17 September – 2 November 2024

Artist Julia McKenzie has created a body of artwork inspired by three small diaries discovered by her in 2014.
The diaries from the 1890’s were written by her Cornish Great Grandfather, John Henry Lowry (1867-1935) and remained hidden from view until ten years ago when her father was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Julia was staying with her family at this difficult time and came across these little books in her father’s study. The day-to-day experiences of a relative from over a century ago started to become rich and vivid as her own father’s own memories and presence faded away.

John Henry was a master mariner born into a working class family in St. Mawes in 1867. As Julia read the diaries, his voice from 120 years gained strength. It formed a bridge from one time to another. How brave and tenacious was this young Cornish sailor born over a century ago? John Henry worked on the fast sail ships taking cargo such as coal and steel to South America, returning with minerals, guano and beef. To reach Chile he had to negotiate the frozen sea off Patagonia as the Panama Canal was not yet built. He survived icebergs, great storms, lack of water, war, the doldrums and disease. He single-handedly saved one ship’s crew from certain death navigating the sea ice of the Southern Atlantic.

The diaries have inspired Julia to explore this world and make work that celebrates his adventures and the fates of those around him at sea who were not so lucky. She says, ‘if my Grandfather had not survived the voyages documented in these three diaries, I would not be here to visually explore this part of his story’.

John Henry was no great adventurer, he loved his family and Cornwall above all, he risked his life to create a better one for those he loved. From Patagonia to St. Mawes, come and immerse yourself in tales of the Southern Ocean and contemplate the fragility of all of our lives and how we find ourselves here because of all those who have gone before.


Julia McKenzie is an artist and illustrator living in Somerset. She makes drawings, paper-cuts paintings and prints. Maps and charts have always featured in her work. Julia has illustrated books, she has also been an art educator for over twenty years and has work in collections including the British Library and the V&A.