to buy as second‐hand goods containers. In rural areas they may have been scavenged for their new uses from local stores, to whom goods were delivered in them. Recycled to serve as a water tank, the Wilsons Promontory tank is the last surviving example of several that were used at the site to hold water for domestic consumption. The tank has had its lid removed and a tap fitted to the one of the sides. It stands on concrete blocks next to a building to receive water running off the roof via a metal pipe. Wilsons Promontory is the only lightstation managed by Parks Victoria with a tank container, although Cape Otway and Point Hicks have lids. Parks Victoria has identified four other lids which include two at Point Hicks, one manufactured by Lancaster and Co. the other by Bellamy. Cape Otway also has two, one unidentified and the other by the Bow Tank Works, East London, which produced tanks between 1910 and 1930. Pearson notes that ‘surviving lids are far less numerous than the tanks themselves, presumably because the uses to which the tanks were put did not require the lid to be retained’.


The tank and lid, which are possibly part of the same unit, have first level contributory significance for their historic values and rarity.

Physical description

Round ship's tanks lid, iron.