Ladder, Whanganui River

Alfred Martin, Artist;  Frank Denton, Printer; 

This is one of the photographs in our collection. It was made in Whanganui, Whanganui Region, New Zealand in circa 1895.
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Object Detail


About the Work
This ladder was located on the Whanganui River, possibly above Pipiriki. Edward Jerningham Wakefield (b.1820, d. 1879) wrote about his experience climbing up one such ladder on the Whanganui River - "In this part the only path to the settlement consists of a rude but strong ladder, consisting of trees and karewau, or supple-jack, reaching from the water to the top." A little later he wrote: "At length we reached the foot of one of the sky-scraping ladders which I have described, leading to the top of the cliff, here about 200 ft. high, while the river is not more than 40 yards broad. The natives clambered carelessly up, with heavy chests, and guns, and paddles, and my great dog in their arms, while I was ascending cautiously, step by step, with uncertain footing, and hands aching with the efforts which I made to clench hard the vibrating rounds of the ladder."
Wakefield was responsible for the purchase of Whanganui land for the New Zealand Company in 1840. He was the son of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the founder of the New Zealand Company.


An extract by Elsdon Best (b.1856, d.1931) from 'Forest Lore of the Maori'. First published 1942 and reprinted without alteration 1977, published by E.C. Keating, Government Printer, Wellington, NZ, pp 225 - 226:
There are now two stages of ladders, made of pieces of the ropy rata, lashed together with flax, with steps at irregular distances …. Our baggage and the dog had to be hoisted up by a flax rope … The ladders are quite perpendicular." Heaphy descended the above-described ladders later on, and states that one was 15 ft. and the other 31 ft. in length, they were 'pieces of rata [vine] lashed together with flax, the steps being placed at irregular intervals.' This seems to have been a form of ladder more resembling our own, having two perpendiculars to which cross-pieces were attached; this form seems to have been used in pre-European times, and principally, so far as we can judge, at places where such a convenience was needed all the time, not merely for a particular season of the year. This means such places as one sees up the Whanganui river, where the river was the only highway, and where natives often gained their homes from that highway by means of ascending ladders secured on precipitous and even vertical cliffs. I have seen some of these cliff-clinging ladders, but they were far more numerous in earlier times. Of a place above Pipiriki where such cliffs are seen Wakefield wrote in the early 'forties: "In this part the only path to the settlement consists of a rude but strong ladder, consisting of trees and karewau, or supple-jack, reaching from the water to the top." A little later he wrote: "At length we reached the foot of one of the sky-scraping ladders which I have described, leading to the top of the cliff, here about 200 ft. high, while the river is not more than 40 yards broad. The locals clambered carelessly up, with heavy chests, and guns, and paddles, and my great dog in their arms, while I was ascending cautiously, step by step, with uncertain footing, and hands aching with the efforts which I made to clench hard the vibrating rounds of the ladder." It is quite evident that these were such ladders as ours are, two verticals and crosspieces; the latter would be lashed on. Wakefield was shown a place hard by where "two or three foolish old women had been smashed quite flat, having missed a step while going down in the dark to their canoes." Crawford also mentions having seen these ladders in the 'sixties; and when Donald McLean, later Sir Donald, descended the river in 1845 he recorded the following in his journal: "I was struck with the denseness of the population on the northern banks, the inaccessible situation of many of their pa [fortified villages], only to be approached by ladders up the steep sides of precipices."
Measurements
Image 202 x 154mm
Support 254 x 210mm
Media
silver gelatin print
Description
Empty waka pulled up to a river bank next to a vertical cliff with a long ladder hanging down it and two people climbing the ladder.
Credit Line
Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of Harold Denton, Auckland, 1997.
Collection Type
Permanent collection
Acquisition Date
1997

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Accession Number:
1997/10/7