The Apprenticeship of a Mountaineer: Edward Whymper's London Diary, 1855-1859. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 2008.

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Edward Whymper, 'Introduction', in The Apprenticeship of a Mountaineer: Edward Whymper's London Diary, 1855-1859, (London, 2008) pp. ix-xxvi. British History Online [accessed 24 May 2024].

Edward Whymper. "Introduction", in The Apprenticeship of a Mountaineer: Edward Whymper's London Diary, 1855-1859, (London, 2008) ix-xxvi. British History Online, accessed May 24, 2024,

Whymper, Edward. "Introduction", The Apprenticeship of a Mountaineer: Edward Whymper's London Diary, 1855-1859, (London, 2008). ix-xxvi. British History Online. Web. 24 May 2024,


Edward Whymper's family background

I had ideas floating in my head that I should one day turn out some great person, be the person of my day, perhaps Prime Minister, or at least a millionaire. Who has not had them? They have not left me yet: time will show if they be true or false. (fn. 1)

The seventeen-year old Edward Whymper was a restlessly ambitious young man, but could have had no idea how, just eight years later, he would return to London from his triumphant, but tragic, ascent of the Matterhorn, to find himself the centre of attention.

The Whymper family had been established in Suffolk at least since the early seventeenth century, and owned the country seat of Glevering Hall, near Wickham Market, until the end of the eighteenth century. (fn. 2) Edward's grandfather Nathaniel Whymper (1787 – 1861) was a brewer and town councillor in Ipswich, who had eight surviving children by his first wife. Nathaniel's second son Josiah Wood (1813 – 1903) came to London with his older brother Ebenezer, when their mother died in 1829. They settled in Lambeth, in Old Paradise Street, and soon took up the rapidly developing trade of wood engraving. Josiah Whymper studied watercolour painting with Collingwood Smith and must have been making a reasonable living, as he soon married a woman one year older than himself, who died when she was only 23. (fn. 3) He married again two years later, this time to a penniless orphan. After the early deaths of her father, an impoverished clerk, and her mother, Elizabeth Claridge had been adopted by the philanthropicallyminded Samuel Leigh, a prosperous cashier at the Bank of England (and presumably the employer of Elizabeth's father), who lived with his two sisters in a grand house in Peckham. Excluded from any inheritance, Elizabeth was educated to work for a living, but this necessity was avoided when 'the prettiest girl he had ever seen,' was noticed by the handsome young Josiah Whymper in the Baptist chapel attended by himself and the Leighs. When told that the object of his desire had no prospects, Josiah's confident reply, 'money no object,' secured his bride. Elizabeth Claridge was eighteen when they married, and was to bear Josiah's eleven children. (fn. 4) The tenor of Edward's diary entries, and his puzzled comment about Samuel Leigh's funeral ('I am obliged to attend.'), suggest that he only knew of him as another family friend from chapel. (fn. 5) The youngest Whymper boy was however given the forenames Samuel Leigh.

Josiah Whymper was by now settled at Canterbury Place, Lambeth Road, where Edward was to live for nearly fifty years. (fn. 6) Lambeth Road runs east from the site of the old horse ferry across the Thames, to St George's Circus. At one end was the Bethlem Royal Hospital for the insane, greatly expanded in 1835, and at the other, by the river, was the parish church of St Mary's at Lambeth, and the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth Palace. The central block of the Bethlem Hospital is now the Imperial War Museum; the parish church of St Mary's closed in 1979, and became a museum of garden history, run by the Tradescant Trust. As the Whymper household grew, they moved into rented premises on the other side of the road at 4 Lambeth Terrace, keeping Canterbury Place as the work premises. When the family moved to Haslemere in the summer of 1859, leaving Edward to run the business in London, he moved back into Canterbury Place. (Neither building survived the Second World War.)

Josiah Whymper's first son, Frederick, was born at Canterbury Place in 1838. Edward, the second son, followed on 27 April 1840. The two boys were close as children and Edward always looked up to his older brother. Fred was an easy-going, sociable character, who, after an adventurous start in life, settled into a relaxed existence in London as a jobbing writer, journalist and theatre critic. Edward took nothing for granted, but grew up with the deeply inculcated consciousness of a second son, that everything had to be worked for. As they left school and made their way in the world of work, Edward had more in common with his next brother, the quiet and undemonstrative Alfred (born 1843). The Whymper family grew steadily: Henry Josiah (1845), Elizabeth, the first girl (1848), Joseph (1850), Frank (1851) and Charles (1853). During the period of the diary came William Nathaniel (1855) and the youngest boy, Samuel (1857). The last child Annette was born in November 1859, just a few weeks before her mother's death.

None of Josiah Whymper's children ever knew that he had been married before meeting their mother. Josiah Whymper, in fact, was strangely reticent about his family and background. After his mother had died in 1829, his father Nathaniel married twice, further adding to his large family. Josiah Whymper hated his stepmothers, never told his children about their grandfather's second wife, and refused to recognize his father's third wife. He had a difficult relationship with the side of the family that remained resident in Ipswich, and according to Charles Whymper, those settled in London 'swore the Ipswich lot were rascals and had made muddles and so on, which all made JWW nearly mad, as he kept seemingly the whole lot.' (fn. 7) When an old man in the 1930s, Charles could still remember himself at thirteen, being sent out delivering money to various impecunious relatives, down in London to benefit from the good will of the hard-working, business-like Josiah Whymper.

Josiah Whymper had been brought up as a Baptist, and twice every Sunday the family would walk to the Baptist chapel at Maze Pond, near London Bridge, where they had their own pew. Josiah was involved in many of the chapel committees, was elected deacon in 1855, and much of their social life revolved around the chapel. (fn. 8) Edward's sisters, Elizabeth and Annette, were later active members of the Congregational church in Haslemere, but the Whymper boys, apart from Charles, did not keep any particular attachment to the Baptist creed. Alfred became a Church of England clergyman.

At the age of nine, Edward followed his brother Fred to the small private school, Clarendon House, run by Conrad Pinches, just around the corner from Canterbury Place. (fn. 9) This minor private academy operated in a single room in a large terraced house in Kennington Road. Edward clearly benefited from the influence of his driven, ambitious father, as his first report shows his position in a class of about thirty pupils to be third, fourth or fifth in all subjects. In the succeeding years he always came top in geography, natural philosophy, arithmetic and lectures. The school had a rule, (introduced, perhaps, to deal with the precocious young Whymper), that pupils could be awarded no more than three prizes each year. The box of school reports and certificates for good conduct which Whymper kept all his life, contains many commendations given in the absence of the prize that would be his due, but for the fact that he had already secured his quota of three that year. He learnt to write a reasonable, formal French, which stood him in good stead all his life. Clarendon House described itself as a 'Classical and scientific school' and did provide a thorough, modern and practical scientific education. Whymper's exercise books show he had a good grasp (for a twelve or thirteen year old), of such subjects as magnetism, heat, galvanism, mechanics, pneumatics, physiology, binary compounds and steam engines. His next brother Alfred followed him as a pupil at Clarendon House.

Years later, Whymper said that the economic impact of the Crimean War had terminated his schooling earlier than intended. (fn. 10) Most box wood, the basic material used for wood engravings, came from the Black Sea area, so the price may have risen when the war started, early in 1854. However, the conflict with Russia certainly stimulated the demand for cheap illustrated news, although, two years later, Whymper thought, 'It is certain that the war has done us (the engravers) a great deal of harm.' (fn. 11) For whatever reason, by the age of fourteen Edward Whymper's formal education had finished, and he started his apprenticeship as a wood engraver in the family firm.

Wood engraving

Josiah Whymper took up wood engraving at the right time. For at least fifty years, from the 1830s onwards, wood engraving was the means by which people would receive most of their visual representations of the outside world. A wood cut is a relief made with a knife or scooper, on a piece of plank, working with the grain. Metal engraving, which developed at the same time early in the fifteenth century, creates an intaglio design on a plate, the ink held in the depressions on the plate. Engraving on metal allows much finer, more detailed and more intense impressions, but it is more expensive and greater pressure is required to draw the ink from the incisions, so the metal wears out relatively quickly. Woodcuts, giving a much stronger image based on broad outlines, were widely used for cheaper, popular pictures, and mass-produced devotional images.

The first to combine the artistic richness of metal engraving with the relative cheapness of wood was Thomas Bewick (1753 - 1828). Born in Ovingham, on the Tyne, Bewick had been apprenticed to Ralph Beilby, a jeweler, metalworker, and engraver on copper of book illustrations. Seeking to achieve the same richness of detail and intensity, given by copper engravings, Bewick started using the end grain of planks of wood. This is harder than the side plank and allows the engraver to incise a greater range of fine lines and tinier details. A small burin, the engraving tool, is held in the palm of the hand, between forefinger and thumb, and eased gently across the surface of the block, leaving a shallow impression. Thus the required white space in the illustration is cut away, and the remaining relief surfaces are inked over, as in a traditional wood cut. However, the finer lines, greater detail and more minute engraving on the hard wood, give a denser, richer print. Box wood, being a relatively cheap hard wood, was preferred, but the trunk is of small diameter, and Bewick's illustrations are small vignettes, roughly two inches by four inches. Such engraving on wood had almost certainly been tried earlier in metalworking practices, but Bewick was the first British artist to make a living from book illustration, and is generally credited as the father of wood engraving. He specialized in small, intense scenes of natural history for the growing popular interest in the study of birds, animals and the natural world. Whymper had a deep attachment to the history and traditions of the art of wood engraving, and later owned two small wood blocks, on which he noted that they were engraved by 'the celebrated Bewick of Newcastle.' (fn. 12)

The unprecedented expansion of working class education, the growth of religious publishing, and the enormous distribution of cheap tracts and Bibles, had a massive impact on working class literacy and created a demand for printed materials. The SPCK, founded in 1698, started publishing books in a serious way in the nineteenth century. SPCK, along with the Religious Tract Society, which started in 1799, would provide much fruitful employment for the Whympers. The manually operated printing press had not changed much in 350 years, but from 1814, the steam powered printing press quadrupled production of such newspapers as The Times to over 1,100 copies an hour. The large printing firms, such as Clowes, were using steam presses from the 1820s, enabling cheap, mass produced publications to become a commercially attractive possibility.

Engraved relief wood blocks fitted into the letter-press (which metal plates did not) and could be printed simultaneously with the text, allowing pages to contain both text and pictures. The first publisher to grasp the importance of mass-produced imagery was Charles Knight, who, in 1832, started the weekly Penny Magazine, on which Josiah Whymper was able to find employment early in his career. Punch and the Illustrated London News started ten years later, and by 1850 the Illustrated London News had 100,000 readers. The Crimean War (1854–1856), together with the development of the telegraph in the 1850s, stimulated the demand for news, accompanied by appropriate illustrations. The immediacy created by the telegraph, the rapid distribution of printed materials by the railway, and the growing audience for cheap, accessible stories, stimulated a demand for pictures to accompany the text. There were photographers working in the Crimea, but communication technology still had a long way to go before their efforts could be published simultaneously with the reporting that they illustrated.

In 1817, there were fourteen wood engraving firms in London, by 1852, forty-seven and by 1872, 128 firms. (fn. 13) Newspaper stamp duty was removed in 1855, and paper duty in 1861. The expansion and near completion of the railway network in the 1850s and 1860s, made the distribution network quicker and cheaper. Wood engraving always lent itself to a form of domestic industry, and many of the most notable names in the business belong as much to families, as to gifted individuals. Apart from the Whympers, other important wood engravers in London were Joseph Swain, who engraved the Punch illustrations, and the Dalziels, who started about 1840. The Dalziel brothers worked on such prestigious projects as Edward Lane's Arabian Nights (along with Josiah Whymper), the illustrations by Sir John Tenniel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Moxon's edition of Tennyson's poems, with its pre-Raphaelite illustrations.

Ill. 1 Josiah Whymper and his older brother Ebenezer ("a screwish man", 22 March 1857) by Frederick Walker, photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London; collection unknown.

When Josiah Whymper and his brother Ebenezer started their studio they offered apprenticeships, but as they established a reputation for the quality of their work, aspiring artists approached them, or were passed on by other big firms, such as the Dalziels, and they were able to advertise, 'first-rate wood engravers may have employment.' (fn. 14) By the early 1840s, the Whympers' name would appear as a selling point in advertising for books on which they had worked.

Frederick Walker (1840 - 1875), Charles Green (1840 - 1898) and John William North (1842 - 1924) all received training in the Whympers' studio during the period of Edward's diary, and went on to become respected artists, beyond the wood engraving industry. Edward formed a close friendship with North, joined him on sketching trips at home and in the Alps, and later used his work in Scrambles amongst the Alps. Walker became another friend who, although of a shy, nervous disposition, shared Edward Whymper's enthusiasm for rowing. (fn. 15)

Thomas Bewick had drawn his own designs on the wood block, or worked directly with the burin, but as wood engraving became an integral part of industrialized mass-production in the 1830s and 1840s, there arose a division of labour between artist and engraver. Typically, an original drawing would be passed to a second draughtsman to transfer to a wood block, then a third person would engrave the design. Commonly, the artist's name would be cut into the block, sometimes also the engraver's name. Less commonly did just the engraver sign the block, but the Whympers were of sufficient status to have their name appear regularly on the illustrations they engraved. Two strands of wood engraving practice developed during the middle decades of the century – the semi-industrial facsimile engraving for popular, cheap editions, magazines and newspapers, advertising, tobacco, tea, and biscuit wrappers and the like, and the more artistic reproduction of high-quality illustrations. Such artistic, pictorial engraving would be paid at a higher rate than jobbing work, and by the 1880s, when photographic technology began to replace facsimile engraving, the expert wood engraved illustration was highly regarded as a skilled art form.

Although there is a brief reference in Edward's diary to work on matchbox packaging, the Whympers principally worked on book illustrations for the upper end of the market, supplemented with regular work for such periodicals as Leisure hour and Home friend. Early in his career Josiah Whymper was engraving illustrations for French periodicals and books. His first significant book-illustrating commissions were Charles Knight's three-volume edition of Lane's Arabian Nights, and a profusely illustrated work on classical Greece. (fn. 16) He then engraved illustrations for an eight-volume pictorial edition of Shakespeare, also for Knight. (fn. 17) Later, when established as a prestigious engraver, Josiah Whymper worked on finely illustrated editions of Walter Scott's Marmion, The lay of the last minstrel and Lord of the Isles. (fn. 18)

The nineteenth-century enthusiasm for natural history provided frequent work for the Whympers, engraving the illustrations for the increasing number of guides, catalogues and encyclopaedias produced by writers such as Josiah Whymper's friend, Philip Gosse. Travel narratives, guidebooks and descriptions of archaeological discoveries (Josiah Whymper engraved the illustrations to Austen Henry Layard's books about Mesopotamia and Nineveh) were also fruitful sources of employment. Since the 1830s Josiah Whymper had been regularly employed by the publisher John Murray and he was involved in Murray's most successful publication during the period of Edward's diary, David Livingstone's Missionary travels and researches in South Africa, published at the end of 1857. Having crossed the continent from west to east, and been the first European to see the Victoria Falls, Livingstone's narrative was an eagerly awaited volume, which demanded lively, action-filled illustrations. The Whympers were engaged to engrave them, and most of the work was done by Josiah, although one engraving is credited to Frederick. The artist who drew the illustrations on the wood blocks, and had a large part in choosing and designing the subjects, was Joseph Wolf, who worked from sketches made by Livingstone, or his ideas as described to Wolf. Wolf, however, did not have a high regard for the explorer's visual sense, 'he would propose subjects; but there was no handle to what he said. He had a thing in his mind that couldn't be illustrated.' (fn. 19) Wolf did not think much of the engravings either, and Josiah Whymper's African scenes are lacking in atmosphere or mystery. Wolf may not have liked the wood engraver's treatment of his drawings, but Livingstone's book was the start of a long and fruitful association between the natural history painter and the Whymper family.

While Wolf was unhappy with the engravings, Livingstone was not enthusiastic about Wolf's drawings. His illustration of 'The missionary's escape from the lion' drew particular dismay from Livingstone, who wrote to John Murray.

The lion encounter is absolutely abominable. I entreat you by all that's good to suppress it. Everyone who knows what a lion is will die laughing at it. It's the greatest bungle Wolf ever made. ... It really must hurt the book to make a lion look larger than a hippopotamus. I am quite distressed about it. (fn. 20)

David Livingstone was a demanding person who did not readily understand another's point of view, and the Whympers found him difficult to work with. When Livingstone received proofs of the illustrations from the printer, he covered them in notes and instructions to Josiah Whymper, demanding modifications and improvements (see illustration 2). The book, however, was immensely successful and made Livingstone a fortune in royalties. Other important books for which the Whympers engraved the illustrations during the period of the diary included editions of Aesop's Fables (for which Wolf and Tenniel drew the illustrations), Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, published by John Murray and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, published by James Nisbet.

Wood engraving was well-paid work, when available, and the 1850s and 1860s were the heyday of wood engraved illustration. When still only 26, despite having spent his last seven summer holidays in the Alps, Edward could plan an expedition to northern Greenland that was to cost him £900, an extraordinary amount of disposable income for a young man to have earned himself. The usual charge for one engraving was six guineas, and the Whympers charged nearly the same again, if they had organized the transfer of the drawing onto the wood block, paying some of that to the artist. (fn. 21) John Murray's ledgers detail all the payments made for each book they published, and indicate the value of a skilled wood engraver: £330 for the illustrations to Hooker's Himalayan Journals (1854), £242 for David Livingstone's Missionary Travels (1857, the artist Wolf received £75), £157 for Aesop's Fables (1858; Tenniel was paid £57 for his illustrations).

Josiah Whymper studied watercolour painting with William Collingwood Smith, and in 1854 became a member of the NWCS. (fn. 22) The Times said of him,

Mr Whymper is one of the most facile and industrious workmen in the society, and his many drawings of Surrey Commons and high-banked lanes, crowned with park palings have an unmistakable look of outdoor truth, and a freshness that bespeaks many of them actual studies made on the spot. (fn. 23)

Edward, however, complains in his diary of his father's painting distracting him from the money-earning business of wood engraving. The diary does, though, give a picture of Josiah Whymper's social world of London-based landscape painters, (usually aspiring to membership of the NWCS), who would turn their hand to whatever illustrating work might earn them some money – Harrison Weir, Percival Skelton, David McKewan, Samuel Read.

What was the teenage Whymper doing during his years of apprenticeship? The usual terms of engagement at Josiah Whymper's studio were that apprentices worked three days a week, with the remaining time theirs to earn their own money, hence Edward's frequent concern about using his time profitably. (fn. 24) Josiah Whymper encouraged his pupils to visit the public galleries, and acquaint themselves with the products of the established art world. At work Edward's principal task was transferring designs and drawings onto the whitened wood blocks, usually by tracing the original. Occasionally the Whympers would work from an original drawing, but just as often they would copy a sketch onto the wood block, or make a tracing of another engraving or photograph. Drawing onto a wood block for an engraving is quite a different skill to conventional sketching; the draughtsman has to know just what information the engraver needs, what lines and shading are required and what can be left to the engraver to supply. The drawing has to be precise, so that the engraver knows exactly what thickness of line to cut. The Dalziels complained of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's drawings, which 'made use of wash, pencil, coloured chalk, and pen and ink, producing a very nice effect' but were quite unsuited to being reduced to the black and white of printer's ink. (fn. 25) Rossetti, however, said of his work for Moxon's Tennyson, 'It is a thankless task. After a fortnight's work my block goes to the engraver, like Agag, delicately, and is hewn to pieces.' (fn. 26)

Edward's more routine tasks involved cutting up the trunks of box wood to provide blocks of the required size, whitening over these blocks for the draughtsmen, preparing overlays and underlays – shaped sections cut from a proof print to give an extra layer of thickness, or thinness, to alter the light and dark on subsequent printings – and arranging the finished wood blocks for the printer. Established wood engraving firms – particularly the Dalziels – would act as quasi-publishers themselves, designing a book around selected illustrations, and frequently a publisher would ask the engravers to select suitable subjects to enhance a particular book. As he became more experienced Edward was charged with reading various volumes, to 'pick places for cuts.'

Learning the art of drawing onto the wood block provided a thorough knowledge of the requirements of the engraver, but from the mid-1860s drawings were often photographed directly on to wood blocks. Although his diary contains few references to actual engraving, once his apprenticeship had finished, this was what Edward Whymper was most concerned with. In the Whymper's family firm most blocks would be worked on by a variety of engravers, depending on their strengths – whether for figures, scenery, foreground, background, sky or architecture – and it was this work that Edward Whymper would supervise, usually touching up and finishing the details himself. (fn. 27) Although his older brother Frederick had trained as the engraver, he never continued with this, but set about making a living as a painter. Apart from some watercolour sketches made on his first trip abroad, Edward left virtually no original pictures, but his best engravings on wood are among the finest reproductive work produced in that medium.

The Whympers' social world in South London

When Josiah Whymper settled in Lambeth around 1830, it was a crowded, busy area rapidly taking over the fields and gardens on the south side of the river. The ease of access for goods and materials provided by the river made Lambeth into a growing hub of industry. The Clowes' printing works at Waterloo, employing 600 people, was the largest in the country, and next to them was Stephen's ink factory. In Westminster Bridge Road was the Maudslay iron works, and in South Lambeth Road, the Beaufoy's vinegar brewery. The river made Lambeth a thriving centre of pottery and among the many concerns, large and small, were the Whympers' friend Stephen Green's works by Waterloo, and the Doulton factory in Lambeth High Street. The extension of the railway from Nine Elms to Waterloo in 1848 only helped to increase the noise and dirt, which finally caused the Whympers to move their residence to Haslemere in 1859, unfortunately too late for Mrs Whymper's health.

The diary indicates that the Whympers' social acquaintances lived not in the immediate area, but in the more salubrious and rural suburbs of Streatham, Clapham, Peckham, Brixton and Camberwell. Their social life emanated from the Baptist chapel at Maze Pond, situated until the 1870s where Guy's Hospital now is, by London Bridge. Josiah Whymper had come from a Baptist family in Ipswich, and he and his wife became members of Maze Pond in 1845. Josiah immediately threw himself into the life of the chapel, sitting on committees, helping to audit the accounts, acting as messenger to new applicants, and in 1855 he was elected a deacon. For seventeen years the pastor had been John Aldis (despite surviving an accusation of gross immorality by his servant, Sarah Bishop) (fn. 28) who resigned after several years of declining congregations. His resignation letter bemoaned his failure to make any impression upon the poor working class area in which he worked, 'I cannot bear the sight of so many empty pews; I am yet more depressed by the very small spiritual results of my labour.' (fn. 29) The chapel membership of 329 at the end of 1855 had fallen to 235 five years later. (fn. 30) Samuel Booth, whom the Maze Pond members hoped would take the place of John Aldis, referred to 'the peculiar difficulties attendant upon a ministry in this place,' and went on, 'The position of your chapel, and the character of the surrounding neighbourhood, leave me little hope of increasing the congregation to any large degree.' (fn. 31) The Whympers' friends – all members of the chapel – were lawyers, merchants, factory managers, underwriters, bankers. Thomas Hepburn, whose daughter Emily became Josiah's third wife, had his leather-making works nearby in Bermondsey, but lived in a fine house on Clapham Common. Surrounded by the denselypacked and growing poverty of the slums and rookeries of Southwark and Bermondsey, the prosperous Maze Pond community set up committees to carry out good works among the poor, but certainly did not want the great unwashed within their chapel walls. When finally they persuaded James Millard to replace John Aldis as pastor, he resigned after five years. 'They have been, as you well know, years of trial and disappointment.' Millard's comments suggest that the minister's desire for closer engagement with the local population did not accord with the congregation's conservatively respectable middle class attitudes. He hoped that, 'God will be pleased to make the church a more abundant blessing to the teeming population of your neighbourhood.' (fn. 32) Edward's remarks on Charles Spurgeon hiring the Surrey Gardens music hall suggest that the Maze Pond establishment viewed Spurgeon's popularity with some disdain. (fn. 33)

Although from a commercial background, working with their hands for a living, and inhabiting a crowded, working-class area of London, the Whympers regarded themselves as educated people who operated in the world of art and literature. Acceptance in established social circles was a background theme that ran through Edward Whymper's life, and it is noticeable in the diary how he emphasises their association with the artist John Gilbert, and Gilbert's connections with the government and the royal family. Indeed, Edward's frequent references to his father's social activities seem to be a subconscious insistence on their right to a position in accepted society. Membership of organized societies, Maze Pond, then the NWCS, provided a position in established society. Josiah Whymper belonged to the Southwark Book Society (most of whose members seem also to have been associated with Maze Pond chapel), attended artistic conversazione, and became a full member of the NWCS. (fn. 34) Edward, never a naturally gregarious person, preferred the stability and established social procedures of clubs and societies. The diary shows his zeal for the organized world of cricket clubs, although 'the Peckham Rye Albion Cricket Club of which I am a member ... are a rather queer, beery lot and I must mind that I am not drawn into their bad habits.' (fn. 35) Surrey Cricket Club first played at the Kennington Oval in 1845, and by the time that Whymper had become such a keen supporter they were probably the strongest county in England. From 1856 to 1859 they played twenty-nine games of which they won twenty-six. Whymper kept his interest in cricket all his life, and was able to fit his games in to his busy working life and his summer's mountaineering. He was a member of the Alpine Club for fifty years until his death, and regularly attended the meetings and dinners of the Royal Geographical Society, of which he had become a fellow in 1865.

However the diary does reveal the socially varied nature of the people with whom Edward came into contact every day. A friend who knew Whymper well at the end of his life described his 'knack of scraping and continuing acquaintance with neighbours and fellow residents entirely out of his own station.' (fn. 36) Although critical of the Greenlanders' dislike for work, Whymper did have an innate appreciation of the nature of their lives and an awareness of their ability to exist successfully in a difficult environment. Particularly among printers and engravers there was a culture of radicalism and liberalism – W.J. Linton and Henry Vizetelly for example – but this was not shared by the Whympers. Probably as a comment for a lecture, Whymper later remarked:

I have always looked upon the theodolite as a revolutionary kind of instrument, as an instrument for levelling all things, and as a good conservative I have hitherto declined to travel in its company. (fn. 37)

The diary shows Edward's dislike, almost certainly following his father and his father's circle of friends, for the local radical and liberal politicians. (fn. 38) Whymper never came to accept the unbridled laissez-faire capitalism of mid-nineteenth-century Whigs and liberals, and remained all his life a believer in old-fashioned, established practices and social behaviour. However, Edward's grandfather, Nathaniel, was a Liberal town councillor in Ipswich and well-known in the town as a Chartist supporter, which probably had much to do with Josiah Whymper's antipathy toward his family in Ipswich. (fn. 39)

Edward Whymper's later life

Either unmentioned during the period of his diary, or more likely, shortly after it closes, Whymper completed his apprenticeship as a wood engraver. He then set about following his brother as an illustrator of landscape, and went on a walking and sketching tour of Somerset with his fellow apprentice, John William North. While planning an artistic tour of the continent, a commission from William Longman (a member of the Alpine Club and the publisher of its journal) to make sketches of Mont Pelvoux in the Dauphiné, meant that Whymper spent his summer in the Alps. Meeting Leslie Stephen and other Alpine Club luminaries in Zermatt, Whymper was introduced to the world of mountaineering, and he was captivated. He returned the following year, 1861, kitted out with ropes and ice axes, and began his mountaineering career by making what he thought at the time was the first ascent of Mont Pelvoux. The summer of 1862 was spent in a succession of attempts on the Matterhorn, reaching a point on the mountain higher than any previous attempts. His work the following year permitted only one serious attempt on the Matterhorn, but in 1864 Whymper joined forces first with Adolphus Moore, then the cartographer Adams Reilly, to make a ground-breaking series of first ascents in the Dauphiné and around Mont Blanc.

1865 was to be his own great campaign, finally disposing of the still unclimbed Matterhorn, before returning to serious sketching. In an astonishing four weeks, Whymper made the first ascents of four peaks, including the Grandes Jorasses and the Aiguille Verte, and three new passes, before finding himself in Breuil, under the Matterhorn. After a series of misunderstandings, coincidences, and some duplicity on the part of his expected guide, Jean-Antoine Carrel, Whymper fell in with the young Lord Francis Douglas, brother of the Marquess of Queensberry. Set on the Matterhorn, they crossed to Zermatt to arrange guides, and there met Charles Hudson, a senior member of the Alpine Club, with a young but inexperienced protégé, Douglas Hadow, also hoping to climb the Matterhorn. The two parties agreed to climb together. Hudson's guide Michel Croz (with whom Whymper had climbed the previous year) and the Taugwalders, father and son (employed by Douglas), made a party of seven. The first ascent of the Matterhorn was achieved easily enough by the previously untried Hörnli Ridge, but on the steepest part of the descent, just below the summit, the young Hadow lost his footing, dislodging Croz and pulling Hudson and Douglas after him. Next on the rope after Douglas, the elder Taugwalder braced himself, as did Whymper behind him, but the thin cord joining Douglas and Taugwalder was snapped in mid air by the weight of four falling bodies. Croz, Hadow, Hudson and Douglas, still roped together, fell 4,000 feet to the glacier at the foot of the mountain. Paralyzed with shock, Whymper and the Taugwalders returned to Zermatt the following morning, after a wretched night on the mountain. Just twenty-five years old, this tragedy effectively ended Whymper's serious mountaineering in the Alps.

Whymper had always been fascinated by the Arctic, and now planned an expedition to penetrate the then unknown interior of Greenland. In 1867, with a young Scottish naturalist, Robert Brown (who had studied at Edinburgh University and had met Whymper's brother Fred in Vancouver) he travelled from Copenhagen to Jakobshavn, in Disko Bay. A lack of arctic experience and a local influenza epidemic meant that Brown and Whymper failed to penetrate the Greenland ice cap, but they explored the coast of Disko Bay and made a valuable collection of Miocene fossil plants. Although Whymper had welcomed the young naturalist's participation, Brown was contemptuously dismissive of Whymper, whom he regarded as a 'mere artist,' (but was paying for the expedition), and these two young men had a difficult relationship. Five years later, Whymper returned to Greenland, this time alone, and circumnavigated Disko Island, as well as ascending a peak of nearly 7,000 feet. He hoped to make another expedition to the far north, using a small steamship, and spending the winter in Greenland, but his applications for funds to the Royal Society and the Royal Geographic Society, were pushed to one side by the Royal Navy's attempt on the North Pole in 1875–6, under George Nares. (fn. 40)

In between his two trips to Greenland, Whymper turned his Alpine experiences into a book, telling the story of his epic, but ultimately tragic, quest of the Matterhorn, in Scrambles amongst the Alps, published by John Murray in 1871. As well as being one of the finest mountaineering tales, the book is significant for the quality of the illustrations, designed and engraved by Whymper, and their integration with the narrative. Drawn on the wood by a variety of artists (rather than being transferred photographically), and hand-printed to Whymper's specifications, the dramatic, lifelike quality of the illustrations was widely remarked. 'We do not know of any collection of engravings which so thoroughly brings back, not merely the form and relief of the mountains, but their very spirit.' (fn. 41)

The Whympers' wood engraving business, now run by Josiah and Edward together, prospered as a provider of high quality illustrations to travel, natural history and scientific narratives. They were employed by John Murray to organize all the illustrations for the English editions of Heinrich Schliemann's books about his excavations in Troy and Homeric Greece. A volume effectively published by the Whympers, under Macmillan's imprint, as a showcase for the work of Joseph Wolf The life and habits of wild animals, illustrated by designs by Joseph Wolf is as much a testament to the artistic quality of their wood engraving, as it is to Wolf's animal drawings.

Frustrated in his attempts to win financial support for further Arctic exploration, Whymper found an outlet for his growing interest in science, by travelling to Ecuador in 1879–80 to investigate the effects of altitude, about which virtually nothing was then known. With the two Carrel cousins, Jean-Antoine and Louis, employed as guides, Whymper made the first ascent of Chimborazo, then the highest separate mountain known to have been climbed. Seven other first ascents were made, along with the then highest camp, when Whymper and the Carrels pitched their tent at 19,500 feet on the crater rim of the live volcano, Cotopaxi. The resulting book, Travels amongst the Great Andes of the Equator, finally published by John Murray in 1892, is a delightfully written account of his adventures, as well as a monument to the then dying art of wood engraving.

Ever since his youthful involvement in the Architectural Photographic Association Whymper had maintained his interest in photography, and was only prevented from taking a camera to Greenland in 1867 by the cost. He did take a camera there in 1872, and returned from Ecuador with more than a hundred photographs. However, by the 1890s photographic technology had removed the need for the wood engraver in the reproduction of images, and Whymper found other means of earning a living, writing guidebooks to Zermatt and Chamonix, and giving lectures on mountaineering, illustrated with lantern slides of his own photographs taken in the Alps. Through his book, Scrambles amongst the Alps (which appeared in four further editions in his lifetime) and his dramatically illustrated lectures given all around the country, Whymper did more than anyone to popularize the growing sport of mountaineering.

Revising his guidebooks, he went every year to the Alps, then in 1901 he persuaded the Canadian Pacific Railway to finance some exploration of the Rockies around Banff and Lake Louise, to publicize the company's facilities. With four Alpine guides, many new trails were explored and some first ascents made, but Whymper's heart was no longer in challenging mountaineering. He revisited Canada four more times, one summer walking 500 miles along the line of the railway, but made no new ascents. When nearly sixty-six years old Whymper married Edith Lewin, the young niece of his landlady, and bought a house in Teddington. They had a daughter, Ethel Rosa (who herself would climb the Matterhorn), but after four years Whymper's wife left him for another man, and sued for divorce. On his annual visit to the Alps, Whymper fell ill in Chamonix and died on 16 September 1911. The whole village formed a procession behind his funeral cortege.

The diary and the editorial method

Edward Whymper's first diary fills six carefully ruled exercise books, and was begun on 1 January 1855. Unfortunately the first two pages are missing. On the inside cover of the first book he wrote, '1855 – Book 1st. Commencing Jan 1st 1855 and ending Nov 30, 1855.' He numbered sequentially the 193 pages of the six volumes, which start at page three. (fn. 42) The pages of the first four volumes are divided into three columns, and in the first book entries go across the columns then down; from Book Two the entries read down the column, then across the page. In Books Five and Six the pages are divided into two columns. There is a running header pretty much throughout, with the month or months, usually in bold, centred. His final entry, recording a game of cricket on 15 October 1859, fills the sixth notebook, and almost certainly this was when Whymper ceased keeping the diary. Throughout the last volume, covering 1859, there are ever more blank spaces when he was too busy to make an entry, and never had time to go back and do so. Nearing the end of his apprenticeship (which he may have completed during the period of his diary, but did not record), and with his father and the rest of the family relocating to Town House in Haslemere, Edward was increasingly busy managing the firm's affairs in Lambeth, and probably did not have the time to start another volume. During the month following the closure of his diary, his youngest sibling, Annette, was born, and John Murray, whose offices in Albermarle Street Whymper would visit on a regular basis, published Darwin's Origin of species. We are also deprived of his thoughts on the death of his mother in Haslemere, less than two months after the diary finished.

Whymper usually filled in his diary every night, keeping it locked in his bedroom, but (a habit he kept all his life), he would often write up periods some days later. (fn. 43) Another more frustrating habit he retained, was to leave a space in his journal for the description of particularly important or striking events until he had the leisure, or perhaps sufficient hindsight, to write up a full and more thought-out account, but then never does so. Probably he fully intended to explain how he came to be in 'rather a queer position' with Miss Wilson in March 1859, as he left space in his diary, and also meant to describe where he went in Norfolk in September 1858, but the loss of immediacy takes away his desire to record the events. Most distressingly his Alpine journal for 1865 finishes ten days before the ascent of the Matterhorn, though he had plenty of time to describe the days leading up to the fateful climb. Whymper always had a practical approach to the literary and artistic value of his writings, and, on this occasion particularly, was waiting to record a narrative of triumphant success or narrow failure. Sadly, events overtook his journal. In his otherwise complete two volumes of journal kept in Ecuador, the day of the first ascent of Chimborazo, 4 January 1880, is left blank.

Whymper was not a regular diarist and with one exception his first diary is the only one recording his time in London. (fn. 44) He kept detailed journals of his two expeditions to Greenland, and his great trip to Ecuador, then recorded his annual visits to the Alps from 1893 onwards. His first travel diary describes his introduction to the Alps in 1860, but he only began keeping this two weeks after leaving London. He kept no journals for 1861 or 1862, when he began his Alpine climbing and made his most determined attempts on the Matterhorn, but almost certainly followed his life-long practice of keeping notes on scraps of paper. This he did when he met Carrel in the Alps in 1869, made a melancholy second ascent of the Matterhorn in 1874, re-visited Zermatt in 1876, and on his return to the Alps after 16 years in 1892. He certainly made many other visits to the continent between 1870 and 1895, on walking tours, sketching, visiting acquaintances and lecturing, without keeping a record.

Almost certainly all the journals which Whymper kept have survived; he was methodical about keeping everything, stretching back to his school reports when nine years old. When he died he left everything to his executor, his brother William Nathaniel, who had the unenviable task of clearing out Edward's house in Teddington. William Nathaniel Whymper worked all his life for an insurance company in the city, and on his shoulders fell the responsibility for his brothers' variously muddled financial affairs. Edward's first diary, his Alpine notebooks, all his journals from Greenland and Ecuador, and the Alpine and Canadian journals kept meticulously over the last 20 years of his life, passed to William Nathaniel's daughter, Amy Woodgate, who kept them in her house in Surbiton, until shortly before her death. In 1968 she deposited her uncle's papers with the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, and they were later bequeathed to the Institute by her son Timothy Woodgate. Frank Smythe read through all Whymper's papers while they were in Amy Woodgate's possession, and in his biography of Whymper he published about a quarter of the first diary.

The text reproduces Whymper's manuscript, keeping his spelling, abbreviations and, as far as possible, his punctuation. Sometimes what is likely to be the same name is given various spellings, but Whymper's usage has been kept. Occasional interpolations are made in square brackets where Whymper has accidentally missed a word. Places where he deliberately left space, but then never used it, are also indicated by square brackets.

£900 in 1867 was roughly equivalent in spending power to £50,000 today. A skilled labourer would have been lucky to earn 10/- a week, and a professional clerk or civil servant might have earned £200 a year. Whymper's trips to the Alps each summer cost him about £50 (in 1865 he spent £100).


  • 1. 15 December 1857.
  • 2. The surname was variously spelt Whimper or Whymper. In about 1856, Edward's father Josiah regularised his family's surname to Whymper. The Ipswich side of the family were usually referred to as Whimper. Throughout the introduction and appendices the spelling Whymper has been used.
  • 3. Mary Ann Whymper's death was recorded at the parish church of St. Mary's at Lambeth, next to where they lived, in October 1835. The marriage certificate of Josiah Whymper's second marriage in August 1837 describes him as a "widower." See also, Seymour J. Price, 'Maze Pond and the Matterhorn.' Baptist Quarterly 10, no. 4 (Oct 1940): 204.
  • 4. The details of Elizabeth Claridge's early life are described in an undated note written by her youngest child, Annette, now in the possession of Eva Woodgate, and can only have come from Josiah.
  • 5. 11 November 1856.
  • 6. Renaming and renumbering of the streets and terraces by the Post Office in 1876, turned 20 Canterbury Place into 45 Lambeth Road.
  • 7. Notes made by Charles Whymper, in November 1935, for his niece Gladys, with a pencil note at the top 'you had best burn when read.' These notes are in the large bound volume of Whymper family history, started by Josiah Whymper, which passed to John Whymper, grandson of William Nathaniel, and are now in the possession of his widow, Mrs Joan Whymper. The notes left by Charles Whymper, probably in the 1930s, are the source of the information about his father and grandfather.
  • 8. Price, 'Maze Pond and the Matterhorn', 202-208.
  • 9. The building is now 164 Kennington Road. Whymper's school reports, commendations, certificates, notebooks, and letters written to his father in French, are at SPRI MS 822/ 39; BJ and MS 822/1/1-9; BJ.
  • 10. The Times, 24 May 1892, 10.
  • 11. 1 January 1856.
  • 12. See, Jenny Uglow, Nature's engraver: a life of Thomas Bewick (London: Faber and Faber, 2006). Whymper's Bewick wood blocks are in the Department of Prints and Drawings, British Museum.
  • 13. Eric de Maré, The Victorian woodblock illustrators (London: Gordon Fraser, 1980), 7.
  • 14. Times, 1 March 1841.
  • 15. 28 May 1859.
  • 16. Edward Lane, The thousand and one nights, commonly called, in England, The Arabian Nights' Entertainments (London: Charles Knight, 1839). This was the first translation into English, from the original Arabic, of The thousand and one nights. Josiah Whymper is credited as the engraver of thirty-seven of the illustrations, which are by William Harvey, a pupil of Thomas Bewick. Christopher Wordsworth, Greece: pictorial, descriptive and historical (London: William S. Orr, 1839), for which Josiah Whymper engraved twenty-two illustrations.
  • 17. Charles Knight, ed. The pictorial edition of the works of Shakespeare (London: Charles Knight, 1841-3).
  • 18. Walter Scott, Marmion: a tale of Flodden Field (Edinburgh: A & C Black, 1855); The lay of the last minstrel (Edinburgh: A & C Black, 1854); Lord of the Isles (Edinburgh: A & C Black, 1857).
  • 19. Wolf's words quoted in A.H. Palmer, The life of Joseph Wolf: animal painter (London: Longman, 1896), 124.
  • 20. David Livingstone to John Murray, 22 May 1852, quoted in David Livingstone and the Victorian encounter with Africa (London: National Portrait Gallery, 1996), 180. The illustration appears on page 13 of Livingstone's book.
  • 21. Receipt from Josiah Wood Whymper to the London Society, for engravings, 1 July 1868, BL Add. MS 46666, f. 106; and 12 September 1870, BL Add. MS 46664, f. 3. On 1860s wood engraving, see particularly, Paul Goldman, Victorian illustrated books 1850-1870: the heyday of wood-engraving: the Robin de Beaumont collection (London: British Museum Press, 1994); Forrest Reid, Illustrators of the sixties (London: Faber and Gwyer, 1928); Joseph White, English illustration – 'the sixties' 1855-70 (London: Constable, 1897).
  • 22. The New Water-Colour Society was started in 1832 in opposition to the more restricted and establishment Society of Painters in Water-Colours (usually known as the Old Water-Colour Society, founded in 1804). In 1863 the New Water-Colour Society became the Institute of Painters in Water Colours, and in 1884, the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.
  • 23. The Times, 19 April 1858.
  • 24. John George Marks, The life and letters of Frederick Walker A.R.A. (London: Macmillan, 1896), 7, describes the apprenticeship terms at Whymper's workshop.
  • 25. George Dalziel and Edward Dalziel, The Brothers Dalziel: a record of fifty years' work in conjunction with many of the most distinguished artists of the period 18401890 (London: Methuen, 1901), 86.
  • 26. W. Minto, ed., Autobiographical notes of the life of William Bell Scott (2 vols., London: James R Osgood, 1892), ii. 36.
  • 27. SPRI MS 822/37/1-2; BJ, 'Proofs of wood engravings' contain many proof prints of the Whympers' engravings from the 1870s with the names of the individual engravers pencilled in around the side, indicating the parts of the print on which each had worked.
  • 28. MPMB 1840-1860; Aldis was cleared by an inquiry in September 1847.
  • 29. John Aldis to the members of Maze Pond Chapel, letter read 4 November 1855, MPMB 1840-1860.
  • 30. Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle at the Elephant and Castle had 5,311 members in 1891; A.C. Underwood, A history of the English Baptists (London: Baptist Union, 1947), 218.
  • 31. Samuel Booth to William Beddome, 2 January 1857, MPMB 1840-1860.
  • 32. James Millard to the members of Maze Pond Chapel, 25 May 1863, MPMB 1861-1871.
  • 33. See for example 20 October 1856.
  • 34. For book societies, see Paul Kaufman, 'English book clubs and their role in social history', Libri 4 (1964-5): 1-31. Josiah Whymper's book club was probably an arrangement whereby subscriptions were charged and volumes were bought for the members to borrow.
  • 35. 12 April 1859.
  • 36. Coulson Kernahan, In good company: some personal recollections of Swinburne, Lord Roberts, Watts-Dunton, Oscar Wilde, Edward Whymper, S.J. Stone, Steven Phillips (2nd ed., London: Bodley Head, 1917), 158.
  • 37. Edward Whymper, 'Diary for the year 1872', SPRI MS 822/4; BJ.
  • 38. See, for example, 19, 21, 28 April 1859.
  • 39. Nathaniel Whymper chaired a Chartist meeting in Ipswich calling for an extension of the franchise, just a few days after the great demonstration on Kennington Common, April 1848. See, Ipswich Journal 22 February 1840, 2 November 1844, 22 April 1848.
  • 40. 'Mr Whymper would do well to delay his application to the RS for funds for his Greenland excursion until next year.' Edward Sabine to Robert Scott, January 1873, Alpine Club Archives, 1922/B35.
  • 41. 'Hours of scrambling exercise – Tyndall and Whymper', Saturday Review 32 (8 July 1871), 59. See also, Leslie Stephen, 'Mr. Whymper's "Scrambles amongst the Alps'", Macmillan's Magazine 24 (May-Oct 1871), 305; 'Scrambles amongst the Alps', The Hawthorn 1, no. 1 (April 1872), 47-8.
  • 42. Book One goes up to page 28; Book Two is pages 29 to 60; Book Three, pages 61 to 83; Book Four, pages 84 to 113; Book Five, pages 114 to 157; Book Six, pages 158 to 193.
  • 43. See his entry for 5 October 1857.
  • 44. Whymper, 'Diary for the year 1872', covers the whole of the year, during which he was in Greenland from May to November.