On the 3rd of June 1918, a terrible accident occurred on the slopes of Mount Taranaki when two men fell to their deaths. One was the 37 year old Arthur Hamilton Ambury the other William E. Gourlay.
Gourlay had been a member of a party that had climbed to the summit in extremely icy conditions and had got into trouble during their descent. Arthur was climbing on the lower slopes with his wife Annie (nee Newbold) and two friends when they were hailed by Gourlay's party for help. Ambury took his wife to a safe lower level and returned to help. Unfortunately Gourlay's boots could not maintain any traction and he slipped. Crying out, he fell and Ambury looked up to see him cartwheeling towards him. In an instant he rammed his alpenstock into the ice, bracing himself to catch Gourlay. The forces were unfortunately too great, the alpenstock snapped, and both men fell over a bluff to their deaths.
Arthur Ambury was awarded the Albert Medal (the civilian equivalent to the Victoria Cross) for his heroic act. The Governor General, Arthur de Brito Savile, presented it to Annie now a widow with four children.
Arthur came from a family in the clothing trade. His father (also Arthur) and uncle (Walter) had a prominent drapery business on Devon Street. Early ads show it selling furs from fox, opossum and, would you believe, skunk and muskrat.
Born in 1880, the younger Arthur had a menswear shop, but was best known for his skill as a mountaineer. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to save him on that day.
Today if you take a walk on Mount Taranaki, a few hundred metres beyond the camp house at North Egmont, you will come across a large stone monument. If you take the trouble to read the inscription you will see that it is the Ambury Memorial and it commemorates the act of heroism by Arthur Ambury on that King's Birthday day in June 1918. The memorial was unveiled on Good Friday 1919 and now a street in New Plymouth also bears testament to our hero.
This story was originally published in the Taranaki Daily News.