Irvine archival items

On 8 June 1924, Merton College student Sandy Irvine vanished into the mists high on Mount Everest with his climbing companion, George Mallory. Their disappearance so close to the highest mountain on earth has led to a century of speculation about what happened to the two climbers. They were last seen by Captain Noel Odell ‘going strong for the top’.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of their deaths and we are marking it with an exhibition to showcase Sandy Irvine’s short but action-packed life. Born in Birkenhead in 1902, he had already rowed in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, crossed the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and possibly, just possibly, stood on the summit of Mount Everest. His life has been immortalised in books and films. Here we celebrate his life through photographs, objects and letters that were carefully kept by his father, Willie Irvine. For someone who died so young, his life was well-documented, and we have been able to draw on a wealth of material, most of which belongs to the college, to tell his story.

Among all speculation, we present you with a young man who was brave, inventive, an outstanding sportsman and a loyal friend to those who knew him well. Arnold Lunn wrote in his obituary: ‘It is sad to die young, but if posthumous glory is any compensation, we can console ourselves with the thought that the names of Mallory and Irvine will be linked for ever with the world’s great mountain, and with the greatest epic in all the wonderful story of mountain adventure.’

The main source for the exhibition copy is:

Julie Summers, Fearless on Everest: the quest for Sandy Irvine (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000), republished by Oxford: Iffley Press  

We will also be celebrating and remembering Sandy's life and this important anniversary at Merton College on April 27th, with the symposium 'Everest 1924: A Century in Review'. Find out more and book your place at the symposium

We are grateful to Eric Braverman, Neil R. Brown (Merton 2002), and Jean de Pourtales (Merton 1984) for their generous support for the Everest 1924-2024 anniversary exhibitions.

Much of the material reproduced in the exhibition is from the Sandy Irvine Archive at Merton College (c) The Warden and Fellows of Merton College Oxford.  Photo credits and copyright acknowledgements to other individuals and institutions are given where known.  We would like to thank those who provided assistance, images and permission to include copyright material in this online exhibition, including:

The Alpine Club

Durham University, Bentley Beetham Collection

Peter Odell

The Royal Geographical Society

The Mountain Heritage Trust

In some instances despite our best efforts, we have not been able to trace the copyright holder, but we would be happy to provide an appropriate acknowledgment if contacted.