Hunt, conqueror of Everest, dies

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LORD HUNT, the man who led the first team to conquer Everest, has died aged 88. His daughter, Sally Nesbitt, announced yesterday that the peer, who had been ill for a short time, died peacefully at home in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, on Saturday night.

The "coronation" expedition to Everest, which reached the summit on 29 May 1953, was the ninth from Britain to either survey or attempt the mountain.

Edmund Hillary, of New Zealand, and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay planted the British and Nepalese flags on the summit, but the expedition was headed by John Hunt, the British brigadier, who became Baron Hunt in 1966.

Yesterday, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh spoke of their sadness at the news of his death. A statement from Buckingham Palace said: "The conquest of Everest was an early landmark of the Queen's reign and Lord Hunt brought the same spirit of adventure and leadership to many other areas of national life. As the first director of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, he particularly helped and encouraged young people in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth."

The son of an Army captain, Lord Hunt was educated at Marlborough College and at Sandhurst. In 1930, he had earned his first commission to the King's Royal Rifle Corps and he was soon seconded to the Indian police, serving there between 1934 and 1935 and then again in 1938 to 1940, when he eventually received the Indian Police Medal.

He retired from the Army in the 1950s, taking on the first directorship of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme and sitting on many high-profile advisory panels and boards, particularly those concerned with the environment, with India and with penal law. He went on to become first chairman of the Parole Board and headed successive British government relief missions to Nigeria during the civil war between 1968 and 1970. He was also a personal adviser to the then prime minister, Harold Wilson, during the period of this war.

In 1981, Lord Hunt joined the Social Democratic Party, and he went on to join the Social and Liberal Democrats.

He wrote two published accounts of his ascent of Everest. One written with the former athlete Chris Brasher was entitled Our Everest Adventure and appeared in 1954.

Lord Hunt's meticulous planning is often cited as the reason for the success of the 1953 expedition to reach the 29,028ft summit.

Talking of the assault in recent years he said: "We were not ready for worldwide media exploitation. It only came to us as we made our way back to Kathmandu. The local reporters put poor Tenzing under huge pressure to say that he was first up."

Acknowledging Lord Hunt's inspirational skills, Mr Brasher yesterday recalled that whenever anyone worked with him, they would be overcome by a feeling that "you cannot let this great man down".

Mr Brasher, who also co-wrote The Red Snows with Lord Hunt, said: "He was an amazing leader of men and, thinking back on it, he was probably one of the best men that I have come across.

"He would take great care of everybody with him and he would listen and watch to make sure that everyone was okay."

The adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes said he was one of many explorers inspired by the achievements Lord Hunt notched up in the course of a "great life".

"He was a very, very great man, one of the great mountain-climbers and helpers of youth wanting to head in the same direction of our time," he said. "I was a nine-year-old schoolboy listening with wide eyes when he led this incredible expedition which put Hillary and Tenzing on Everest.

"I was very impressed by it, one of the greatest British, or I should say Commonwealth, expeditions ever mounted."

George Lowe, one of the New Zealanders who were with Lord Hunt on the Everest expedition, described him as an "extraordinary man and an amazing leader". Another expedition member, Emlyn Jones, said he generated "a great loyalty" among the team.

Lord Hunt leaves a widow, former tennis player Joy Mowbray-Green, and four daughters.