Auction Highlight Spring 2014 Annie J Campbell

This sketch of a Kimberley native on Rottnest Island in 1897 weaves an intricate story of life in Western Australia in the late 19th century. Not only is this image indicative of life as a prisoner on Rottnest Island at the time, it also incited the story of its artist Annie Jane Hope Campbell, a young and single Irishwoman travelling the arid countryside.

Little record is maintained of the artist in question; however, she was referred to in her lifetime as a model for young Australian females interested in pursuing a career in illustration. Before she arrived in WA Annie Campbell recieved a Masters Certificate from the Royal College of Art, London. It is believed she had contacts in WA and family in Melbourne.

Annie Campbell traversed the state from Kalgoorlie to the Kimberly and is noted in varying publications across the country for her illustrations and contributions. In 1916 she won a national recruitment poster prize among hundreds of entrants for her poster “Come Lads; Give Us a Spell” signed and submitted under the pseudonym ‘Boz’, initially believed to be a man until Cambell later revealed herself as the winning artist, much to the surprise and amusement of the public. She continued to contribute numerous posters to society during the interwar years while living in Melbourne.

During this time Annie Campbell was a distinguished member of the Melbourne Lyceum Club, a club for female graduates and other women who have gained notoriety for their contributions to the arts, philanthropy and public service. She remained a member until her untimely death in 1920.

Lot 57 Annie J Campbell – Sketch of a Kimberley Native – Rottnest WA

Sketch of a Kimberley Native by the enigmatic young Annie Campbell offers a unique perspective of WA, particularly that of the contentious conditions for young indigenous men on Wadjemup – or as contemporary Western Australians fondly know it to be – the popular holiday destination Rottnest Island.

Written historical recollections at times contradict the popular understanding of conditions of the Rottnest Island Penal Colony. Indeed there were grim times of hard labour and poor nourishment at the beginning; however, that changed following the forced retirement of the initial and imperious Superintendent Henry Vincent in 1967. Later, life on the island became endurable as sanitation, work and learning conditions improved.

An interesting recollection published in The Sunday Times,  Perth  (November 29, 1936) by Major L. C. Timperley, who lived on the island as a boy during his father’s term as Superintendent, indicated that prisoners were well cared for and allowed to practice hunting and coroborees outside of work hours – the island functioned as it was initially intended – allowing rehabilitation and less confined imprisonment for the indigenous convicts.

Annie Campbell’s sketch is a rare document and subtle testimonial to these conditions, unlike the stiff and austere nature of photographs of the era, Campbell’s sketch allows the subject to relax into his true character which renders a more didactic and humble impression of the environment. As we can see, the prisoner is well clothed and in general health. There is, however, no overlooking the disgruntled and longing state towards the mainland in the defiant face of the subject.

Olivia Gardner


Works Cited

Chapman, B. (1979). The Colonial Eye. Perth: The Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Green, N. (1997). Far From Home. Perth: University of Western Australia Press.
Nimitybelle. (1916, January 6). Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic. : 1885-1939).
Timperley, M. L. (1963, November 29). Sunday Times Perth (WA:1902-1954).