Enduring Everest

TCD MS 10484/4/4
TCD MS 10484/4/4

In the aftermath of the First World War, many seasoned soldiers turned to a life of adventure, seeking out new adrenalin-fuelled challenges to replace the heroics of the battlefield, or to suppress the memory of its atrocities, or both. The conquest of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, became an attractive objective, and three attempts were made in the early 1920s by British mountaineering teams. These included the Irishmen Charles Howard Bury (the 1921 ‘Reconnaissance’ Expedition) and Richard William George Hingston (1924). Both had served with distinction in the war (Howard Bury in France, Hingston in the Middle East), and their war diaries form part of the Library’s First World War resource, ‘Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails’.

10484/4/11 members of the 1924 expedition, Hingston is standing second from left
10484/4/11 members of the 1924 expedition, Hingston is standing second from left

The 1924 expedition, which Hingston joined as a medical officer and naturalist, is famous for resulting in Everest’s greatest mystery: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine broke off from the group to make a final attempt on the summit on 8 June 1924, and were spotted near to the summit only to then disappear into the cloud cover, never to return. Mallory’s body was only recovered in 1999 at 26,755 ft (8,155 m) – what caused their deaths, or whether they actually made it to the summit remains a matter of conjecture, despite the fact that this attempt was the best documented of its time.

TCD MS 10484/4/1 member of the climbing team with oxygen tanks
TCD MS 10484/4/1 member of the climbing team with oxygen tanks

The official photographer, John Noel, devoted himself to recording a filmed record of the expedition. The result, The Epic of Everest, is one of the most remarkable pieces of documentary film-making of the early 20th century. With Noel preoccupied with filming (as well as the logistical nightmare of transporting bulky equipment up the slopes alongside its own team of mules and porters), the remainder of the group dutifully compiled still photographs with their ‘tourist variety’ cameras. Their published report, The Fight for Everest, details the travails of the Himalayan photographer: the tendency to ‘under-expose in tropical Sikkim and over-expose in arctic Tibet’; the unwelcome effects of the lack of oxygen on development times and their ingenious solution to the problem of drying negatives in sub-zero conditions:

10484/4/15 Everest Base Camp
10484/4/15 Everest Base Camp

‘We threaded as many as 50-60 [negatives] on cotton as soon as they were washed and suspended them in rows in the apex of Noel’s double-walled tent. Then we brought in great glowing trays of smouldering Yak dung and set those on the floor so that the heat might rise and circulate about the films and prevent them from freezing … Noel complained that he had to sleep in the tent; we complained that he was the only man to have a fire in his bedroom.’

TCD MS 10484/4/2
TCD MS 10484/4/2

Given such challenges, it is remarkable that so many enduring images made it back, including those taken by Hingston and now housed in M&ARL. Hingston not only took images of his fellow mountaineers, sherpas, and the region itself, but also birds and insects as part of his work as a naturalist. M&ARL also holds Hingston’s annotated maps of the area, correspondence with colleagues at Camp II, and letters he sent to the Natural History Museum on his return. These include taxonomical lists of the specimens he collected, including a species of Black Attid spider. He discovered this creature living at 22,000 feet – the highest known habitat for any animal.

TCD MS 10473 f 36 recto Hingston's journal for 7 to 10 June 1924 describing the tragic summit attempt
TCD MS 10473 f 36 recto Hingston’s journal for 7-10 June 1924 describing the tragic summit attempt

One of the most emotive items in the collection is the notebook Hingston took with him to record the expedition, TCD MS 10473, which was then worked up into a more legible copy, TCD MS 10474. With echoes of the diary of Scott of the Antarctic, this is both a record-keeping exercise and a personal notebook, with each entry written in pencil commencing with location and height in feet, but betraying little of the extreme conditions. A single page 36 recto, datable to 8 June, describes the final ascent by Mallory and Irvine: ‘eyes glued to the mountain. There is just a chance of Mallory and Irvine getting to the summit’, but finishes sombrely on 10 June, ‘there can be no doubt; the worst has happened.’

A full list of the Hingston papers is available on the M&ARL online catalogue. The Hingston papers were fully digitised in 2010 as part of the EuropeanaTravel project funded under European Commission’s eContentplus programme, and are available via the Library’s Digital Collections site.

Estelle Gittins

Film of Trinity War Memorial

On 26 September this year a ceremony was held during which a memorial stone was unveiled outside the Hall of Honour, in Front Square. A short film about the project was commissioned by the Hall of Honour Memorial Stone Committee and has just been posted on the College YouTube channel. The support of the TCD Association and Trust for the making of this film is gratefully acknowledged.

Continue reading “Film of Trinity War Memorial”

Waterloo – battle site as tourist attraction

As the Irish people have embraced the fact – and the associated implications – of their significant involvement in the First World War, it is being borne in upon us the extent of the role of the Irish in many of the so-called great battles instigated by our neighbours. The Battle of Waterloo is no exception; there may have been as many as 12,000 Irishmen there – a third of the British contingent – and the name of Arthur Wellesley from Trim, as the Duke of Wellington, is the best known of them all.

A small exhibition has been curated in the Long Room to acknowledge, firstly, the Irish presence at Waterloo and, secondly, to prompt thought about the manner in which scenes of murderous human self-destruction swiftly become tourist attractions.

Flowers taken as souvenirs from the site of the Battle of Waterloo (TCD MS 11054)
Flowers taken as souvenirs from the site of the Battle of Waterloo (TCD MS 11054)

General Sir John Ormsby Vandeleur (1763-1849),  son of Richard and Elinor Vandeleur, of Co. Laois, achieved prominence during the Hundred Days campaign of 1815 during which he commanded the fourth cavalry brigade. On 18 June 1815, Lord Uxbridge, the commanding officer at Waterloo, had his leg shattered by a cannon ball and, as the next senior officer, Vandeleur then commanded the whole of the British cavalry during the battle. He was mentioned in Wellington’s Waterloo despatch, and he was awarded the silver Waterloo medal.

On display in the Long Room are letters from the general to his wife, written before and after the battle. These letters are interesting for two principal reasons. They contradict a number of published biographies which claim that Vandeleur was married in 1829; these letters prove that by 1815 he was already married and the father of at least two children. Secondly they show the level of detail about his activities on the day which Vandeleur felt it was appropriate to give his wife. That is to say, very little.

Tourism began the day after the battle when, on 19 June 1815, ‘a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field’ upon which many thousands had recently died. These first visitors were met with the sight of ‘the multitude of carcasses, the heaps of wounded men with mangled limbs unable to move, and perishing from not having their wounds dressed or from hunger’ as one early visitor put it.

It was not until the First World War that the remains of dead soldiers were treated with the kind of respect that has since become the norm. In the exhibition are two accounts of later visits to the battlefield. One was undertaken in 1816 by Irishman Sir Edward O’Brien who recorded:

‘The bones of forty thousand gallant soldiers lie interred in this famous field & afford in many instances something of worth to the occupiers of this soil – as in many places the crops appear to be enriched from the bodies both of men & horses – which have been buried – & as the entire field of battle is under cultivation each succeeding year the plough will turn up the bones of these illustrious men who fell on that well-fought day’.

Ivy taken by Emma Howard as a souvenir from the site of the battle (from TCD MS 11054)
Ivy taken by Emma Howard as a souvenir from the site of the battle (from TCD MS 11054)

Also on display is a journal of a trip by Englishwoman Emma Howard in 1883. Of her visit to the Château d’Hougoumont, the principal focus of the fighting in June 1815, Mrs. Howard records: ‘A young man … gave me a bunch of violets plucked from the ruins of the Château some of which I have pressed. I also gathered some chestnuts and pulled some ivy from a tree on the battlefield, designated “rubbish” by my good husband!’

The anniversary of Waterloo has been marked by ceremonies in Trim and elsewhere. In Dublin the Military History Society and others are marking it with a service in St. Patrick’s Cathedral commemorating ‘the fallen of all nations who died at Waterloo’. There will be a conference on the subject in University College Dublin in November.

Jane Maxwell

Throwing a bit of light on the subject

Light 2The celebrations in Trinity Week, which is a week of celebration of Trinity in Trinity, are normally sponsored and themed by one of the faculties. This year it’s the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science which is hosting the programme of events, beginning on 11 April, and the theme is ‘Light’.

The Library, which is so central to so much of the work afoot in College, will remind people of this important fact by staging a number of events on the theme of light during Trinity Week.

Harry Clarke, for example, used light as part of his palette, and his role in Irish cultural history will be acknowledged by the installation of a reproduction, from the Library’s Harry Clarke Studios archives, in one of the windows of The Trinity Long Room Hub. The image chosen is a glorious drawing of three roses set in a starburst.

The Library also presents itself as an ‘illuminary’ – that which illuminates – since that is what the Library does to the research mission of the College. To bring home this point, images from the Library’s historic collections in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library and the Department of Early Printed Books and Special Collections will be projected onto the wall above the Nassau Street entrance to College and also above the entrance to the Berkeley Library.Light 1

Allying this theme with the centenary of the First World War has inspired another Library installation; ‘The lamps have gone out all over Europe. We will not see them lit again in our lifetime’ – a well-known and resonant phrase, dating from the eve of First World War, which was understood from the beginning as a threat to enlightened civilization. It is proposed to project, onto the East face of the 1937 Reading Room, the names and portraits of the Trinity engineers and medics who fell. The images from the Medical School are part of the Library’s archival collections, while those of the Engineers still grace the walls of the Museum Building.
All of the images being projected are accessible through Digital Collections

Early Printed Books and M&ARL have taken a bit of liberty with the word ‘light’ in the titles of an exhibition and of this present blog post: ‘…and there was light’ is the title of a small exhibition, curated by EPB in the Berkeley foyer, which explores the theme through texts on religion, science and literature.

The website for the Library’s projects within Trinity Week is accessible here

Jane Maxwell

Soldiering on

WWIThis Saturday, 12 July, Trinity College Dublin is playing host to the ‘WWI Roadshow’ in partnership with RTÉ Radio 1 and the National Library of Ireland. This consists of a series of events throughout the campus designed to explore Ireland’s role in the Great War. Of particular interest is a lecture to be given by Jane Maxwell, of the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library, entitled ‘Manage to exist and try and be cheerful’: sources in Trinity College Library’s Manuscript Collections for the History of the First World War. The talk will take place in the Long Room Hub at 10.15am and is part of a series of pop-up talks and lectures scheduled throughout the day.

In her talk Jane will cover subjects such as the logistics of warfare in Mesopotamia (which required the transportation of camels by boat and baking bread outdoors in the desert); Molly Childers’ charitable work in aid of Belgian refugees, among others, (for which she received the MBE); and drawings of the first occasion in history in which zeppelins, sea planes, submarines and ships of war were deployed together.

IMG_7715Also of interest is the exhibition, with the same name, curated by Aisling Lockhart, which has just been installed for the occasion in the Long Room. This exhibition showcases diaries, photographs, drawings and letters, belonging to servicemen and their families, which are housed in M&ARL.

The Department of Early Printed Books have curated a Francis Ledwidge display in the Berkeley Library for the Roadshow.

Saturday’s programme of free events also includes music, poetry and drama events in the Chapel, Great War-related history tours of the campus, cooking demonstrations of ‘the food of WW1’, and a ‘Last Cricket Match of Peace’. The day will finish with the final bugle call of ‘The Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’.

WWI dress medals MS-EX-12_063The World War 1 Roadshow forms part of Trinity’s engagement with the Decade of Commemorations celebrations. A new website has been launched outlining College’s activities marking the Decade of Commemoration.

Estelle Gittins

The talk ‘Manage to exist and try and be cheerful’: sources in Trinity College Library’s Manuscript Collections for the History of the First World War takes place at 10.15am on Saturday 12 July in the Long Room Hub, Fellows’ Square.

The exhibition ‘Manage to exist and try and be cheerful’ will be on show for the next two months in the Long Room, Trinity College Library.