Sir Edmund Hillary:A Philatelic Retrospective

By Kevin Morgan

Sir Edmund Hillary, Mountaineer, Explorer, Statesman, Philanthropist died on 11th January 2008 aged 88. This New Zealand mint pair of stamps was issued in 2003 for the 50th anniversary of the Conquest of Everest.

Beginnings
\"\"Edmund Hillary was born in Auckland, on 20 July 1919, to a district landowner. His father had served at Gallipoli with the ANZACS and his grandparents were early settlers in northern Wairoa in the 1850s emigrating from Yorkshire. He attended Tuakau Primary School and Auckland Grammar School. His first passion was reading, and the daily bus journey to and from the Grammar school which was around two hours each way gave him plenty of opportunity to absorb himself in books. As a boy he was extremely shy, and slight in stature compared with his peers, and so he used his free time engulfed in his books and dreamed of a life of adventure. By the age of 16 his interest in mountaineering had already sown its seeds following a trip to Mount Ruapehu. By now he was very tall standing at 195cm, and though thin he was also quite strong, and had great physical endurance even at this early age. At 20 he completed his first major climb, and reached the summit of Mount Oliver in the Southern Alps.

World War II
Hillary did not join up immediately on outbreak of war, citing religious conscience as his reason, however in 1943 with the Japanese presence threatening he was conscripted into the RNZAF as a navigator and served on Catalina flying boats. In 1945 he was severely burned in a boating accident, after which he was repatriated to New Zealand to sit out the final months of the war.

Expeditions
In 1951 Hillary became part of a British reconnaissance expedition to Everest led by Eric Shipton. The next year, he and George Lowe joined a British team also led by Shipton that failed in an attempt on Cho Oyu.

At that time Nepal only allowed one Everest expedition each year, and in 1952 Tenzing took part in a failed Swiss attempt on the summit, however they did reach within 240m of their goal before bad weather conditions forced them to turn back. At that time Hillary was on a trip to the Alps when he was informed that he and George Lowe had both invited to join a British 1953 attempt. He immediately accepted.

\"\"Initially Shipton was named as leader but was quickly replaced by Colonel John Hunt. Hillary, unhappy with this decision almost withdrew, however Hunt and Shipton in a concerted effort managed to talk him into staying on. Hunt named two teams for the ascent, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans; and Hillary and Tenzing.

This like many such expeditions, was to be a team effort. They set up a base camp in March 1953 and by May 26 had reached 7900 metres. This was where Bourdillon and Evans attempted the summit, but had to retreat when they had problems with an oxygen cylinder. They had gotten within 100 metres of the summit!They set up camp at 8,500 metres later that day, following which the support group returned down the mountain. The following morning Hillary found his boots had frozen solid outside the tent and had to spend hours thawing them out before they could attempt the final stage of their epic adventure. Each carrying 14kg packs the two men reached their goal, the summit of Everest at 11.30am, the final 12 metres or so a virtual sheer rock face!

Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay now made preparations for their own assault. Adverse weather conditions meant that they could not start out until May 28, and took a three man support team with them, including George Lowe, by now Hillary’s best friend.

\"\"Only 15 minutes was spent at the summit, mostly looking unsuccessfully for evidence of the Mallory expedition. Hillary captured Tenzing’s photo, Tenzing left chocolates in the snow as gift to the mountain, and Hillary left a small cross.There are no pictures of Hillary at the summit, since Tenzing at that time had no knowledge of cameras and their operation.

Hillary’s first words on their descent, to Lowe who had climbed up to meet them, were reportedly “Well George, we finally knocked the bastard off!”

News of the success reached England on Coronation Day 1953, and Hillary’s achievement was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June of that year.

Hillary climbed several other mountains in the Himalayas from 1956 to 1965. As part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, for which he led the New Zealand section, he reached the South Pole on 4 January 1958. The first to reach the Pole since Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912, and the first time that motor vehicles had ever reached the South Pole. In 1977 he joined a jetboat expedition, entitled “Ocean to Sky”, from the mouth of the Ganges River to its source, and in 1979, he was asked to act as a commentator on Air New Zealand Flight 901, an Antarctic sightseeing flight, but had prior commitments. His position was taken by close friend Peter Mulgrew, who died when the flight crashed on Mount Erebus.

Hillary was later to marry Mulgrew’s widow, his own wife Louise along with his daughter Belinda having sadly perished in a light plane disaster on their way to meet him near Kathmandu in 1975.

Hillary stood for office in the New Zealand 1975 general election campaign. This was seen by many as a precursor to his nomination as Governor-General, the position however finally went to to Keith Holyoake in 1977. In 1985 Hillary was appointed High Commissioner to India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and spent nearly the next five years based in New Delhi.

In the same year he and moon-walking US astronaut Neil Armstrong landed at the North Pole in a small twin engined plane, fitted with skis, thus becoming the first man ever to conquer both North and South Poles, and to stand on the summit of Everest.

January 2007 saw Hillary travel once again to Antarctica on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Scott Base. During this trip he urged the British government to help contribute to the upkeep of Scott’s and Shackleton’s huts.

Recognition
Edmund Hillary became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on 6 June 1953; a member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ) in 1987; and a Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG) on 22 April 1995. He also received the Polar Medal for his part in the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Many streets, schools and organisations both in New Zealand and in many other countries are named after him. In 1992 Hillary appeared on a new New Zealand $5 banknote; becoming the only New Zealander to appear on a banknote during their own lifetime. To mark the 50th anniversary of Hillary’s ascent of Everest the Nepalese Government conferred him with an Honorary citizenship, and became the first foreign national to receive such an honour from the Nepalese government.

Family life
Edmund married Louise Rose on 3 September 1953, soon after the conquest of Everest. They had three children: Peter (1954), Sarah (1955) and Belinda (1959).

\"\"Sadly in 1975 while en route to join him whilst he was assisting in building a village hospital, his wife Louise and Belinda were killed in a plane crash. He married his second wife June, the widow of close friend Peter Mulgrew, on 21 December 1989.

Peter, his son also became a mountaineer, conquering Everest in 1990. And in 2003 Peter and Jamling Norgay (son of Tenzing) climbed Everest as part of a 50th anniversary celebration.

Only 15 minutes was spent at the summit, mostly looking unsuccessfully for evidence of the Mallory expedition. Hillary captured Tenzing’s photo, Tenzing left chocolates in the snow as gift to the mountain, and Hillary left a small cross.There are no pictures of Hillary at the summit, since Tenzing at that time had no knowledge of cameras and their operation.

Hillary’s first words on their descent, to Lowe who had climbed up to meet them, were reportedly “Well George, we finally knocked the bastard off!”

News of the success reached England on Coronation Day 1953, and Hillary’s achievement was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June of that year.

Hillary climbed several other mountains in the Himalayas from 1956 to 1965. As part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, for which he led the New Zealand section, he reached the South Pole on 4 January 1958. The first to reach the Pole since Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912, and the first time that motor vehicles had ever reached the South Pole. In 1977 he joined a jetboat expedition, entitled “Ocean to Sky”, from the mouth of the Ganges River to its source, and in 1979, he was asked to act as a commentator on Air New Zealand Flight 901, an Antarctic sightseeing flight, but had prior commitments. His position was taken by close friend Peter Mulgrew, who died when the flight crashed on Mount Erebus.

Hillary was later to marry Mulgrew’s widow, his own wife Louise along with his daughter Belinda having sadly perished in a light plane disaster on their way to meet him near Kathmandu in 1975.

Hillary stood for office in the New Zealand 1975 general election campaign. This was seen by many as a precursor to his nomination as Governor-General, the position however finally went to to Keith Holyoake in 1977. In 1985 Hillary was appointed High Commissioner to India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and spent nearly the next five years based in New Delhi.

In the same year he and moon-walking US astronaut Neil Armstrong landed at the North Pole in a small twin engined plane, fitted with skis, thus becoming the first man ever to conquer both North and South Poles, and to stand on the summit of Everest.

January 2007 saw Hillary travel once again to Antarctica on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Scott Base. During this trip he urged the British government to help contribute to the upkeep of Scott’s and Shackleton’s huts.

Recognition
Edmund Hillary became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on 6 June 1953; a member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ) in 1987; and a Knight of the Order of the Garter (KG) on 22 April 1995. He also received the Polar Medal for his part in the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Many streets, schools and organisations both in New Zealand and in many other countries are named after him. In 1992 Hillary appeared on a new New Zealand $5 banknote; becoming the only New Zealander to appear on a banknote during their own lifetime. To mark the 50th anniversary of Hillary’s ascent of Everest the Nepalese Government conferred him with an Honorary citizenship, and became the first foreign national to receive such an honour from the Nepalese government.

Family life
Edmund married Louise Rose on 3 September 1953, soon after the conquest of Everest. They had three children: Peter (1954), Sarah (1955) and Belinda (1959).

Sadly in 1975 while en route to join him whilst he was assisting in building a village hospital, his wife Louise and Belinda were killed in a plane crash. He married his second wife June, the widow of close friend Peter Mulgrew, on 21 December 1989.

Peter, his son also became a mountaineer, conquering Everest in 1990. And in 2003 Peter and Jamling Norgay (son of Tenzing) climbed Everest as part of a 50th anniversary celebration.

Philanthropy
Sir Edmund Hillary devoted much of his time to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal. Through his efforts many schools and hospitals have been founded in this remote region. The Sherpas have vowed that his legacy will continue in the region.

Source & Courtesy : StampNews.Com

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2 Responses to Sir Edmund Hillary:A Philatelic Retrospective

  1. Sudhir Jain says:

    Very interesting and informative article.

  2. Santanu Panigrahi. says:

    Very nice informative article. Family life and Recognition has been repeated during compiling.

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