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Four famous Brits who helped establish their country's reputation for exploration

Here's why the adventures of Irvine and Mallory, Scott and Whymper are as well-known as their tragedies
  • Nov 30, 2014
  • 430 words
  • 2 minutes
Carbon print showing Robert Falcon Scott in 1911, a year before his death Expand Image

The British have a long-standing history of dispatching expeditions around the world. Sometimes these journeys end in tragedy, such as the case of Sir John Franklin. Here are three other infamous expeditions that suffered lost lives in pursuit of a goal.

George Mallory & Andrew Irvine
In the early 1920s, Britain was gripped with the challenge of conquering Mount Everest in order to reinvigorate national prestige. But the two men chosen to be the first to climb the world’s tallest mountain–George Mallory & Andrew Irvine–would eventually die upon it. In 1924, the two men left their camp in the last part of the climbing season, and never returned. Ever since, people have debated whether or not the two men actually reached the summit. In 1999 Mallory’s body was found showing signs of falling while being tethered by a rope. While it offered no conclusive proof as to whether or not the pair reached their goal, Mallory had allegedly carried a photo of his wife with him, intending to place it at the summit. No photo was found on his person.

Edward Whymper
Unlike Mallory and Irvine’s debatable summiting of Everest, Edward Whymper’s first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 is uncontested. However, on the descent one man is his climbing party slipped and pulled another three to their deaths. The rope snapped before Whymper could be pulled down as well, and he lived to write these words of caution: “Do nothing in haste; look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.” After the incident, Whymper went on to climb many more famous mountains, though never again in the Alps. His last journeys were in the Canadian Rockies.

Robert Falcon Scott
If there is a common thread linking these great British expedition tragedies, it is that they were all in the midst of a competition when they perished. In Robert Falcon Scott’s case, it happened during his British Antarctic Expedition of 1910 – 1913, during which time he and Norway’s Roald Amundsen were each trying to reach the South Pole first. Scott’s expedition was also intending to perform scientific experiments on the frozen continent, and so the group was split in two. Unfortunately for Scott, not only did the group heading to the South Pole lose the race, but they also perished on the journey back to base camp. When the other half of the crew returned home with the news, donations poured in and a memorial institute was founded. The Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) still carries out polar research today.


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