Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ebenezer Teichelmann - Keeping mountaineering alive in New Zealand (Part 1)

Here is an article I wrote for the New Zealand Alpine Journal somr years back which gives a good insight into his early days in New Zealand.

Keeping Mountaineering alive - 1897 to 1914

By Bob McKerrow

Reaching into the life of Dr Ebenezer Teichelmann is to open a window on one of life's great and gifted people. Medical doctor, surgeon, photographer, author, philosopher, gardener, conservationist, soldier, humanitarian, public health expert, explorer, mountaineer.... the list goes on and on and is exhaustive as it is diverse.

Dr. Teichelmann's contribution to New Zealand mountaineering was phenomenal, but never recorded in great detail. With the help of Dorothy Fletcher of Hokitika, daughter of one of Dr. Teichelmann's close friends, Alec Graham, I shall try to give a detailed insight into his life and mountaineering expeditions during the period 1897 to 1914.

Arthur P. Harper, President of the New Zealand Alpine Club for many years, pays tribute to the role that Teichelmann played in those years when the New Zealand Alpine Club was in recess and the popularity of climbing waned:-

" In estimating the value of Teichelmann's work, it must be remembered that High Alpine Climbing was almost at a standstill when he took it up. The small "Old Brigade" of the late 'Eighties and the early 'Nineties, had temporarily gone out of action, and except for Malcolm Ross and Fyfe's successful season in 1897, little had been done since 1895; thus Teichelmann must have the credit of reviving the sport, and his successive expeditions kept it alive for some years." (1)

Dr Teichelmann was elected to the Alpine Club (England) in 1903, and when the New Zealand Alpine Club was revived in 1914, he became a member. He held various offices in the Club including President of the New Zealand Alpine Club in 1936-37 and Chairman of the Canterbury-Westland Branch in 1936-38. But he will be remembered more for his mountain exploration which started at the late age of 40 and spanned 25 years. His long list of first ascents are sprinkled from the head of the Wanganui River in the north to the Waitoto in the south and his extensive photographic collection, housed in the Hocken Library, is one of the most significant in New Zealand.

During World War One he was even accused of being a spy when the member for Grey Lynn raised his name in Parliament as one of a number of German suspects. The accusation quickly died as people from all walks of life rushed to his support.(2) Shortly afterwards he served as a captain in the Medical Corp with the Sixth Reinforcement and was on board the Marquette when she was torpedoed in the Mediterranean. He was in the water for several hours before being rescued. (3)

So what was this remarkable man really like ?

To say he was different is an understatement. Peter Graham records his first meeting in 1899 with Dr. Teichelmann in his book 'Mountain Guide':

"The Doctor shook hands with me. He had wonderful
grey eyes and he looked earnestly into my face as
if he was peering into my soul; then he said at
last in a squeaky sort of voice, " So this is
Pe-tar." Instead of a big man I had pictured, he
was a little man I could have picked up in my arms. He had a "Captain Cuttle" beard and wore a sports coat, knickers and stockings, and wide
welted boots which emphasised the thinness of his
legs. We were much amused when having a smoke after dinner, he stood with his legs wide apart on the uneven ground and said to Arthur, " I can't
find a level place to put my feet." I was drawn
to this quaint little man at once, and when I came to know him better I developed a very warm
affection for him. He was a lifelong friend to
my brother Alex and myself."

Teichelmann trained seriously for his expeditions and his techniques must have provided great amusement to his neighbours in Hampden Street, Hokitika. He possessed a long ladder, which he would rest against a tall tree in his garden and with full gear and a heavy pack, climb up and down for long periods of time. (4)

Mary, his wife, also displayed qualities which were considered a little eccentric for a women of her time. With little regard for the conventions of the day, she played golf, smoked, and was one of the first women in Hokitika to drive a car. (5) It is not hard to imagine the impact that Mary and Ebenezer Teichelmann on Hokitika society.

Apart from being a great mountaineer and surgeon, Dr. Ebenezer Teichelmann was a pioneer in tourism development, abattoirs, conservation and Free Public Libraries. Among the positions he held were; President of the Westland Acclimatisation Society for more than 40 years, vice-president of the Westland Savings Bank, a member of the Westland Racing and Trotting Clubs, the Westland Progress League, President of Hokitika Lawn Tennis club, Patron of the Lake Kaniere Power Boat Club, member of the Hokitika Borough Council and Hokitika Harbour Board, and a member of most, if not all Boards formed for forest conservation at Lake Kaniere, Punakaiki and Arthur's Pass. Together with Leonard Cockayne he published a little known paper, "The Glacial Scenic Reserves of Westland," which is illustrated with Dr. Teichelmann's photographs. (6)

Ebenezer Teichelmann was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1859 of a Scottish mother and German father. His father, Christian Gotleib, was born in Dahme, in the Duchy of Saxony, and came to Australia in 1838 as a Lutheran Missionary to work among the Aborginal people of South Australia. Seemingly Christian Teichelmann was a competent linquist and published in 1840, a book on the Aboriginal language of South Australia. In 1841 Governor George Grey appointed him official interpretor for the natives. Margaret Nicholson, his mother, was born in Edinburgh, and migrated to Australia with her family in 1840. Ebenezer was born ninth of fourteen children, seven boys and seven girls.(7) From early childhood he was fired up with dreams of becoming a surgeon. There was not much money in the Teichelmann family, so some of his six brothers helped finance him through medical school. (8)
Details of his early medical career are a little sketchy, but an old newspaper cutting throws some new light:

"Dr. Teichelmann returned to this colony by the
steamer 'Adelaide' from Melborne on Thusday after an absence of nearly ten years, during which he has been engaged in the study and practice of
medicine and surgery in the City of Birmingham.
Dr. Teichelmann was educated in this colony, and before leaving for England, was assistant with the late Dr Gething and Dr Toll at Port Adelaide."(9)

In 1897, at the age of 38, Dr. Ebenezer Teichlemann moved to Hokitika to take up the position of Medical Superintendent for the Westland District Hospital, a position he was to hold for 23 years. He brought Mary ( nee Bettney) to Hokitika, whom he had married while studying in Birmingham.(10)

His 'patch' extended from south of Greymouth down to Jackson Bay and there wasn't a community or corner he didn't visit.

A longtime friend of Teichlemann, W.A. Kennedy describes the conditions the Doctor had to travel in:
" Roads in those early days were few, and transport bad. Below Ross, little more than pack tracks existed and the rivers were all unbridged. Under such circumstances dogged determination, coupled with judgement, was often necessary to get safely through. This quality the doctor fortunately for all concerned, possessed in a marked degree, a quality which later served him in good stead during his exploring and alpine adventures." (11)

The new Doctor was an active man, always willing to go to the scene of accidents, often with scant regard for his own life. He had only been in Hokitika a little more than a year when a terrible mining tragedy occured at a goldmine at Craig's Freehold, across the river in South Hokitika. When word reached Hokitika, the Doctor left immediately and went into the mine to ascertain for himself the nature of the accident, and what probabilities there were of the entombed men being recovered alive. (12)


The "Little Doctor" as he was affectionately known by close friends, learnt about the early miners and explorers as he travelled on his far-flung medical forrays into South Westland. It wasn't long before he was bitten by gold-fever and became friends of local gold miners, the Stonar brothers and Mr. Lee. In early 1899, Arthur Woodham and Peter Graham spent three months in the Callery and Burster Range area getting enough gold to pay expenses and share twenty pound between them. Further down the Callery at Little Beach, the Friend and Watson party had struck it rich and were washing up an average of one pound weight in gold a day and had three extra men working for them on wages. (13) Teichlemann knew Arthur Woodham and had heard of young Peter Graham, so he backed them financially to go back into the Callery to find the elusive 'Mother Lode' from whence all gold came.

Teichelmann's first excursion into the mountains was with Arthur Woodham, Charlie Stonar and Peter Graham. They packed up the Burster Range, with Peter Graham carrying the Doctor's full-plate camera. His first photographic stop was to take a photograph of the Spencer Glacier. The party explored the Burton and Spencer glaciers and discovered a metre-wide quartz band, but no gold. Here they spent seven days exploring the Spencer and Burton glaciers, but the Doctor had to return back to the Westland Hospital. As Dr. Teichelmann parted from Peter Graham at Burster Camp, he said, " You know, Peter, this mountaineering-it's a bug-it 'gets' you doesn't it?" What we see here is a transition from pure gold prospecting to recreational mountaineering with a little fossicking.(14)

He was 40 years of age on his first trip into the mountains which started him on a 25 year stint in South Westland's mountains. He was hooked. The bug never left him.


A new century dawned, the twentieth, and with it the excitement and prospect of more climbing for the " Little Doctor" and his friends. In January 1900 he was making plans for a trip into the Fox Glacier region. Unfortunately Peter Graham was working a gold claim and was unable to accompanying Teichelmann. " Peter, you are deserting me," (15) he told Peter Graham as he passed through Waiho Gorge. But once Graham had explained his predicament of not being able to walk out of his job on a gold claim, he understood and got Charlie Stonar and Alf Dale of Hokitika to accompany him.

The party set out from the terminal face of the Fox Glacier after spending a night in the old tin hut which was close by. After spending most of the day on the Fox Glacier, they climbed Craig Peak. Details of the trip from here on are sketchy but Peter Graham reported that they traversed the Victoria Range, ascended several peaks including Mt. Purity. They had hoped to cross to the Franz Josef Glacier but when they reached the saddle at the top of the range the Fritz Glacier was so broken that they were prevented from proceeding further.(16)

It is likely that Dr. Teichelmann had received a copy of Edward Fitzgerald's book (published in 1896)'Climbs in the New Zealand Alps', and was following his map and route which shows his route over Blackburn's saddle into the Fritz Glacier and then over Zurbriggen's Saddle into the Franz Josef. It appears from his description he turned back at Blackburn's Saddle.

In 1901, a young Englishman arrived in Westland, to take up the position of vicar of Ross and South Westland. Alex Graham recalls meeting the Rev. Newton shortly after his arrival in Ross : "He was a young man then, full of energy and keeness, and I notice while he talked to one and another his eyes often wandered to the mountains." (17)


The eyes had it. It didn't take long for Teichelmann with his wonderful grey eyes and Newton with his wandering mountain eyes to team up. Bishop Julius had given Newton a letter of introduction to Dr Teichelmann, who, he said would like a companion to share his mountain trips.

The West Coast Times on 6 February 1902 gives a details of their first trip together:
" Dr. Teichelmann and Mr. Newton, who left here about a fortnight ago on a mountaineering
expedition have arrived at the Hermitage, having
crossed the range at Graham's (sic) Saddle. We
understand that the explorers are entitled to
the credit of being the first to cross the ranges by this pass. Dr. Teichelmann in a wire from Lake
Tekapo stated they intend leaving there today or
tomorrow on the return trip and expect to reach
Hokitika about the end of next week."

The above article omitted to mention that they were the first to cross Graham's Saddle from west to east from Waiho to the Hermitage, the first crossing west to east crossing from Fox Glacier being in 1895 by Fitzgerald and party.

Newton and Teichelmann had asked Peter Graham to join them on the 1902 trip, but again was unable to take leave from his employers. To help carry their heavy loads, they took along Mr. Batson who owned the guest house at Waiho as a porter. It took the trio three days to reach Graham Saddle after a new route using the Miner's Track into the Callery, up onto the Callery Ridge which they followed until reaching the Water Hole. They spent their second night above Rope Creek. On the third day they ascended the Goat Path ridge, crossed the Almer Glacier to a Col below St. Mildred which gives a splendid view towards Graham Saddle. From here they picked out a route to the dsaddle late in the afternoon, with Mr. Batson using his slasher to cut steps up a steep slope. They reached the junction of the Rudolf and Tasman Glaciers at nightfall and spent a cold night out before reaching Ball Hut.

The trip was far from finished. Young Newton, fresh from a few seasons in the European Alps was keen to come back by a new route. At Ball Hut they discussed possiblities with Jack Clarke. Clarke who had made the first ascent of Mt. Cook was then Chief Guide at the Hermitage. He agreed to accompany them back to the West Coast from the Hooker Glacier via Baker Saddle. They reached Baker Saddle, making the first ascent, and climbed down to the Strauchon Glacier and camped at the terminal face. Poor Batson, not having the mountain temperament, kept saying "Let me get back to the bush; I feel safe there." (18)

The next day while descending to the Copland River they struck thick bush and Teichelmann turned to Batson and said," Here's your chance now, Batson, get into this with your billhook and whack away." Jack Clarke left them at the Copland River, returning to the Hermitage by the Copland Pass.

Teichelmann's concern for others and his wry sense of humour is further illustrated by his actions on their arrival at the Scott's homestead. Batson, who had arrived before Newton,Teichelmann and Graham, had obviously pushed himself beyond his limits. Peter Graham takes up the story:
"Batson was well settled in bed by that time, but
the Doctor's first thought was for him, so they
took a candle each and went in as if holding a
wake. Very sunburnt with the skin peeling off
his nose, and with a week's beard, he looked a
picture. "Isn't he a beauty; and doesn't he look lovely there!" After a lot of raillery they left
him to rest." (19)

This ended Teichelmann's 1902 trip. He called in to see brothers Peter and Alec Graham and discussed their trip.

The Doctor encouraged Peter and Alec to improve their climbing skills. On days off they would explore the Franz Josef using prospecting picks to cut steps. Soon they began taking local people for trips on the glacier and Teichelmann started referring people to "get" young Graham to take them on the glacier. (20)


In early 1903 Peter Graham received a letter from Dr. Teichelmann informing him that he and Newton were organising a trip to the head of the Fox Glacier. Graham was invited to join and accepted immediately. At that time the Fox neve was unexplored.
Peter Graham arranged for all the gear to be packed by horses over the bridle track from Waiho (Franz Josef) to the Fox Glacier. After a recce, a spell of wet weather and a few days hard slog, the party put in a camp, high up Chancellor ridge. The next day they climbed to the top of the ridge and did the first ascent of Chancellor Dome. The view was stunning. Teichelmann and Newton set up their bulky plate cameras and photographed the virgin panorama before them. Newton was fascinated by the bulk of Horo Koau ( Mt. Tasman) and expressed a desire to attempt the arete from the col ( later named Engineer Col) between Lendenfeld and Tasman.

During the next week they climbed up to Engineer Col, retreated back to their camp on Chancellor ridge, and later climbed back up to Pioneer Pass, becoming the first to set foot on it. Gale-force winds forced them back to Chancellor ridge campsite. Here they spent a few days, photographing and taking observations with a prismatic compass for chief surveyor, G.J. Robert back in Hokitika. Peter Graham describes the careful attention Teichelmann gave his surveying.

" I erected a cairn with a firm flat stone on top on which to place the prismatic compass. The Doctor was very careful about taking three special points, Douglas Peak, Mt Haidinger, and Mt Tasman. I put down the number of the prismatic reading as he called it out. To make doubly sure that the readings were accurate, the Doctor took them again and was dismayed to find them all different. This was a poser until he realised the goggles he was wearing were affecting his compass needle. Afterwards he always removed them before taking any readings." (21)

At the conclusion of the trip, Dr Teichelmann gave Peter Graham a rope, an ice-axe and a 'Badminton' book on mountaineering. Graham studied the book carefully and worked on his skills along with his younger brother Alec. The Doctor's generosity put Graham in a position to be able to guide Mr. T.E. Donne, the first Superintendent of the Tourist Department, up the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers in the winter of 1903. During the trip, Donne offered Peter Graham position of assistant to Chief Guide at the Hermitage. In October the same year, Peter Graham crossed the divide, by the Copland Pass, to take up the position.(22)


The annual 1904 expedition of Newton and Teichelmann took shape. Teichelmann was keen to cross Pioneer Pass from the east, and engaged Jack Clarke and Peter Graham as guides, while Newton and Alex Graham went up the Fox Glacier. They planned to meet on the west.

Teichelmann, always the explorer with a dash of surveyor and scientist, arrived at the Hermitage in late January 1904 (23)to explore the different glacier valleys and take a series of photographs of the various peaks, before crossing Pioneer Pass. With Peter Graham he climbed up to the Sealey Range and from the top of Mt. Ollivier, the Doctor, greatly impressed by the view, set up his full-plate camera and spent an hour taking photgraphs. The next day they set off for Ball Hut. At the meal table that night were a number of other visitors, including the Reverend Mr Hansell of Timaru and two young Australian women. Peter Graham describes Teichelmann's conversation:

" We on the West Coast..." followed by a
description of some of his climbing experiences
or some beauty spot. Mr Hansell was very taken with the Doctor's enthusiasm for the West Coast
and teasingly remarked to his table neighbour,
"Let's see how long it will be before the Doctor
mentions the West Coast again." He hadn't long to
wait before the Doctor was in earnest conversation with the two Sydney girls, telling them of the attractions of Franz Josef Glacier. When
opportunity offered, Mr Hansell with a
mischievious twinkle asked the girls what they had
in Sydney worth seeing.
They replied with one voice, " We have a wonderful
Hastily the Doctor rejoined, " Yes, yes, that's about all you have got."

Peter Graham and the Doctor walked up to Malte Brun Hut the next day. Using the early morning light to his advantage, the next morning saw Teichelmann setting his camera up at the end of the Western arete of Malte Brun on a small rock platform, where he spent the morning photographing the overwhelming scenery before him.

At the beginning of February the Doctor set out again for Ball hut with guides Jack Clarke and Peter Graham with the objective of crossing the pass between Mt. Haast and Grey Peak, later named Pioneer Pass. The party swagged up Haast ridge with seven days food and a large full plate camera and camped high on Haast ridge at the levelled-off spot which had been used by earlier parties attempting Mt Cook. A violent storm which brought gale-force winds and heavy snow forced them back to Ball Hut, but three days later they were back at the same camp site. Canon Newtown and Alex Graham were similarly affected by bad weather on the Western side of the divide.

It dawned fine on 7 February. Teichelmann and his party plodded up to Glacier Dome in soft snow. Here they abandoned any thoughts of high climbing for the day and the morning was spent assisting Dr. Teichelmann taking photographs and checking out the route for the next day. While on the Dome, Peter Graham and the Doctor, pointed out the col between Lendenfeld and Tasman they had reached the previous year. They had hardly finished explaining when they observed two distant figures appear over the horizon from the western side of the Southern Alps. It could only be Mr. Newton and Alec Graham. The eastern party watched them move from Engineer Col slowly up Mt. Lendenfeld before they turned back.

Jack Clarke said he wanted to cooee and shout out to them but Dr.Teichelmann quickly replied. "No, no, don't do that. If Newton heard you he would want to climb straight down to us." This is another example of Teichelmann's judgement. He knew well the impetuousity of youth and advised New Zealand's most experienced guide against a course of action. At the same time he was shaping the future of two of the country's upcoming guides, the Graham brothers. The party watched Newton and Alec Grahan disappear out of sight, presumably back to the Fox neve.

The next morning, Dr. Teichelmann and his guides retraced their footsteps up to Glacier Dome, crossed the prominent arete leading up to Mt. Haast, and headed up to Pioneer Pass in soft snow. Jack Clarke lead out in waist deep snow to the pass and before long they reached the pass. They trudged down the West Coast side of the divide and were relieved to find Newton and Alec Graham's footsteps of the previous day.

Alec Graham had been hoping to meet Jack Clarke for some time. " I was especially looking forward to meeting Jack Clarke, whom I had heard so much about as a mountaineer and guide. I think I regarded Jack with something amounting to hero worship for his prowess and for the fact that he was one of the party to conquer Mt Cook."

That afternoon Alec Graham met his hero on Chancellor ridge when Clarke arrived with Teichelmann and Peter Graham. There was much excitement and conversation.

History was made that day! The first crossing of Pioneer Pass was posted and, more importantly, plans were cemented for the future, a future in which these five mountaineers were going to play a leading role for decades to come.

It just didn't happen. Teichelmann was at his innovative best. He had hired Clarke and Peter Graham, and arranged for Newton to climb with Alec Graham from the west. The rendez-vous on Chancellor ridge was planned by the Doctor a month before. The Graham brothers from Waiho Gorge had been nutured and encouraged by him to learn the trade of mountain guiding from the first day he had met them.

Two days later the group decided to head for the unclimbed Glacier Peak and Mt. Douglas. They climbed up to the Pioneer Ridge and discovered a patch of gravel at the top of a steep buttress and noted it as a future tent or hut site. Time ran out and they descended the Fox Glacier back to Weheka (Fox) and then to Waiho.
On February 13, Dr. Teichelmann took Jack Clarke, who had suffered terrible toothache on the trip, to Okarito where he had two teeth and three stumps extracted. The forceps, a rudimentary book on dental extraction had formerly belonged to Dick Dickens at Okarito, and somewhere about 1903, had been given to Jack Heveldt, the proprietor of the Forks Hotel. After the bush dentistry, Jack Clarke returned to the Hermitage with Peter Graham by way of Goat Path and Graham Saddle.(24)

Teichlemann returned to his medical duties in Hokitika where much of his work was surgical. One of the Doctor's fears when climbing was damaging his hands, which would affect his ability to perform delicate operations. Before climbing on rock, he would often tape his fingers up to prevent cuts and abrasions. Alex Graham describes " The Doctor's fingers had suffered with all the rock work and some of them were bleeding. I strapped up the tips with plaster and the doctor jokingly remarked that it would be better to put the plaster on sticky side out, to give him a better grip on the smooth rock. He was always worried about letting his wife down, and being hurt or even dying from a fall.(25)


1 NZAC Journal 1939 p116
2 Place of Return - Hokitika Borough Council
1869-1989 Field Ron p80
3 Press December 20, 1938
4 -5 Dorothy Fletcher, personal communication
6 Various sources, predominently The West Coast Times and West Coast Historical Museum, Hokitika.
7 The Descendents of Christian Gottlieb
Teichelmann - O'Donnell J.F. 1974
8 Dorothy Fletcher, personal communication
9 Graham Collection, Hokitika
10 Death Sighting, Graham Collection
11 Canterbury Mountaineer 1939 p 98
12 West Coast Historical Museum, Hokitika
13-16 Peter Graham - Mountain Guide. p 41-42, 47
17 Uncle Alec and the Grahams of Franz Josef
Graham A & Wilson J (Abbreviated) UA p39
18-22 Mountain Guide p 52-75
23 Newton Diaries, Hocken Library (ND) 1904
24 ND,UA & Mountain Guide
25-26 UA


Anonymous said...

I find this very entertaining and humbling as I am a Teichelmann too!

Bob McKerrow said...

That's great. Are you related to this man?