George Herbert Leigh Mallory

(1886 – 1924)

The body of George Mallory was discovered on Everest in 1999

Was he the first to reach the summit of Everest?

The 1921 Everest Expedition Base Camp: George Mallory back row right

A.F.R. [Sandy] Wollaston / Wikimedia Commons

Relation to George Mallory

George Mallory was a famous British mountaineer who made three attempts to summit Everest in the early 1920s, about thirty years before Edmund Hillary made his successful climb. On George’s third attempt, in 1924, he and his climbing partner Sandy Irvine were last seen about 800 vertical feet from the summit; after that point, they disappeared and never returned.

George’s body lay on the mountain, almost perfectly preserved by the frigid conditions, for nearly seventy-five years, until it was finally discovered by climbers in 1999.

There were clues discovered with George’s body that suggest that George had actually made it to the summit of Everest and was on his way back down when he fell and ultimately lost his life.

First, he had carried a photograph of his wife that he was going to leave at the summit. When his body was discovered, the photograph was missing. He was also carrying snow goggles in his pocket, which would lead to the theory that he had made a push for the summit and was descending after sunset, when the goggles would no longer be required. Various oxygen cylinders were located, and the extent of oxygen usage supports the theory that he had reached the summit and was descending.

Whether George was indeed the first person to stand on the summit of Everest may never be verified, but his is an interesting story, and his accomplishments were incredible considering the very primitive clothing, equipment, and logistics that were available in those days.

As my family shares a common last name with George, we are frequently asked if he is an ancestor of ours, and being curious ourselves, we did some digging into the question.

It turns out that my family is unusually connected with George through marriage, although there doesn’t appear to be a direct blood link. We do, however, to the best of our knowledge share a common ancestor, Sir William Mallory.

Twelve generations back in our family tree, a Sir William Mallory (1525–1603) married Ursula Gale and had fifteen children. One of his sons, John, is the forebear of our side of the family tree, and another, Thomas, is forebear of the George Mallory side. Six generations below Thomas was born a man named John Holdsworth Mallory, born in Mobberley, Cheshire. John had two daughters but no son. One of the daughters, Julia, married a man called George Leigh.

George Leigh was given permission to marry Julia on one condition: that he add the word “Mallory” to his surname so that the Mallory name would not be lost when her father, John, passed away. Thus, George Leigh became George Leigh Mallory.

Julia died quite young, at the age of twenty-nine, and George remarried — a woman called Henrietta Trafford — and he felt no obligation to retain the “Mallory” surname, so he reverted back to George Leigh once again. That branch of the Mallory bloodline disappeared upon Julia’s death.

George and Henrietta had a son called Herbert Leigh, who later in life decided to apply for a coat of arms — which is when the name Mallory popped up again. The church explained the history of his father having two different surnames in his two marriages, and the only way to rectify the problem was to re-christen himself Herbert Leigh Mallory.

Thus Herbert’s eldest son, George Herbert Leigh, became George Herbert Leigh Mallory, the famous George Mallory who perished on Everest in 1924.

As a result of all this, there is an interesting connection between my family and George Mallory, and we are related through the first marriage of George’s grandfather.

George Mallory and Sandy Irvine carried a camera with them and although a pocket knife, altimeter and snow goggles were found with George’s body, their camera remains missing. It would be very interesting if the camera is discovered on a future expedition and can be developed as it would almost certainly contain a photo at the summit, assuming the two or them were successful as the current evidence suggests.