Thomas McKee was a sailor who had captained many a sailing vessel and he understood the ways of wind and sea having roamed far from his native Britain. As he and his wife Susannah grew older, life on land had an increasing attraction and Thomas had taken a job with the Queensland lighthouse service as a lighthouse keeper. Now the couple were about to make their home on the small, coral cay called Lady Elliot Island. Usually the head keeper brought his family and although there was sufficient accommodation for three families, many of the keepers were single men.
The guano miners had stripped the island of most of its vegetation and topsoil but during the years between the building of the lighthouse and Thomas and Susannah’s arrival, keepers had planted trees and other vegetation around the houses although for most of its area the island remained bleached white coral rubble.
As their tender approached the small atoll, the low buildings and the white lighthouse tower stood starkly above the bleak bleached bones of this once lush tropical paradise. The wind blew from the south east with an unwavering determination for out here the wind is lord and only those who learn to live with it survive. This lighthouse station was a bleak lonely place, far from any civilisation, blasted by wind, sun and rain.
Susannah missed her family and in coming to the island had lost her purpose. Soon she began to suffer from what today we would call depression and yearned to draw her husband back to civilisation. Slowly but inexorably the loneliness, the hot bright light, the roaring wind and the mournful night cries of the Shearwaters worked on her mind until finally on the 23rd April 1907, in black despair she dressed in her Sunday best and walked fully clothed into the sea. Dragged down by the heavy clothing and tumbled by the waves and current she soon drowned and by the time her rescuers arrived she was already beyond help.
homas buried his wife just behind the lighthouse and the sad and lonely lady who could not escape the island in life remains trapped there in death. It has been said for years that Susannah still walks between the lighthouse and the houses carrying a lamp, begging her husband to leave but as in life, her ghostly pleading was in vain.
For one hundred and five years men toiled so that the old lighthouse shone bright and clear but in 1988 it was automated and the last of the keepers left. The island was revegetated and soon the trees began to obscure the light so a new taller tower was built and a new light beaming its message some 40 kilometres out to sea.
lmost immediately it was noticed that the loom or beam of a light emanating from
far out to sea could be seen from the island. Strangely the light mirrored exactly
the new light of the island with its anti-
t is said that the light loom can only be seen from Lady Elliot Island and perhaps the strange phantom beam has a scientific explanation. Perhaps though, Susannah’s spirit, washed far out to sea by the currents powers the loom, still calling her husband away from the island to free her spirit from her agony of isolation and the desperate loneliness that led to her death.
© Brisbane March 2006