Sir Edmund Hillary, 1919-2008


Allan Hawkey, A Mountain of a Man, 30 May 2003, Digital Cartoon, New Zealand Cartoon Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: DCDL-0001766

Sir Edmund Hillary, 1919-2008

After springing to international fame by conquering Mt Everest in May 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary became the world's most famous New Zealander. For many, Hillary's bravery and modesty about his achievements made him the quintessential Kiwi hero.

Later in life Hillary placed more emphasis on the importance of his philanthropic work in Sherpa communities in Nepal than on his famous exploits in the Himalayas, Antarctica and India. "I have enjoyed great satisfaction from my climb of Everest and my trips to the Poles," he said. "But there's no doubt, either, that my most worthwhile things have been the building of schools and medical clinics. That has given me more satisfaction than a footprint on a mountain." [1]

Timeline of Hillary's life

20 July, 1919  Born in Auckland.

1935  Aged 16, interest in mountaineering is triggered by a school trip to Mt Ruapehu, in the centre of New Zealand's North Island.

1936-43  Works as a beekeeper.

1939  First major climb, of Mt Olivier in New Zealand's Southern Alps.

1944-45  Joins the Royal New Zealand Air Force during World War II, and serves as a navigator on Catalina flying boats in the Pacific.

1951  Leads the New Zealand Gawhal Expedition in the Himalayas; joins the British Everest Reconnaissance Expedition.

1952  Part of the British Cho Oyu Expedition in the Himalayas.

May 29, 1953  With Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, reaches the summit of Everest (8,848 metres). Created a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation Day Honours List.

1955  Chosen to lead the New Zealand Antarctic Expedition, 1956–58.

1957-58  Leads the New Zealand section of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Reached the South Pole on 4 January 1958, completing the first overland journey from Scott Base to the South Pole using motor vehicles.

1961  Establishes the Himalaya Trust dedicated to assisting the Sherpa people of Nepal by building schools, hospitals and other infrastructure.

1967  Makes first ascent of Mt Herschel, Antarctica.

1977  Leads a jetboat expedition from the mouth of the Ganges River to its source.

1985  Appointed New Zealand High Commissioner to India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Accompanies Neil Armstrong to the North Pole.

1992  Updated New Zealand five dollar note is released, featuring a portrait of Hillary. He is the first New Zealander to appear on a bank note during their lifetime.

2003  Returns to Nepal for the 50th anniversary of the ascent of Everest. Nepalese Government awards him honorary citizenship.

2007  Returns to Antarctica for the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Scott Base.

11 January 2008  Dies in Auckland, aged 88.

Images, film clips and information about Hillary

More photos of Sir Edmund Hillary – Flickr website

Sir Edmund Hillary biography – NZ History website

Film clip: Magic Kiwis: Sir Edmund Hillary – The Film Archive website

Film clip: Hillary return after conquering Everest – The Film Archive website

See this image in our collections

[1] Obituary, Sunday Star Times, 13 January 2008, C8-9.

Permission of the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

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