Close to the South Pole, Campbell Island is a godforsaken place in the wild southern ocean 700 kilometres south of New Zealand.

campbell3Bleak Campbell Island

Throughout the year, icy winds lash the desolate hills of this bleak place while a freezing black sea unrelentingly pounds the jagged rocks around the uninviting shores.  Measuring just 42 square miles in area, the tussock covered, mountainous landscape is windswept and frighteningly isolated.

Campbell Island is not a favoured place for human habitation!


Tucked away in Camp Cove, a small bay at the end of Perseverance Harbour, lies the forlorn remains of a small sod hut. Beside it, a flax bush once used as part of a windbreak survives, and, until the 1950s, a clump of Scottish heather grew by the door. Nearby, a small grave with a rusty iron cross stands as mute testimony to a sad life lost in this freezing part of the world. The grave holds the remains of Elizabeth Parr, the only woman to have lived alone on the island.

campbell54Lonely Grave on Campbell Island

So who was Elizabeth Parr? There are three stories about this mysterious woman that have fascinated people for over a hundred years. One story has her escaping from prison on Norfolk Island and joining a sealing ship that dropped her off on Campbell Island. Another claims she was a ‘ship girl’ who drowned in the icy waters around Campbell Island. However, the most enduring story tells us she was a beautiful teenaged Scottish lass who helped a gallant soldier plot the seizure of the English throne from King George. The plot was discovered and the hapless lover was captured and killed. Elizabeth was then arrested for being a spy and in 1810, she was deported to the brutal isolation of the southern islands at the bottom of the world. The authorities wanted her as far away from Britain as it was possible to go. She ended up onboard the “Perseverance” and during the long, hellish voyage south, she developed a fondness for Captain Hasselborough. The voyage ended when Hasselborough dropped anchor in the harbour he named after his ship. He dedicated the island to the company he worked for, Campbell & Co. It is believed sealers had been to the island before the arrival of the “Perseverance” but had abandoned it by the time the ship arrived.


The crew of the “Perseverance” had grown attached to the gentle and vulnerable Elizabeth and quickly built her a hut and stocked it with as much food as they could lay their hands on before leaving her to her lonely fate. As they sailed away, they watched her lonely figure as she wrapped her tartan shawl tightly around her slim body in a futile attempt to protect herself against the biting wind and driving rain. It would be the last time she would ever see another human being.


Elizabeth hunkered down in her little hut and for the next decade or so, she was the loneliest person on the planet. The freezing days of the long winters must have made her feel particularly lonely.

In 1828, a new batch of sealers set foot on the island and found Elizabeth’s skeleton on the hut’s floor. It was a poignant sight as they gazed down at her remains and noticed the clump of heather she still clasped in her bony hand! She had plucked it from the heather bush she had brought with her from Scotland and had planted during her lonely existence on the godforsaken island. A deep sadness overcame the men as they organised a proper burial with a small iron cross to mark the remains of the unfortunate soul.


In 1907, the New Zealand ship Amokura, a training vessel for young sailors, visited Campbell Island. Its mission was to check food supplies in a shelter which had been built at the turn of that century for the shipwrecked. Two of the crew who spent the night ashore in the shelter, claimed to have seen the ‘Lady of Campbell Island’  “I couldn’t get to sleep and when I looked through the small window of our hut, I saw two bright eyes staring in at me.” Harry Chappelle recalls, “I woke Reg and we went outside, and in the moonlight, saw the form of a woman in a shawl making her way to the top of the rise. We followed, carefully avoiding the cliff edge. The wild sea roared in the darkness below us. As we passed the grave, a long piercing scream rent the air and the macabre figure disappeared.”

Over the following years, this same ghost sighting was reported by shipwreck survivors forced to stay on the island. Did these men see the sad figure of Elizabeth Parr who even in death seeks the contact she so desperately missed while marooned alone on an island totally unfit for human habitation?  The three stories surrounding the identity of the only woman buried on this cold island agree her life was a sad, lonely one, the type of life nightmares are made of.


Sealers operated a small factory on the island in 1909 and operated for a few years but the stormy weather made work difficult and the men soon moved away. An attempt was made to establish farming but again, the weather drove people away and farming on the stormy island ended in 1931.

Over the years a number of people have drowned around the inhospitable coast of Campbell Island and sailors who have been there have spoken of other ghosts wandering around the windswept hills. Sighting the black cliffs of “the island of ghosts” as the sailors called it, sent shivers through them. However it’s the heart rending sadness of  Elizabeth Parr’s story that has captivated generations of people.


Campbell Island has just one tree growing on its gale blasted surface. The 10 metre high spruce is the most remote tree in the world. The nearest tree is 212 kilometres away on Auckland Island. It’s not known how the lonely tree got to grow here or who planted it. It is amazing it has managed to survive for 100 years in the hostile climate of this desolate island.

campbell 5tWorld’s Remotest Tree Campbell Island

In April 1992, Mike Fraser, a meteorologist doing research on the island, was attacked by a shark while snorkelling in the freezing water of  a Campbell Island bay. Not only is it the most southerly shark attack ever recorded, the helicopter that flew a 25 hour round trip of 1400 kilometres to rescue Mike and take him to a New Zealand hospital, is the longest flight ever made by a single engine helicopter. The two pilots and a paramedic who risked their lives undertaking the mercy flight in the Squirrel helicopter, were awarded bravery medals. In risking their lives, they saved the life of Mike Fraser.

Recently, a conservation hut was built on Campbell Island. The conservationists only stay for very short periods because of the brutal weather conditions.

Take a short trip to Campbell Island with this link:

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