With the departure in 1978 of AW Triffit, the last pilot to live there, the Kiama Pilot’s Cottage was left vacant until the Kiama and District Historical Society took over the cottage as its headquarters in 1983.
Unfortunately over the years the cottage had lost much of its original character. Basalt walls had been rendered, cedar panels had been painted, chimneys demolished and the original front verandah had been enclosed. However thanks to the tireless efforts of Historical Society members, this Kiama landmark was renovated and restored in 1984-85. Today this attractive building houses a museum with many important and interesting exhibitions relating to Kiama’s history.
Construction on the Pilots Cottage commenced in 1880 with a contract awarded to Kiama builders, Watkin and Ettinghausen. The original building consisted of four rooms and a front verandah. The 18 inch thick walls are made of basalt rubble which was quarried from the pit where the tennis courts, adjacent to the cottage, are now located. All the interior woodwork is local Australian Red Cedar with local hardwoods for the rest, including the ironbark floors. The original cost of construction was ₤867/10/-.
In 1881, additions were made to the original dwelling with a wooden kitchen, another verandah and one large room added at the rear of the building. In the 1930’s a bathroom and laundry were built on the south east corner of the house. The first pilot in occupation was Thomas Tulloch who took up residence with his wife and five daughters early in 1881 and lived there until April, 1888. The duties of the Officer in Charge included the maintenance and operations of all structures and equipment associated with the shipping, weather reports, storm warnings and the closing of the harbour in bad conditions. He also had to collect fees, as Customs Officer, and he was in charge of the Life Saving Brigade.
Following is an extract from a letter written by Mrs Hilda Gibson (nee Miller), whose father, Robert Wardlow C. Miller, was the pilot from 1918 to 1938:
“My father had many duties. Firstly he had to send the weather report to Sydney every day, check on shipping entering the Harbour also fishing vessels, collect mooring fees and keep a log book of all comings and goings. He also had to train men in rescue work in case of ship wreck (of which there were several). The training took place at Storm Bay. My father had to fire a rocket and then man the Breeches and Buoy over Storm Bay which he did himself in case of mishaps. This was done about once a month. In those days the light house had gas cylinders and had to be lit every evening at dusk, earlier if the weather was bad……..There were several suicides when I was there, it was then he had to get his men and man the Life Boat, they used to put detonators in a bottle to endeavour to bring the body to the surface it was a depressing job.”
Remembrances from Jim Miller (brother of Hilda):
“During my father’s time Kiama was the most important Pilot Station out side Sydney. My father was on duty at all times…he was in charge of all shipping movements in and out of Kiama and had to decide if weather conditions were unsafe he would signal the ships from a flag pole near the present light house as there was no radio communication……some time these ships would arrive off Kiama at night and unexpected so their Captains would sound a loud whistle which woke us up and dad would have to hurry down and switch on the navigation lights….each day my father had to phone in a weather report, rainfall, wind direction and general weather condition.”
The cottage was used as a home and office for the Officers in charge of the Port for almost a century.
Duties of pilots:
(a) Organise and supervise the orderly movement of shipping in and out of the Basin, and their docking. Record all movements.
(b) Supervise the maintenance and repair of wharves and other features of the harbour.
(c) Operate and maintain the Pilot Station (Pilot's Cottage) as the headquarters of the Officer-in-Charge of the port of Kiama.
(d) Collect fees for harbourage, etc.
(e) Maintain and light navigation and other lights at the harbour and carry out the duties of lighthouse keeper.
(f) Send daily weather reports to Sydney - signal storm warnings.
(g) Take charge of Life Saving Brigade when ship is in distress.
Pilots-in-charge at Kiama:
||(1856 – 1858)
| Robert Stobo
|| (1858 – 1872) Before 1872 was Pilot-in-charge of moorings at both Kiama and Gerringong. He continued to hold this position at Gerringong after he was succeeded at Kiama by Thomas Tulloch.
| Thomas Tulloch
|| (1872 – 1888) Bringing his wife and five daughters, this Scot was the first Pilot who occupied the Cottage. Passing away in 1888, he is buried beside his wife at Kiama Cemetery.
| Captain William Fraser
|| (1888 – 1918) Born in the Shetland Islands, he was appointed Pilot at the age of 46. He succeeded his brother Robert, as pilot at Wollongong, retiring in 1920.
| Captain Robert Wardlaw Crawford Miller
|| (1918 – 1938) Born in Scotland, he served on land at Watsons Bay and Moruya before his appointment to Kiama. He retired on a pension of £104 p.a. and died in 1944.
| Captain Frank Hooper
|| (1938 – 1952) Took up residence with his wife Avis, son Lloyd, and daughter Joyee.
| Lionel Cuthbert
|| (1952 – 1953) Left the post suddenly under unusual circumstances.
| Harry Jorgensen
|| (1953 – 1955) Came out of retirement from Sydney to hold the position as relieving officer. He did not occupy the Pilot’s Cottage.
| Athol William Triffitt
|| (1955 – 1978) Born in Hobart in 1921, “Joe” retired in 1978, being the last Kiama Pilot, and consequently, the last Pilot to live in the Cottage.