From 1895 to 1931, several attempts were made to farm sheep on Campbell Island, but the island’s isolation made it impractical.
The Second World War introduced the next era of human occupation: coastwatching. It was sparked by the ‘Erlangen incident.’ In 1939, with war imminent, the German merchant ship ‘Erlangen’ departed in a hurry from Otago Harbour and headed for the Auckland Islands to load wood to fuel her boilers. Her crew laboured to cut 235 tons of rata [trees] over several weeks. When the New Zealand Government heard of the incident, it decided to mount a coast watch at Auckland and Campbell Islands. Code-named the ‘Cape Expedition,’ the coastwatchers established stations at Ranui Cove in Port Ross, Tagua Bay in Carnley Harbour and Tucker Cover in Perseverance Harbour. Three vessels took it in turn to service the stations – the auxiliary schooner Tagua and auxiliary ketches Ranui and New Golden Hind.1
The Tucker Cove base on Campbell Island was kept open as a weather station after the war ended. In 1957 a new meteorological station was built at Beeman Point in time for the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, a milestone in international scientific research and cooperation. The Campbell Island station contributed to the network of atmospheric observations. Tides, earthquakes and geomagnetic changes were also measured. From then through to its conversion to an automatic operation in 1995, the Campbell Island station typically had a staff of 12, appointed for 12 months at a time. Although the buildings remain, the station is no longer permanently staffed but part of the complex is utilised periodically by scientists and Department of Conservation management staff.2
“The transmitters used for communication back to the mainland were post-war Collins 30K series 250 watt AM/CW units. They were used mainly for communicating meteorological observations every three hours to the Met office in Wellington as well as general phone calls.
“The installation was a standard Civil Aviation high frequency setup. However, the unusual location of Campbell Island in the auroral zone really demanded something better. A log-periodic beam antenna would have helped, as would the use of single-sideband transmission instead of the old double-sideband full carrier amplitude modulation. As it was, being at the bottom of the sunspot cycle in 1964, there were times when we lost communication for some hours, and even days on at least one occasion, whereas a modest single-sideband amateur radio setup I was using from the island maintained reliable communication back to New Zealand. I was refused permission to use it for commercial traffic (e.g. met observations) though, despite the failure of the AM transmissions.”
– Bill Cousins, Ionosphere Observer at Campbell Island, 1963-1964
Radio amateurs visit Campbell Island
1. Peat, N. (2003). Subantarctic New Zealand: A rare heritage. Invercargill, NZ: Department of Conservation. p 84.
2. Idem. p 85.
3. HJ ‘Bert’ McKechnie (1928-1995), radiotelegraphist at Awarua Radio ZLB 1950-1991, seconded to Campbell Island 1951. Photos sourced by Alex Glennie.