Edward Whymper (1840-1911)

From website of English Heritage:

“Born in Lambeth and a wood engraver and illustrator by trade, Whymper first travelled to Switzerland in 1860 on a commission from a publisher to sketch Alpine scenes. He became interested in the new pursuit of mountaineering, then regarded as an ‘extreme sport’, and in 1865, after eight attempts, he finally reached the summit of the Matterhorn. Whymper’s party reached the peak a couple of days before a rival Italian expedition and, along with the French guide Michel Croz, Whymper was the first to reach the summit. The mountain had long been thought impossible to climb, and his achievement was to inspire many mountaineering endeavours to come.

Tragedy overshadowed the expedition, however. On the way down to their base at Zermatt, the most inexperienced climber, Douglas Hadow, lost his footing and he and three other men – Croz, Lord Francis Douglas and the Revd Charles Hudson – fell to their deaths after a climbing rope snapped. The disaster raised a storm in England amid rumours of sabotage and rope-cutting and Whymper faced much criticism for pursuing such a dangerous pastime.

He rarely climbed in the Alps again, although he visited the area regularly. In 1871 he published a book documenting his Matterhorn climbs, Scrambles amongst the Alps...

Whymper later took part in many scientific expeditions to far-flung places, including Greenland, the Rockies and the Andes. He made the first recorded ascents of the Ecuadorian peaks Chimborazo and Cotopaxi – a live volcano where he set a new record for the highest altitude overnight camp. Whymper was later asked by the Canadian Pacific Railway to identify trails that would help to promote the Rockies as a tourist destination.

A member of the Alpine Club for 50 years, he served as its vice-president from 1872 to 1874. Leslie Stephen – another keen Alpinist – called Whymper the ‘Robespierre of Mountaineering’, a description which hints at his fearlessness and flair for innovation, as well as his single-minded and irascible personality.

In 1906 he married Edith Levin and the couple moved to the large detached house at 82 Waldegrave Road, Teddington (pictured) – his final home and the only one he ever owned. While there they had a daughter, Ethel, who also became a mountaineer. However, the couple separated in 1910, and Whymper accused his estranged wife of gold digging. His choice of a wedding gift to her, an ice axe, perhaps hinted at the likely success of the union. Whymper died a year later in the French Alpine town of Chamonix, having fallen ill there during a visit.”

Read more under Edith and the Mountaineer on the website Greg’s Family History.

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