1900s Signal Station
Mt Nelson Signal Station RC Harvey 1923 (photograph: Harvey)

Mount Nelson Signal Station improvements

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People of all abilities can now enjoy the stunning views from the Mount Nelson Signal Station and lookout following the completion of a major landscaping project that included the creation of a new accessible pathway and car parking.

Other improvements include upgrades to the alfresco area of the café to provide additional seating. There are new concrete surfaces and a garden, a space for coaches to provide a safe place for passengers to disembark, and new stairs to the Signal Station. Extensive landscaping and planting was also undertaken.

The site captures a very important piece of Hobart’s early communication history and the spectacular panoramic views make it popular with locals and tourists alike.  

Apart from the magnificent view, what makes site so special?

Step back to 1811 – when French invasion of the new colony was a real concern. Governor Macquarie ordered that a flagstaff and guardhouse be erected on Mount Nelson within sight of Hobart Town to ‘announce the appearance of all ships and vessels entering the River Derwent.’ 

The site was selected by Governor Macquarie for ‘its extensive and noble prospects in every direction for a vast distance to the sea, as far as the eye can reach.’ A corporal’s guard was to be stationed to vigilantly keep watch at the signal post with a spy glass and ‘the necessary Flags and instructions for making Signals.’ 

The first sighting would come from an officer stationed on Betsy Island who, using smoke signals, would warn of any approaching ships. The Signalman at Mount Nelson would then report his sighting of the smoke to Hobart Town using the flags on the flagpole. The Signalman messaged details of each ship - their size, business and load (including convict transport and stores) long before they reached the port.

As the colony grew, internal communication improved, and the signal mast was extended to allow for the addition of semaphore arms as well as flags. Mount Nelson was the first in a chain of signal stations once linking Hobart with Port Arthur, and the flagpole enabled messages to be sent in a matter of minutes.

In the 1900s the Mount Nelson Signal Station received the first telephone call to be made in Tasmania from Hobart. Over time the signal mast was eventually replaced by electric telegraph, telephone then radio.

To help visitors understand the role and function of the site, the small Lookout House contains upgraded displays, signal flags and photographs. The hardwood signal mast (approximately 28m high) was replaced as the previous one had decayed beyond repair. 

The installation of two new telescopes allow visitors to try their hand at identifying modern ships approaching the city.  

The improvements at the Mount Nelson Signal Station and lookout provide a great starting point for visitors to enjoy the views, take in some of Hobart’s earliest history, and enjoy a bite to eat or a picnic, before enjoying a bushwalk through Truganini Reserve. 

The 130 hectare reserve is situated on protected native bushland and is the site of the Truganini Memorial, dedicated to Tasmanian Aboriginal people. From the reserve visitors can take a 90-minute return walk from the Signal Station to the Channel Highway at Taroona.​​