Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ebenezer Teichelmann

Pioneer New Zealand mountaineer, photographer, surgeon and conservationist.
Cutting Across Continents
by Bob McKerrow

The 274 page book is richly illustrated with 106 photographs, 4 maps list of ascents, glossary of terms and a comprehensive index, has a Foreword by Sir Edmund Hillary. Published by Tara Press New Delhi, India and available from http://www.indiaresearcpress/
and distributed in New Zealand by Craig Potton Publishing.

Born in South Australia in 1859 to German and Scottish parents, Teichelmann trained as a doctor and surgeon in Australia, England, Ireland, (1880-90) and later updated his surgery skills in England, Germany and Austria. (1912). He emigrated to New Zealand in 1987.

Author Bob McKerrow describes his struggle to piece together the life of Ebenezer Teichelmann:
“At times I struggled to find what made this remarkable man tick, but the more I talked to people who knew him, I slowly brought together his many faces; Doctor, surgeon, public health promoter, mountaineer, explorer, photographer, conservationist, world traveler, philanthropist, philosopher, humanitarian, gardener, soldier, promoter of free-public libraries and tourism, tennis player, swimming, golf and cricket club president, newspaper director, Trustee Savings Bank pioneer, admirer of abattoirs, harbour board chairman, and a rationalist by faith. A canvas as wide as the world.”

Friend of……..

Friend of ferrymen, gold-miners, publicans, prostitutes, farmers, explorers, speculators, rock-solid working women, fishermen, sailors, shepherds, saw-millers, tunnelers, blacksmiths and shop-keepers who lived on the edge of life, at the end of the world.
Teichelmann lived on the periphery of the mountains and he felt their pulse and moods in his daily work, travels and life. The watery arteries of the snow, ice and mountains often blocked his passage as he tried to reach patients needing urgent medical treatment. He fell in love with their shape, light and curves and sensitively captured their moods on his large plate camera. There was a sense of intimacy in his photographs and writing, and when he was moved by the beauty around him, would often quote from Longfellow, Stevenson or other romantic poets. He was in love with Mary, a beautiful and unconventional women.



First Ascent of Mt. Douglas

This was a brilliant first ascent of a mountain which up until then had been regarded as being very difficult — if not impossible. It has an imposing presence when viewed from the Fox névé. It was their third first ascent in as many days, and one of their most satisfying. Newton regarded Mount Douglas as his finest climb in New Zealand, and Alec Graham wrote, ‘To me, it still takes first place’.

Later that year Newton returned to England, thus ending a superb list of climbing feats by the greatest climbing trio in the history of New Zealand mountaineering.
Apart from exploring a large amount of virgin territory, the intensity and enormity of Newton, Teichelmann and the Graham brothers climbing in the period 1902 to 1907 was phenomenal. During six annual trips into the mountains, they had crossed four passes for the first time, made twelve first ascents and the third ascent of Mount Cook.

First Ascents of Mt. Green and Walter

Early next morning, 15 February, 1909, the two doctors with the Graham brothers as guides set out for Mount Green. Darby Thomson and clients accompanied them until they turned left off Tasman Glacier for the ridge onto Mount Green. Darby and party headed for Hochstetter Dom.
For Teichelmann it must have been one of his most enjoyable days in the Southern Alps. It was a beautiful day with not a breath of wind. Using the narrow arête from the Tasman Valley, they climbed Mount Green, where Teichelmann took particular interest in the view down into the Callery Valley, one of the most impenetrable on the West Coast. Mount Walter looked more comfortable for dining, so they climbed that also, crossing the col and ascending its north-eastern arête.


Strongly in love with the curves and angles of nature, he set about creating a huge collection of images that reveal today the extent of his appreciation of light and shade, form and texture.
Ebenezer Teichelmann not only mastered the idiosyncrasies of large format photography, but he excelled with images that extolled the beauties of his beloved mountains and West Coast. His prints were sought after for promotional publications, and the outstanding quality of his large prints with their superb tonal range must rank him among the best of his time. Had he exhibited in North America or Europe, his name would be far more widely known as a photographer


Doctor Teichelmann was a man with a belief in the preservation of nature for the benefit of all people. But his convictions did not exist solely in the purchase of a few glossy photography books to show visitors, or even the membership of a conservation organization. He lobbied and fought unselfishly for those long term goals. He suffered hardships to explore and record those wonders for those who did not have the means to access the wilderness. He was a man who lived what he preached. Bruce Watson, a former Conservator for the Department of Conservation, West Coast Conservancy, acknowledged the difficult pioneering work achieved by Teichelmann. “ In an era and region where natural resources were often exploited with scant regard for posterity, gaining protected status for Arthurs Pass, Lake Kaniere, Lake Mahinapua, Punakaiki, later the Paparoa National Park, and the four glacial Scenic Reserves of South Westland, later Westland National Park, was a tremendous achievement.[1]

Andy Denis writing on one of the world’s richest conservation areas, teeming with biodiversity and wonder, Te Wahipounamu, South-West New Zealand, spoke of those great conservation pioneers such as Teichelmann “…a celebration of wisdom and foresight of those New Zealanders, who from as early as the 1880s, who have been aware of the necessity of setting aside large areas of unspoilt wild country both to protect their intrinsic values and for the benefit, use and enjoyment of those who need such places for inspiration, solitude and escape.”[2]

The enduring glory of the land and mountains of South Westland are indeed a fitting tribute to this extraordinary man.

Medicine and Surgery

In 1892, Dr and Mary Teichelmann returned from England to Melbourne, Australia on board the Anchor liner Yarrawonga as the ship’s Doctor. Behind his name were the titles, F.R.C.S. Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, M.R.C.S (Eng) Member of Royal College of Surgeons, England and L.R.C.S. (Ireland) and Associate of Mason’s College (Birmingham). Fifteen years earlier he had been an apprentice to a chemist and now returned a highly qualified surgeon. On arrival he moved to Port Adelaide where he filled the post of Health Officer.

On 17 October 1897 the Doctor made a record trip to Okarito. He received an urgent call at 2:00pm on Tuesday and left Hokitika at 3:00pm, arriving in Okarito at 12:30am the next morning. After attending to the patient, he left at 8:00am the same day, and arrived back in Hokitika by 7:15pm. He had covered 174 miles, mainly on horseback, and in a little over twenty hours.

On 20 December 1897, the Doctor was summoned to an unusual incident. This time he hurried around the corner from his surgery to the Café de Paris in Tancred Street. Upon his arrival, he was ushered over to a table in a darker corner. A man was seated there, unaccompanied. It must have been a quiet time of day, as his head was face down in a bowl of water, and on the back of his head, to hold it down, was a clothes trunk. John Scopinich, aged sixty-seven years, had drowned himself in a public restaurant, using a bowl of water.

It must have been a searching time for Dr Teichelmann. He is likely to have asked himself if there was anything more he could have done to save Hugh Preston and Elsie Cameron. These two deaths and many others led Teichelmann to go overseas to learn the latest developments in medical treatment. The West Coast was becoming too isolated. In fact he felt New Zealand was too, for keeping up with new surgical and medical knowledge emanating from Europe.

Less than two months later, the West Coast Times of 7 March announced that at the monthly meeting of the Westland Hospital and Charitable Aid Board, a letter was received from Dr Teichelmann asking for twelve months’ leave of absence. The Doctor pointed out that he had been the Board’s Medical Superintendent for fifteen years, and Westland was not only commercially isolated, but medically as well. Therefore he considered it his duty, not only to himself, but to the public, whose servant he was, that he should revisit the centres of medical and surgical knowledge in Europe.[3]

First world war

Teichelmann’s knowledge of cold injuries gained from his years in the high alps of New Zealand served him well. It was a far cry from his work on the West Coast of distant New Zealand where he had a modern operating room to do his surgery. The operating theatre was in a marquee on a raised wooden floor with a strong incandescent light to operate under. Numerous operations were performed by Captain Teichelmann and his colleagues. Surrounding the marquee was a slit trench, and nearby were dugouts to shelter from enemy attacks. All water had to be carted up to the tents. Apart from treating war injuries, accidents and hundreds of cases of frostbite, there were large numbers of soldiers to be treated for typhoid, para-typhoid, dysentery and trench-fever.
As the Allies retreated, the front line moved closer to Salonika and the number of casualties increased. Enemy planes bombed the medical camp on 30 December, and to prevent further bombing, staff painted a large red cross, 30 yards by 20 yards, on each side of the ridge on which the hospital was situated.

He served in England Egypt, Greece, France and on Hospital Ships.

Ships and Shipwrecked

Why was standing for the Harbour Board so important? “Teichelmann had worked in the remote parts of South Westland in communities like Bruce Bay, Jackson’s Bay, Haast, and to reach these places overland by car, horse, it could take four days or even two weeks, depending on the state of the rivers, as to whether you could cross them or not.”

“By ship, these remote communities often with large Maori populations, could be reached in an overnight journey,” said Maori chief, Jack Bannister. “Teichelmann cared for our people, people whether they were European, Chinese or Maori.”

1915 Shipwrecked off Greece

As Teichelmann clung to his life in this watery drama it is likely he thought that the Marquette may have been sunk by cousins, nephews, distant relatives or friends from his father’s native Germany. The war was now very real and the stupidity of European fighting European must have hit home. After several hours in the water, he survived the ordeal. Others weren’t so fortunate. The death toll revealed that 170 lives were lost following the sinking of the Marquette, ten of the 36 New Zealand nurses and 22 of other ranks in the NZ Medical Corp lost their lives.[4]

Humanity, humour and love

There in the early 1990s I was able to interview people who knew very him well. Many are no more. Their stories always had a touch of admiration, humanity, detail of deeds done, and often humour. What stood out was that he cared for people, and those close to him were not afraid to use the word ‘love’ to describe one of Teichelmann’s strong emotions, for example, “He had that rare gift of always seeing the very best in his friends, for he especially loved and had much consideration for young people, and I always felt he loved us in spite of our faults; yet withal; he was so amazingly modest about his own gifts and especially concerning mountaineering achievements,” said Peter Graham. In annual Christmas cards he sent to friends he picked out quotes that immortalized love and friendship, and illustrated with his most beautiful photograph. He was a caring and sensitive man. But he still remained a source of curiosity. Few, if any, truly understood this man of a character so different to theirs.

Arrival in Hokitika New Zealand in 1897

About the time Malcolm Ross and Tom Fyfe were organizing supplies and equipment for their climbs of Mounts Haidinger, de la Bêche and the twin summits of the Minarets, a train was hissing to a stop further north in Hokitika. Amid the bustle and steam of a busy station emerged a curious figure. So slight was his stature that it could be mistaken for that of a thirteen-year-old boy. Thin wiry legs stood askance, rooted firmly to the ground in wide-welted leather boots. His attire had a European styling unusual to the district: tight stockings to knee-height with woolen knickerbocker pants. A sports coat of similar weave clad the lightly-framed torso. He wore a hat on a head of coarse dark hair, and beneath its brim sparkled lovely grey eyes that spoke of intensity and compassion. Delicate, finely-boned fingers clasped a pipe that he replaced between a fine set of teeth. A whiskery goatee beard jutted forward, reminding one of a Captain Cuttle figure.
Beside him stood his pretty wife, Mary, beneath a broad-brimmed hat with flowing feathers. Her dress was more typical of the period, with a long dark skirt, tight bodice, and a small jacket. The quality revealed cosmopolitan origins; a step above what was sold around the corner in Tancred Street draperies and milliners. A subtle smell of expensive perfume was discernable.


The egalitarian society was one he believed in. Maori and European he viewed with similar respect. The barriers of race didn't exist for Teichelmann. Often when queried about his own heritage of a German father and Scottish mother he would say, ‘I have a Scots body and a German brain.’[5]

In old age


For 13 years Dr Teichelmann had dreamed of completing his 1911 exploratory work up the Wanganui Valley. The war intervened, the influenza epidemic came and his medical duties just didn't give him the time to get away. He was now 65 years of age, an age when most mountaineers have hung up their ice axe and retired to the rocking chair.

‘I have not a single photo of the high region there, the pass was reached in a fog and nothing could be seen thirty yards away. We then established a camp a day’s march further up the Perth and from it we nearly reached a saddle into the Rangitata and the Adams branch of the Wanganui, but high snow drove us back, this was well into March. At the end of just on six weeks, bad weather made a return necessary.’[6]

Both Hazel and Nell remember the Doctor still playing tennis in 1929, when he would have been 70. Despite his age, he was fit and agile, and his wiry body and sharp mind and reflexes still made a formidable opponent. He never wore whites when playing tennis, only his trademark knickerbockers.
Hazel Kelly recalls Flo Lewis quite clearly from her tennis days:
“One day we were at tennis and she was playing and she was rather big in the bust and she didn't wear a bra, and somebody said, ‘Isn’t it uncomfortable?’ She said ‘Oh no, I just let them flop.’ ”
The doubles team of Teichelmann and Lewis, Ebenezer in his knickerbockers and Flo playing bra-less, must have been quite a sight.

[2] Craig Potton Publishing, Te Wahipounamu- South-West New Zealand World Heritage Area –Photographs by Andris Apse, Introduction by Andy Dennis. 1997

[5] Elsie Davidson, personal conversation. June 1993.
[6] Ibid.

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