Everest expedition memorabilia climbs high

Memorabilia from the first successful British ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 – including a food packet used by the adventurers – has been saved for posterity thanks to a world-renowned mountaineer.

The unique archive treasured for decades by Tom Stobart, official cameraman on the 1953 Everest Expedition, has been bought by Italian mountaineer, explorer, and author Reinhold Messner for £12,000 at auction at Hansons London.

Everest collection

The items, which included an Everest Expedition food packet signed by John Hunt, who led the expedition, and fellow mountaineers Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, will now be exhibited at The Messner Mountain Museum in Northern Italy.

Reinhold made the first solo ascent of Mount Everest in 1980. His decision to buy the Tom Stobart collection has delighted the seller, Tom’s son Patrick Stobart. At the age of 77 the company director from Nottingham decided to part with it in a bid to save the historical archive for posterity.

Patrick said: “It is most fitting that the whole collection was bought by Reinhold Messner who is, according to British mountaineer Chris Bonington, ‘arguably the greatest climber of all time’.

Tom Stobart, official cameraman on the 1953 Everest Expedition
Tom Stobart, official cameraman on the 1953 Everest Expedition

“Messner, in May 1978, 25 years after the Hillary and Tenzing conquest, was the first person [with Peter Habeler] to climb Mount Everest without the aid of oxygen. He will be helping to keep Tom Stobart’s name alive by displaying the collection in his Mountain Museum in Northern Italy where it can be viewed by everyone.”

Reinhold Messner said: “I will always have a special memory of the history of Mount Everest. Next year it will be exactly 70 years ago that it was climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Norgay Tenzing. But not only the first climbers were pioneers, also the fellow travellers, the researchers and photographers, the scientists were pioneers of their time.

“I am glad that I could buy relics at Hansons’ auction with which I can present the narrative of Everest in our museum Corones in South Tyrol, and thus a piece of history is preserved.”

Reinhold Messner at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2017
Reinhold Messner at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2017. Credit Ptolusque Wikipedia

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers and Hansons London, said: “We could not be more delighted. This collection scaled the peaks and ended up in the perfect place. We’re thrilled it will be on public view to celebrate a major mountaineering achievement and honour Tom’s life of adventure.”

Tom Stobart (1914-1980), a British cameraman, filmmaker and author, captured the footage to create The Conquest of Everest, a film of the event. He received an OBE for his efforts.

His collection sold at auction, amassed over a lifetime of adventure, included tickets and an official programme for the first screening of The Conquest of Everest, attended by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, and a painting of the Wheel of Life given to him by a Tibetan Buddhist monastery on the slopes of Everest and carried throughout the 1953 expedition.

Other items included an original letter of invitation to meet members of the Everest Expedition at London Airport, dated June 30, 1953; black and white photos; newspaper cuttings recording the Everest expedition; a pickaxe Tom used during a Tibetan Hunt for the Abominable Snowman in 1954; camera equipment, microscopes and cabinets packed with nature-related specimen slides.

Patrick, who at 16 travelled by road to Tehran, Iran, with his father to film documentary Adventure On and worked as a wildlife biologist in Africa, said: “I hoped the collection would go to a museum. I am extremely proud of my father and my grandfather Ralph Stobart, who was also a mountaineer.

“The framed food packet, which I displayed on the wall in my home, is particularly interesting. It was made of a lightweight foil to make it easy to carry and preserve food during the seven-week expedition.”

New Zealander Edmund Hillary (1919-2008) and Nepalese Tenzing Norgay (1914-1986) reached the top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, on May 29, 1953. They were the first people to ever reach the summit. Tom captured the moment on film.

He was born in Darlington, County Durham, and educated at St Bees School near Whitehaven, Cumberland. He attended Sheffield University and Cambridge University where he studied zoology.

He made army instructional films in India during the Second World War, and adventure was always his calling. He went on a 1946 expedition to the Himalayas, and on an expedition to North Queensland. He also made the official film of the 1949-50 Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition. During the 1953 Everest challenge, John Hunt recalled that Tom had a ‘seemingly endless repertoire of adventure stories’.

Tom was also a talented cook and his books include Cook’s Encyclopaedia and Herbs, Spices and Flavourings. Sadly, he was left partially disabled after being shot twice in the legs during a filming trip to Ethiopia around 1956. He died suddenly in 1980 aged 66 – just before a new chapter in his life was about to begin. He and Patrick planned to mass produce chutneys based on Tom’s recipes.