Now an internationally recognised nature reserve, Campbell Island has a unique human history. The island was farmed, used as a base for sealers and whalers and served as a wartime coastal defence site.

Campbell Island was discovered in January 1810 by Captain Frederick Hasselburgh of the sealing brig 'Perseverance'. Hasselburg named the island after his employers Robert Campbell & Co. of Sydney.

On a visit later that year, Captain Hasselburg, along with two others, were drowned when their boat capsized in Perseverance Harbour. One of these was a woman called Elizabeth Farr who is buried on the island. This led to the myth of the "Lady of the Heather", the supposedly marooned daughter of bonnie prince Charlie.

Sealing and whaling

Sealing was the first industry on Campbell Island and once the seals were wiped out it was replaced by whaling. Campbell Island is one of the main breeding grounds for the southern right whales. At one time two whaling stations worked the islands, one in NW Bay and one in NE Harbour.

Introduced species

Rats were introduced soon after the islands discovery, and were well established at the time of the first scientific expedition to the island in 1840. By this time they had wiped out all the island's land birds. Sheep, goats and pigs had been introduced prior to 1895. However, it was after 1895 that rapid and widespread changes to Campbell Island’s vegetation occurred with the advent of farming.


Farming started on the island in 1895 with the lease going through several owners before it was finally abandoned in 1931. An unreliable transport system, accidents and a world-wide recession made farming uneconomic.

From 1894 it was farmed, and used for sealing and whaling, wartime coastal defence, and meteorological observation.

The first 400 sheep were released on the island in 1895. It was difficult to find shepherds who could cope with the isolation and a few years later men from the Shetland Islands off the north of Scotland were engaged to run the farm.

From the 1920s there were fewer ships to service the island and it became difficult to get enough supplies.

5000 sheep were liberated on the island in 1927 but falling meat and sheep prices meant that in 1931 John Warren, the last lease holder, left the island destitute. A large number of feral sheep were left behind.

Campbell Island became a reserve in 1954. Many of the feral sheep died out, and from 1970 the rest were progressively culled. The last remaining sheep were eliminated in 1992.

The history of the Campbell Island farm has not been fully documented, so contemporary personal accounts and diaries are extremely useful. Alfred Austin’s diary contains a daily record of two years from November 1919 to November 1921. It provides invaluable insight into sheep farming in an oceanic island setting, at the very margins of human settlement.

Further reading

"A musterer's sojourn on Campbell Island: the diary of Alfred Austin 1919-21" Preliminary pages (PDF, 341K). You can request the full book from the DOC Science Publishing team.


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