Multi-disciplinary artist Anna Dalzell is drawing attention to someone who didn’t get enough of it. Elizabeth Farr was 14 when she drowned in the icy waters off Campbell Island more than 200 years ago. 

Elizabeth Farr was born in Sydney in 1794 to an Irish convict mother, and died as a young woman in the Subantarctic Islands. From her studio on Banks Peninsula, Anna Dalzell is building a sculpture in Farr’s memory.

She explains this as she paints, sands, carves, sews, draws, hoists – even chainsaws. Her sculpture is a combination piece, and includes a bronze head and bust, a redwood ship’s prow on which Farr sits, a white cotton dress and a mast made out of reclaimed totara (which Dalzell has dragged from a local beach).

As an infant, Farr was shipped to Norfolk Island – the cruellest penal colony of its time. At the age of 16 she found herself – either by being sold or hitching a ride – on a passing ship called the Perseverance.

“It’s presumed she was the ship’s girl of Captain Hasselberg,” Dalzell tells Frank Film. “He dropped a sealing gang on Campbell Island. They had got onto a little jolly boat, gone ashore and loaded up with skins, when a gust came off the hills and flipped their boat.”

Farr lies buried at the head of Perseverance Harbour on Campbell Island. “The men who dictated this woman’s life have got islands and ships named after them; she has nothing,” Dalzell says. “We’re giving her a little bit of a voice.”

Dalzell has been painting and drawing for over 20 years, but this is her first time sculpting. After almost a year of creating Farr, Dalzell’s finally ready to assemble and exhibit the piece. But things take a turn.

Farr was to be displayed at the Sculpture on the Peninsula exhibition in January 2022, a biennial event held in Lyttelton Harbour at the farm of Phillip King and Sarah Lovell-Smith. It was to be the final show but, tragically, on the eve of the festival, Covid alert levels struck again.

For the artists, the event was an opportunity to sell their work, with an auction on the opening night.

Dalzell is devastated. “Red light. Event cancelled.

“If this one sold,” she says, “that would help keep the wolves from the door for a while”.

The 2022 show had attracted 130 submissions, with 74 selected to exhibit. According to event co-host Lovell-Smith, the astounding interest from artists is testament to the strength of the New Zealand art scene.

Proceeds from ticket sales and gallery commissions raise a significant amount of money for Cholmondeley Children’s Centre in Governors Bay. “Up until the 2022 event, close to $750,000 had been donated,” King says.

But is a Covid cancellation really enough to hold back buyers of Dalzell’s tribute to Elizabeth?

Leave a comment