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Frances (or Fanny as she was usually known) Louisa Fantham was born on the 27 September 1866 in Canterbury, New Zealand, the eldest daughter of Arthur Albert and Mary (aka Maria/Martha/May) Fantham nee McWilliam.


Around 1882 the Fantham family moved to Hawera from Cambridge.  Fanny's father, Arthur Albert Fantham became active in many Hawera institutions, and after his death, a marble statue in his honour and memory was erected in King Edward Park.  He had the further distinction of having three streets named for him.


In March 1887,  Fanny then aged 19,  became the first woman to climb the 1962 metre high Fantham's Peak. She left Manaia on horseback on an expedition to Mt Egmont as a member of a party of about 14 men and women.  The party was guided by the Manaia postmaster, Thomas Dawson, after whom Dawson Falls was named.  He had reached the summit of Egmont from the south side in April the previous year, and had explored much of the mountain over some years.


At that time the country was still heavily bushed and progress above Kaponga was inevitably slow. A track of sorts led from the edge of the reserve to Dawson Falls where a camp was pitched. Early next morning the party set off up the Kapuni Gorge. Fanny, wearing a shortened dress and lace-up boots climbed steadily ahead of the main bunch with a group of four men. They reached the top of the peak, known to the Maoris as Panitahi, half to three-quarters of an hour ahead of the others. Some discussion followed and the five agreed that the peak should be named Fanthams Peak in honour of the first woman to climb it.


The little group immediately toasted the peak without waiting for the remainder of the party, whose share in the celebrations was limited to the sound of cheers wafting down the slope on the breeze. They even wondered if the noise was actually calls for help. Fanny joined her four companions as they continued up the main peak towards the summit of Mt Egmont, however, after some distance, she reluctantly decided to turn back, apparently afraid of the possibility of adverse comments being made about a young woman climbing only with men as  companions - which, 100 years ago, was unusual to the point of being considered improper.


The following year, 1888, Fanny married Fred Bayly, a farmer of Manaia, in St Mary's Church of England, Hawera and they brought up a family of three boys and three girls, farming in various areas of Taranaki.




During World War One, Fanny felt that she would like to do something for the war effort, and so went to England and worked in a munitions factory, and later nursed at the army hospital at Walton-on-Thames, where many New Zealand soldiers were being hospitalised..


When the Mt Egmont Alpine Club was formed in Hawera in 1928, she accepted its invitation to become an honorary member, later presenting them with a fine oil painting of herself as a lasting memento to the naming of the peak. In December 1941, the Egmont National Park Board invited her to Dawson Falls where a group photograph was taken in which Fanny and Mrs Henson of Hawera, who was the first to climb to the main summit, were included.  It was her first visit back to the scene of her climb more than 50 years before. 


All her life Fanny was a very active woman, known as an excellent shot, and in 1946 during her 80th year, she flew to Sydney to visit her daughter Zaida.


She died in New Plymouth on 10 September 1948 at the age of 81.



Article "The Daily News"  28 Feb 1987  By Sue O'Dowd

"McWilliam Saga" Copy of Fantham information held at Hawera Public Library