Prepare by Ursula Bethell


Lead curator Felicity Milburn reads the poem Prepare by Ursula Bethell

Toss Woollaston Portrait sketch of Mary Ursula Bethell
Collection of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū; presented by Robert Erwin in 1993 in memory of Lawrence Baigent

Ursula Bethell (1874-1945) has been described as a poet with a painter’s eye. Born in Surrey, England, she came to Aotearoa New Zealand at the age of two. Her family were well-off, and farmed sheep near Rangiora. After attending schools in North Canterbury, Christchurch and Switzerland, including a year spent training as a painter in Geneva, she dedicated her life to charitable works. In London, she joined the ‘Grey Ladies’, an Anglican association that served the sick and disadvantaged. After returning to New Zealand, she developed strong connections with artists like Evelyn Page, Ngaio Marsh, R.H. Field, and Toss Woollaston, who made this sketch of her, held in the Gallery’s collection. In 1924, Bethell moved into Rise Cottage at 10 Westenra Terrace in Christchurch’s Cashmere Hills, where she lived for ten years with Effie Pollen. She slowly carved out a garden from the hillside, and it was there that she wrote most of her poems, which reflected her love of nature and regularly featured her cat, Michael. Prepare, from her 1929 collection ‘From a Garden in the Antipodes’, is a reflection on the labours and rewards of toiling in the soil.