Story: Peters, Harry

Page 1 - Biography

Peters, Harry

1852–1941

Farmer, mountaineer, guide

This biography was written by Ron Lambert and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Peter Hinrik Peters, known in New Zealand as Harry Peters, was born on 28 April 1852 in Cleve, a small village near Heide, in Holstein, Germany, the son of Johann Hinrik Christian Peters and his wife, Anna Catharina Elisabeth Reinhold. Little is known of his early life until his arrival in New Zealand as a crew member of the immigrant vessel Lammershagen in July 1875.

Soon after the vessel arrived in Wellington a dispute with a superior officer led to Peters's desertion and subsequent brief employment on a farm at Cape Terawhiti, just west of Wellington. In September 1875 he took a ship to New Plymouth where, two days later, he obtained a labouring job helping to establish the newly surveyed township of Inglewood, some 10 miles south of New Plymouth.

On 26 May 1876 at New Plymouth Harry Peters married Auguste Schreck, who had also arrived in New Zealand on the Lammershagen. After a short period at Inglewood and Hillsborough, a district nearby, Peters, his wife and their young family took up land at Kaimiro on the lower slopes of Mt Egmont in 1879. Auguste Peters did much of the work on the farm, and was said to have milked the cows on the same day she gave birth.

The practical business of establishing himself as a farmer meant that it was some years before Peters found time to explore Mt Egmont. He made his first ascent in late 1885, using a route that came to be generally preferred to the established but tedious one over the Pouakai Range.

Because of the popularity of the new route, a campsite was formed at what became the North Egmont Visitor Centre close to the upper bush-line. It was from here that Harry's most celebrated ascent was made. In February 1890 he accompanied the ageing ex-premier Sir William Fox on a marathon 18-hour ascent of the peak. Fox's object, Peters later said, 'was to demonstrate that a man of 78 who had been an abstainer would be as active and enduring as a man of 45.' The contention was apparently not borne out. In 1891 Peters was instrumental in having a portion of the military barracks from Marsland Hill, New Plymouth, moved to the North Egmont site to establish a permanent camphouse. He was appointed custodian in 1892, a position he held until 1898. He acted as official guide at the same time, leading almost 90 expeditions up the mountain, and was responsible for naming various of Mt Egmont's geological features.

Following his retirement as custodian and guide, Peters increasingly devoted his time and energy to Kaimiro's needs. He was postmaster from 1908 to 1928; a member of the Taranaki Hospital and Charitable Aid Board and of the Moa Road Board from 1890 to 1896, serving as chairman from 1893 to 1896; and a member of the Taranaki County Council from 1893 to 1896. He was also one of the first directors of the Mangorei Co-operative Dairy Factory Company.

Harry and Auguste Peters's family of five sons and two daughters settled in and around the Inglewood district. Auguste Peters died on 26 July 1921. Harry Peters survived his wife, dying at New Plymouth's Public Hospital on 9 May 1941. He was a well-known identity in Kaimiro, and for many years was the local correspondent for the Taranaki Herald. Tall, with a long, flowing beard and generally smoking a pipe, he was an imposing figure, and had become almost legendary for his work in making Mt Egmont accessible to the public.