Cape Bowling Green lighthouse was built 70 km south of Townsville in 1874, when the colony of Queensland was booming with gold rushes and sugar production. The increased coastal traffic associated with the boom resulted in shipping accidents on the sand shoals around Cape Bowling Green and the need for a lighthouse to assist safe navigation.
The lighthouse was one of a series developed by Queensland's colonial government to suit the region's needs, using a hardwood frame prefabricated locally, clad with iron plates imported from Britain. Its original third-order dioptric lens, built by Chance Brothers, was powered by kerosene and rotated by a clockwork chain gear and weight. It was upgraded in 1913 to pressurised kerosene and mantle, increasing the output from 13,000 to 64,000 candle power.
In 1920 an automatic acetylene light, with a bottled fuel supply switched on by a sun valve, was installed. A valve now controlled the gas supply, replacing the clockwork rotating mechanism. At night the light gave a characteristic 'group flashing' signature of four half-second flashes followed by 15 seconds of dark. In 1983 two red bands were painted round the tower to increase daytime visibility.
In 1987 Cape Bowling Green lighthouse was replaced by a modern automatic device, and was transferred to the museum by the Department of Transport.
It was dismantled over 18 days by the crew of the Commonwealth lighthouse tender MV CapeMoreton, with support from a helicopter and pilot. Its components were transferred to Sydney on a naval vessel, HMAS Stalwart. It was conserved and reconstructed at the museum with sponsorship from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and reopened on the museum's North Wharf in 1995. It has been fitted with the type of clockwork and kerosene mechanism used in 1913.