Whymper, Edward, 1840-1911

Alternative names
Birth 1840-04-27
Death 1911-09-19

Biographical notes:

Edward Whymper was born on 27 April 1840 in London. The son of the artist, Josiah Wood Whymper, he entered his father's business in Lambeth as a wood-engraver at an early age. In 1860, he was commissioned to make a series of sketches of Alpine scenery, and undertook an extensive journey in the Central and Western Alps. The following year, Whymper completed the ascent of Mont Pelvoux, later reaching the summit of a neighbouring peak, subsequently named the Pointe des Ecrins (which at that time was the highest point in the French Alps) in 1864. In July 1865, he succeeded in reaching the summit of the Matterhorn by way of the eastern face, after six previous attempts had ended in failure. However, four members of the party were killed on the descent, resulting in a formal investigation on his return. His account of the accident featured in Scrambles among the Alps (1871), which is illustrated with his own engravings.

In 1867, Whymper led the British Exploring Expedition, travelling to Greenland in an unsuccessful attempt to cross the interior with dog sledges. He and botanist, Robert Brown, succeeded in collecting specimens on the shores of Vaigat, which were later deposited in the British Museum. He returned to west Greenland in 1872 when he led the British Reconnaissance Expedition, examining the coasts around Disko Island, making glaciological and geological observations and collecting fossils.

Whymper next led an expedition to the Ecuadorian Andes, organized primarily to collect data for the study of altitude sickness and the effects on the human body. In 1880, he made the first ascent of Chimborazo, and spent a night on the summit of Cotopaxi, in addition to making first ascents of six other great peaks. The results of his journey were published in 1892 for which he was awarded the Patrons Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. He brought back a large collection of rocks and other natural history specimens and suggested important improvements in the construction of aneroid barometers. Between 1896 and 1897, Whymper compiled two popular guidebooks to Chamonix and Zermatt. He visited the Canadian Rockies, making the first ascents of Mount Whymper and Stanley Peak in 1901. He died on 16 September 1911 at Chamonix in France.

Published work includes Travels amongst the Great Andes of the Equator by Edward H Whymper, John Murray London (1892) SPRI Library Shelf (866):796.52

From the guide to the Edward Whymper collection, 1853-1911, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)


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