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MOUNTAIN WOMEN OF TARANAKI

 

The first European woman to climb Mt Egmont was Jane Maria Atkinson nee Richmond, who reached the summit, aged 31, via the Kaimiro route on the 7 March 1855.  Jane wore canvas dungarees of her own making.  The next women to reach the summit where sister-in-laws, Blanche Richmond nee Hursthouse and Mary Richmond nee Smith, who did so on the 28 February 1859.

 

In March 1887, Frances Fantham (Bayly) was the first woman to reach the top of Panitahi, and this was named Fantham's Peak in her honour. The same day, the four men, Thomas Dawson, Charles Goodson, Gilbert Wylie and Bradshaw Dive, who had accompanied her proceeded to the summit and on their arrival where suprised to find a party of  about 20 others including several ladies who had travelled by the Inglewood route.  The ladies were listed as Mrs J R Lever, Miss A Turner, Miss Clough and later in the day, Mrs O M Curtis and Miss K Lawson.

 

On the 25 May 1887, a party including two women, Miss Jane Mitchell and Miss Maggie Hastie reached the summit, and they were the first women to reach the peak from the Manaia side.  On the way down, a boulder which had come loose, rolled down the mountain and struck Jane Mitchell who was seriously injured.  She was carried to Dawson's Falls, arriving at 9 o'clock that night, and was taken to her father's residence at Manaia the next day.

 

Jane Mitchell, also known as Jean was born in Oamaru in 1872, the daughter of John Dryburgh and Elizabeth Ann Mitchell nee McAulay, of Burnbank, Mitchell Road, Manaia.

She died unmarried on the 9 January 1946 at Hawera, and is buried at the Manaia cemetery.

 

Margaret (Maggie) Ann Hastie was born in 1870 and died unmarried in Auckland on the

5 April 1951.  Her ashes are interred in the Manaia cemetery with her parents Andrew and Asenath Hastie nee Lavis.

 

On the 17 March 1899, Mrs C S Curtis was the first woman to reach East Peak (Sharks Tooth) via the Stratford or Pembroke Road track, on their way to the summit.  The party included Mr & Mrs C S Curtis, Mr & Mrs F G Arden, Mrs P Bayley and Miss E Dixon, later Mrs Hemingway.  (Mrs Arden and Miss Dixon did not reach the summit)

 

On the 27 February 1890 a party including Mrs Halcombe, Mrs Standish and Miss Saddler reached the peak, and the local newspaper correspondent recommended women to wear "either a sort of Turkish costume with loos trousers and blouse or a knickerbocker suit".

 

The first women to reach the summit from the western side at the end of Kahui Road, Opunake were Miss Berry and Miss Drummond in February 1900.

 

A letter to the editor from Old Auroa-ite dated 29 August 1933 about an early visit to Lake Dive, states that Miss Maggie Hunter, then a girl in her early teens, accompanied by Mr J and G Hunter, Norman and Frank Innes and two Auroa-ites, cut a rough track and after an arduous tramp reached the lake. Maggie Hunter (now Mrs Stoddart of Waipukurau) "certainly has the honour of being the first lady visitor to Lake Dive."

 

The first accident involving a woman on Mt Egmont was on the 26 January 1913, when Miss Evelyn Oxenham, aged 22, from Fitzroy died from exposure.  Her body was not found until the 29 January.

 

On the 26 July 1953, four nurses from the Nurses Tramping Club at the New Plymouth Public Hospital where killed in a fall.  They were Mrs Ruth Caldwell (29) staff nurse, formerley of Nelson, Miss Julie G Cassels (18) nurse, of Eltham, Miss Janet Cameron (20) nurse, of Wanganui and Ellen B McBeth of Marton who died on the 28 July from injuries received.

 

On the 15 May 1954, Miss Jennifer Jill Pease (21) of Manaia was killed by a falling stone.

 

In 1927, Rod Syme was the only person in South Taranaki climbing Mt Egmont regularly, and at the same time at the Hawera Tennis Club, there was a group of young women, friendly, looking for adventure, but a bit shy.  Unbeknown to Rod, these women, after some rather secretive discussions, had decided they would like to climb the mountain, but the big question was how or who should approach Rod Syme.  Finally, feeling there was safety in numbers, the required courage was plucked up.

 

On the 5 February 1928, Rod took Dora and Mary Hawken, Myra and Joyce Powdrell and Evelyn Buist (Syme) to the peak, followed on the 12 February by Ev Buist, Dora Hawken, J Blair, Muriel Strange, Ivy McClure and Betty Page.  On the 26 February, he took Betty Ryan, Jean Christie (from Hawkes Bay) Myra and Joyce Powdrell, Grace, Edna and Mavis Death and Gladys Duke, and on the 4 March, Eva Clark, Myra Powdrell, Joan Page, Eileen Cameron, and B Cartwright.

 

On the 19 March 1928, Rod Syme called a meeting for those interested in forming an Alpine Club, and all the above women became members. On the 1 April, Rod took the following women to the summit, Rua Symes (from Hawkes Bay) Doris Meyrick, Sybil and Molly Washer, Kathleen Buckeridge, Ina Haybittle and G and L Spragg.

 

SOURCES

"Hawera Star" reports

Rod Syme, Hawera

Egmont - The Story of a Mountain by A B Scanlan