Somervell, Theodore Howard

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

File containing extracts from the official reports of the 1922 Everest expedition chiefly concerning the role and death of the Sherpa porters; programme of reportage on the 1924 Everest expedition and various accounts by Somervell and others of his life and work in India.

Administrative / Biographical History

T. Howard Somervell was born on 16th April 1890 at Kendal, Westmoreland, England, the son of W.H. Somervell, later (from 1918 to 1930) the Treasurer of the London Missionary Society. He was educated at the Leas School, at Rugby and at Cambridge where he took a science degree. He trained and qualified, in 1915, as a surgeon at University College Hospital, London. From 1915 to 1918 he served at the West Lancashire Casualty Clearing Station in France where his most harrowing experience was dealing with the many thousands injured in the Battle of the Somme. Somervell was a gifted artist and musician but his chief passion was climbing mountains. He climbed extensively in the Lake District, Scotland and the Alps and, in 1922, was selected to join a British expediton, led by Brigadier General C.G. Bruce with George Mallory and others to climb Mount Everest. The team had reached 27,300 feet when the deaths of seven Sherpas forced an early retreat. Somervell determined to use his freed time to see more of India and travelled south to Travancore and to the LMS hospital at Neyyoor where he spent some weeks assisting the sole surgeon with urgent surgical work. On his return to England he made the decision to become a medical missionary and was accepted for service at Neyyoor. He arrived at Neyyoor in the Autumn of 1923 but he was already committed to join the 1924 British expedition to Everest and it was agreed he should be given the time to go. The expedition reached a height of 28,000 but lost two leading climbers, Mallory and Irvine.

By September 1924 Somervell was back at work at Neyyoor and in the following year brought out his new wife, Margaret Hope Simpson. In 1926 he became Superintendent of the Neyyoor Hospital, and of the South Travancore Medical Mission where he was stationed until 1945. Dr Somervell was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind gold medal for his medical work in India in 1938. He resigned from the LMS in 1945 for family reasons but was reappointed in 1948 and remained in India until his final retirement in 1954. Much of this final period of Somervell's career was spent at the Vellore Christian Medical College. Somervell died at Ambleside in the Lake District in 1975. He wrote a number of books of which his After Everest; the experiences of a mountaineer and medcial missionary first published in 1936 was probably the most widely read.

Conditions Governing Access

Unrestricted

Acquisition Information

Deposited on permanent loan with the records of the London Missionary Society by the Congregational Council for World Mission (later Council for World Mission) in 1973.

Other Finding Aids

This description constitutes the only finding aid at present.

Archivist's Note

This description compiled by Rosemary Seton, Archivist, SOAS.

Conditions Governing Use

No publication without prior permission. Apply to SOAS Archives in first instance.

Custodial History

The papers were deposited with the London Missionary Society and form part of the special series of personal papers of individual LMS missionaries and officers.

Related Material

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds the records of the London Missionary Society (Ref: CWM/LMS), including letters and reports from individual missionaries, including T. Howard Somervell. His candidate papers are also to be found in the archive. A set of photographs taken by him at Neyyoor can be found in the Photographic section (Ref. CWM, LMS, India, Photographs, Box 13). The CWM Library holds a number of his published works.

Howard Somervell's correspondence, dated 1923-1926, with his father, William Henry Somervell and photographs taken by him, and of him, on Everest in 1922 and 1924 are held in the collections of the Royal Geographical Society.