Reference Number:
GB 3075 IRV
Papers re Andrew Irvine
one scrapbook and one folder
Creator Name 1:
Irvine | Catherine Dundas (1914-2006)
Biog/Admin History:
Andrew Comyn Irvine was born in April 1902 in Birkenhead. Christened Sandy by his Scottish cousins on a visit to Glasgow in 1914, he announced to his family with characteristic determination that from now onwards he wished to be called Sandy. He was educated at Shrewsbury School where his undiagnosed dyslexia led to a fairly woeful academic performance in the three Rs. However, he shone in two subjects: engineering and sport. During the First World War he dismantled a submachine gun, which had been jamming and causing problems for the British Army and was able to send a report to the War Office that the dies for the rounds were distorting during manufacture. For this he was sent a formal thanks from the War Office. He was 15 years old. Six months later he designed from scratch an interrupter gear for prop planes having heard from his brother Hugh, who was a second lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps, that there was a problem with damage to propellers. He also designed a hydroscopic stabiliser for aircraft and sent these two designs off to the War Office. They were never patented but he received warm congratulations.

Sandy's ability on the sports field was spotted by the rowing master, A E Kitchen, who invited him to trial for the First VIII and he became Captain of Boats at 17. The first VIII had a great victory at the Henley Peace Regatta in 1919 in which they won the Elsenham Cup in a very fast race against a much heavier crew from Bedford School, a victory that still stands as one of the outstanding wins for Shrewsbury. After school he applied to Magdalen College, Oxford but was turned down on the grounds of his weak performance in Latin and Greek, but was accepted in the Spring Term of 1922 to Merton College to read Chemistry. Here he began to show some academic potential and got high marks in his summer exams in 1923. Sandy was invited to join the prestigious Oxford University Boat Club rather than having to undergo trials, such was his reputation as an oarsman. He rowed in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race in 1922 and in 1923 when Oxford beat Cambridge by three quarters of a length.

At Putney shortly before the 1923 Boat Race Sandy Irvine was approached by geologist Noel Odell to join an Oxford University Arctic Expedition to the Norwegian Archipelago. With his usual abundant enthusiasm he accepted immediately and dismissed Odell's warnings of the discomforts of exploration in the Arctic. The expedition succeeded in making a crossing of the island of Spitsbergen and it was after this, in conversation with the expedition doctor, Tom Longstaff, that Sandy first heard that there was a possibility he might be invited to join the 1924 Mount Everest expedition.

On his return from Spitsbergen, prior to the October invitation being issued, Sandy was tasked by Odell to find out as much as he could about technical equipment for the expedition. He made a visit to the Lake District in September to meet George and Ashley Abraham where he discussed cameras and oxygen equipment. When the invitation arrived in the autumn, Sandy was already aware that he would have to take charge of the capricious oxygen apparatus from Odell who had been appointed the expedition's oxygen official. Sandy spent two months redesigning the apparatus in his rooms at Merton College and, finally satisfied with his radical redesign, sent the drawings to manufacturers Siebe Gorman and set off for the Alps on a skiing and mountaineering trip. He was taught to ski by Arnold Lunn who later described him as the most gifted amateur he had ever seen.

Sandy spent the last month of his life in England trying to avoid the scandal that surrounded his very public love affair with his best friend's stepmother and making final preparations for the Mount Everest expedition. He joined Mallory, Beetham and Hazard at a farewell dinner given by the Wayfarers Club in Liverpool on 28th February 1924 and sailed on the SS California for India the following day.

Three weeks later the four men met up with the rest of the expedition in Darjeeling and on 22 March 1924 left for the six week trek through Sikkim and across Tibet under the leadership of General Charles Bruce. Not long into the trek Bruce succumbed to a recurrence of malaria and had to return to India, handing over charge of the expedition to Colonel Edward Norton who himself relinquished his role as climbing leader to George Mallory. By the time the team had arrived at Base Camp on 29 April Mallory, according to Sandy's diary, had paired Norton with Somervell to climb without oxygen and Mallory with Irvine to climb with oxygen. 'I'm awfully glad I'm with Mallory in the first lot, but I wish ever so much that is was a non-ox attempt', he wrote in his diary. The weather during May was appalling and the team suffered several setbacks and their summit attempt was delayed. Nevertheless by early June the climbers were poised to take advantage of a break in the weather and on 2 June Norton and Somervell set out, without oxygen, to climb above the North Col and towards the summit. On 4 June the two climbers returned to Camp IV having reached a height of 28,000 feet, an altitude record that stood for over fifty years until it was broken by Reinhold Messner and Peter Habler when they reached the summit of Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen in May 1978.

Mallory, who had already been above the North Col with Geoffrey Bruce a few days earlier, told Norton, who was suffering from snow-blindness, that he and Sandy Irvine would make another attempt, using oxygen, leaving on 6 June. Odell and Hazard prepared breakfast for the two men, who set off towards Camp V at 7.30am. The following day they reached Camp VI and on the morning of 8 June set off on the final leg of the climb towards the summit. Odell, who was climbing in support, observed from a height of 26,000 feet 'M & I on right nearing base of final pyramid'. The cloud closed in and the climbers were lost from view. When the cloud cleared and the mountain was bathed again in sunlight there was no sign of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine. Although Odell climbed twice up to Camp VI in search of the two men, they were never seen alive again. Debate began to rage as to whether or not the two men had made it to the summit and it continues today.

After his death, at the age of 22 years and two months, Sandy Irvine was cast forever as the historical cipher to the legendary climber, George Leigh Mallory. His contribution to the 1924 Mount Everest expedition as 'The Experiment' as he was nicknamed by General Bruce, was quiet but useful. He fettled broken equipment, worked tirelessly on the oxygen apparatus that he had to completely rework during the trek, as Siebe Gorman had ignored his designs. He made a rope ladder for the porters to climb above the North Col and gave backup as a high altitude porter and cook when required. But no one should doubt Sandy's own ambition to stand on the highest spot on earth next to George Mallory. It was clear in the only press interview he gave prior to sailing for India as well as clear from the comments in the letters that Willie Irvine received after his son's death, that Sandy had no intention of being the spare man in the crew.
Acquisition Source:
Donated by Mrs V Matheou, a former neighbour of Catherine Irvine.
Accession Number:
Scope and Content:
News cuttings (1924-2003), commemorative postage stamp and related newspaper article, cutting not pasted in to scrapbook (1923-2003), typescript articles re Catherine Irvine.
None expected.
Arranged by date.
Access Conditions:
This collection is open for consultation. Readers are advised to contact the Mountain Heritage Trust in advance of their visit in order to make an appointment.
Physical Description:
Finding Aids:
Description compiled by Maxine Willett, Archivist,
Access Points:
Everest, Mount
Irvine, Andrew Comyn (1902-1924) known as Sandy
Mallory, George Herbert Leigh (1886-1924)
Mountaineering expeditions
Related Entities:
British University Film and Video Council
Magdalene College, Cambridge
National Media Museum
North Devon Record Office
Oxford University, Merton College
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Library and Archives
Royal Society for Asian Affairs
Science Museum Library
Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine
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M Willett