We’re back for our second expedition through the Irish Archives Resource with a tour of the collection of one of Ireland’s most prominent explorers, Major Richard William George Hingston. Recently contributed to the IAR in August of this year, the Major RHW Hingston Collection is an exciting addition to our site, contributing to the wider archival record of twentieth-century explorers in Ireland. The collection was acquired by the UCC Library Archives Service in 2016, purchased at an auction by UCC’s Head of Research Collections, Crónán Ó Doibhlin. 

The Life and Travels of Major RHW Hingston

Born in London on 17 January 1887 to Reverand Richard Edward Hull Kingston and Frances Sandiford, Richard William George Hingston spent many of his childhood years in Passage West, County Cork, before moving to London for his secondary school education in Merchant’s Taylor College. Hingston later returned to Ireland where he graduated with first-class honours as a medical doctor from University College Cork. 

BL/VC/RGWH/2/35 Self Portrait on the March, 

Image Courtesy of UCC Library Archives Service

Almost immediately following his graduation, Hingston joined the Indian Medical Service, serving as a medical doctor. However, in 1913, just one year before the outbreak of the First World War, Hingston was offered a secondment to the Indo-Russian Pamir triangulation expedition, acting as both a naturalist and surgeon to the team. He was noted for his time and efforts whilst on this expedition by fellow explorer and geographer Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Mason, praised for his recording of a series of observations about cirrus clouds for the Meteorological Survey of India, in addition to compiling a complete zoological collection of the fauna of the land in Taghdumbash, Bandipur, and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, this opportunity was cut short in 1914 when Hingston was summoned back to his military service. Hingston served once again in the British Indian Army stationed across East Africa, Mesopotamia, and France throughout the war, and it was for these duties he was awarded the Military Cross.

During the years of relative peace following the war, Hingston focused much of his attention on the writing and publication of a book on his travels between 1914 and 1916. Titled A Naturalist in Himalaya, the book follows his journey to Hazara, a valley in the northern region of modern Pakistan. From this publication, and a proposal but forward by Lieutenant Colonel Williamson Oswald, Hingston was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in June 1922.

BL/VC/RGWH/1/10 The first climbing party at 27,000 feet, 

Image Courtesy of UCC Library Archives Service

However, it is the 1924 Mount Everest Expedition for which Hingston is best known. Joining a group of predominantly British explorers with a goal of being the first nation to reach the peak of the highest mountain on earth, Hingston assumed the role of medical officer and naturalist. His intelligence was matched by his enthusiasm and professionalism, and during his time on Mount Everest, Hingston collected an astonishing 10,000 samples of fauna and a further 500 flora specimens. It was also during this expedition that he conducted much of his on-the-ground research into the effect of altitude on the human body, which he published in the Alpine Journal in 1925 under the title Physiological Difficulties in the Ascent of Mount Everest. Hingston was meticulous in his recordkeeping, making daily observations in his diary entries, ensuring that he took note of the date, place, and altitude at the time of writing. 

Upon his return from Everest, Hingston briefly returned to work as a surgeon and naturalist with the Marine Survey of India, soon retiring in 1927 at the age of 40. But giving up his career in the army did not deter Hingston from joining more expeditions. In the very same year as his retirement Hingston joined the Oxford University expedition to Greenland, followedby yet another expedition with Oxford University to modern Guyana in 1928, known then as British Guiana. Unfortunately, Hingston was once again called back to his duties with the British Indian Army after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. His final, and official, retirement began in 1946 with his return to his home in Passage West. 

BL/VC/RGWH/2/14 Mishmi Children, 

Image Courtesy of UCC Library Archives Service

The Major’s Many Collections

Although UCC Library Archives Service’s collection of Major Richard William George Hingston’s work is relatively small, consisting of just one file of sixty-seven photographs and postcards, Major RHW Hingston’s Collection provides a visual journey through the travel opportunities that presented themselves to wiling physicians in the early twentieth century. 

This collection is however supported by further collections documenting the expeditions of the physician and naturalist explorer, maintained across a number of Irish repositories, such as the Papers of Major Richard William George Hingston held in Trinity College Dublin. This collection includes several diaries, journals, and photographs similar to those held in UCC recording his travels during his 1913 expedition to the Pamirs, 1924 Everest expedition, 1928 Oxford University Expedition to Greenland, and 1930 Mission to Africa on behalf of the Society for the Preservation of the Empire Fauna.

Róisín Costello, Records Manager

With special thanks to UCC Library Archives Service for the use of images from the Major RHW Hingston Collection in this post. 

Bibliography

Norton, E.F. The Fight for Everest, 1924, Varanasi, (2004)

Mason, Kenneth. “The Indo-Russian Triangulation Connection.” The Geographical Journal 43, no. 6 (1914)

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