Edward Whymper collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of journals, diaries, notes, letters and miscellaneous papers covering trips to Greenland, the Alps and South America.

Administrative / Biographical History

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


The collection is arranged in the order it was deposited at the Institute.

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and Wikipedia and 1911 encyclopaedia and Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement volume 3, Smith, Elder & Co. London (1912) and Encyclopaedia Britannica volume 10 William Benton Publisher Chicago (1974)

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible