Sir Edmund Hillary, or ‘Ed’ as he was universally known by everyone, is a very famous New Zealander because he was one of first people in the world (along with Tenzing Norgay) to reach the summit of Mount Everest. One of his famous quotes on why you might undertake such a mission was:
‘…you really climb for the hell of it’
Sir Edmund Hillary passed away in 2008 and not only people in New Zealand went into mourning but did so all around the world. He was hugely respected, a New Zealander we can be very proud of, and in the UK people joined the tribute.
He was so respected in the UK, he was made a Knight of the Garter, the highest order of chivalry granted by Her Majesty the Queen. As a result he has his own Coat of Arms. Hillary’s arms included a kiwi holding an ice axe, chevrons evoking mountains, prayer wheels representing Tibetan (Himalayan) Buddhism and two emperor penguins, an antarctic reference.
On a knight’s death, his personal banner is ceremonially laid down on the High Altar of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. This was done at a very moving ceremony on 2 April 2008, attended by the Queen and other members of the Royal Family. The banner was gifted later to a St Mary’s Church in Auckland, New Zealand by Sir Edmund Hillary’s wife.
The following day The Himalayan Trust UK organised a special tribute at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Sir Ed’s son, Peter Hillary, spoke on ‘Growing up with Ed’. Tenzing Norgay’s son, Jamling Norgay, spoke on behalf of the Sherpa community. And there was a showing of Michael Dillon’s prize-winning film Beyond Everest, about Sir Ed’s philanthropic work with the Sherpas. The auditorium was overflowing.
Now every year in London a series of Sir Edmund Hillary Memorial Lectures takes place on the day of his ascent of Everest, 29 May, or as close to this day as possible, at the Royal Geographical Society. You can keep a look out for these in our events section.
People climb Mount Everest today but even with the technology now available and the improvements in clothing, there is an average of one death for every ten successful attempts. If you want to understand the magnitude of Sir Edmund Hillary’s achievement at that time then a good start is to visit the Science Museum and have a look at some of the radio equipment they used on this exhibition.
The Royal Geographical Society in London has a collection of photos from the 1953 Everest expedition you can view here.
Not suprising, Sir Edmund Hillary did not choose London as a place to recover after his famous ascent. Unlike today’s celebrities who get looked after in plush hotels, he stayed and recovered with friends in a house in Norfolk at 467 Earlham Road. You can learn more about his stay here.