Despite being ‘home’ to more than 170 staff and their families throughout the ages, Cape Otway Lightstation only housed a very small community at any given time.
For most of its operational life, the Lighthouse was staffed by a Head Keeper and two Assistant Keepers; each with a family. Occasionally there was also a fourth Keeper. When the Telegraph Station was in operation from 1859 until 1902, there was also a Chief Operator and his family plus an Assistant living at the Cape Otway Lightstation.
Some had large families. Head Keeper Henry Bayles Ford and his wife Mary were at the Cape for 30 years (1848-78). They had nine children; seven of whom were born at the Cape Otway Lightstation. Joseph Edward Kelsall; Chief Operator at the Telegraph Station (1869-84) and his wife Frances also had nine children.
A State School was established at the Telegraph Station with a salaried teacher from 1881 until 1933 and again in the 1960’s. The teacher lodged with the Keepers.
Families living at the station had to be self-sufficient and as resilient as possible. In effect, the community ran a small farm, in addition to their official duties.
For the first 66 years, supplies arrived by sea every six to twelve months and landed six kilometres away at the Parker River. From the early 20th Century onwards, the Cape Otway community was supplied overland every three months. Whether by sea or by train from Lavers Hill, their supplies then had to be transported by bullock dray to the Cape Otway Lightstation. The first motor vehicle did not reach the Cape until 1932. Supplies often ran low and when replenishments arrived, the community described it as being like Christmas Day.
Although electricity arrived in the late 1930’s, it was just a diesel-powered generator for the Lighthouse and some of the accommodation.
In 1962 the arrival of mains electricity made a big difference to the lives of those at Cape Otway.
The last Keeper to call the Cape ‘home’; Peter Scott, left the Cape Otway Lightstation in January 1994 when the tower Lighthouse was decommissioned and replaced by the fully automated light beacon.