Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed

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Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed

Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed (1860 – 27 July 1934), usually known after her third marriage as Mrs Aubrey Le Blond and to her climbing friends as Lizzie Le Blond, was an Irish pioneer of mountaineering at a time when it was almost unheard of for a woman to climb mountains. She was also an author and a photographer of mountain scenery.[1]

She came from an upper-class background, being the daughter of Captain Sir St Vincent Hawkins-Whitshed, 3rd Baronet (1837–1871) (see Hawkins-Whitshed baronets) by his wife Anne Alicia (née Handcock) (1837–1908), and further back was descended from the aristocratic Bentinck family, and was therefore related to the Dukes of Portland.

She grew up in Greystones, County Wicklow, in the south-east of Ireland, where her father owned quite a bit of land. However, her father then died, leaving no other children, while she was still a minor, and the Lord Chancellor took her on as his ward.

Elizabeth moved to Switzerland, where she climbed mountains in her skirt. In 1907, she took the lead in forming the Ladies' Alpine Club and became its first president. She wrote seven books on mountain climbing and over her lifetime made twenty first ascents, conquering peaks that no one had climbed before.

As Mrs Aubrey Le Blond she made at least ten films of alpine activities in the Engadine Valley of Switzerland, including ice hockey at St Moritz and tobogganing on the Cresta Run. She is probably among the world's first three female film-makers, after Alice Guy and contemporary with Laura Bayley. Her films were shown by James Williamson at Hove Town Hall in November 1900, being included in his catalogue in 1902, and were praised by the film pioneer Cecil Hepworth and the writer E. F. Benson.

She married three times: firstly, in 1879, to Frederick Burnaby (1842–1885); secondly, in 1886, to John Frederick Main (died 1892); and thirdly, in 1900, to Francis Bernard Aubrey Le Blond. From her first marriage, she had a son Harry Burnaby, in 1880. Despite her second and third marriages, the lands at Greystones that she had inherited from her father (before marriage) were to be known as the Burnaby Estate. This part of Greystones (The Burnaby) was developed after 1900. It includes Burnaby Road, Somerby Road, as well as Whitshed, St. Vincent's, and Portland Roads, and Hawkins Lane. She published accounts of her climbing under the names Mrs. Fred Burnaby, Mrs. Main, and Mrs. Aubrey Le Blond.

She published her autobiography Day In, Day Out in 1928.

Early life[edit]

Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed was born in Dublin on 26 June 1860. She was the daughter of Captain Vincent Hawkins-Whitshed and Mrs. Anne Hawkins-Whitshed who raised her in Killincarrick House, Greystones, Co. Wicklow. Elizabeth's childhood was said to be happy in the countryside with a devoted mother, but her father died in 1871 leaving her inherited Killincarrick House along with nearly 2,000 acres of land spreading across Dublin, Meath and Wicklow at the age of eleven years. Elizabeth could claim kinship with royalty and aristocracy in Europe through her Bentick great grandmother and at the age of eighteen she joined London society and married her first husband Captain Fred Burnaby, a British Army intelligence officer, in 1879. She gave birth to her son Harry Burnaby in 1880. A few months after the birth, she and her husband began leading primarily separate lives until his death in the battle of Sudan on 17 January 1885. In the time leading up to his death, Elizabeth had been spending her time searching for a cure to the lung difficulty she was experiencing. In 1881 she moved to Switzerland where she went on excursions on the lower slopes of Mont Blanc and built an appetite for mountaineering. In the years following her arrival in Switzerland, she scaled Mont Blanc twice as well as many other difficult peaks. Elizabeth spent her time making more than one hundred ascents and was part of the first ever women only expedition. In 1886, Elizabeth married her second husband John Frederick Main. The marriage was short lived when he died alone in North America in 1892.


Elizabeth wrote her books under both her former name, Elizabeth Hawkins Whitshed and her latter name of Aubrey Le Blond. She took great joy in the authorship of her books along with her love of photography alike. Her first book was published in 1883, The High Alps of Winter, the precursor to a series of books and articles describing her mountaineering experiences. However, she would later decide to turn her hand to fiction, travel writing and family history. Although her talent for writing books was evident, she was most fond of photography, carrying her camera on her shoulder everywhere she went. Between her most widely known hobbies of mountaineering, photography and writing books, there are currently 69 works in 220 publications in 3 languages and 2,228 library holdings known, worldwide.

Selected works[edit]

  • The High Alps in Winter
  • Mountaineering in the Land of the Midnight Sun
  • Adventures on the Roof of the World
  • True Tales of Mountain Adventure: For non-climbers Young and Old
  • My Home in the Alps
  • High Life of Towers and Silence
  • Charlotte Sophie, Countess Bentick: Her Life and times, 1715-1800
  • The Old Gardens of Italy How to Visit them
  • Day In, Day Out


Abandoning conventional mid 1880s London lifestyle. Although Mrs. Hawkins has been known for climbing with trousers rather than a skirt to give a sense of equality between men and women. The interior of her tent at the bottom of most mountains she climbed gave us an idea of her social status. Nice clothing, a comfortable bed, drapes, and her own elaborate toilette can be found in here. Her health declined due to trouble in her lungs, but that did not prevent her from going on expeditions. On the contrary, the time spent abroad was also used in search for a cure. this activity pushed her to better herself.

In the summer of 1881, she moved to Switzerland at the heart of European mountaineering. During that summer, Hawkins scaled the Mont Blanc twice and several other difficult peaks in Switzerland within twenty years. Further down her career, Elizabeth abandoned Switzerland for Lapland and Norway. Spending six consecutive summers in the Norwegian Arctic shined light on uncharted territory. This led to Hawkins completing thirty-three climbs, twenty-seven of which were first ascents. During her expeditions however, Hawkins would take advantage of her wealth and social status by being accompanied by personal staff. To prove how dangerous the conditions can get during ascents, Elizabeth's personal maid had to be carried out once their carriage was completely covered in ice.

In 1907, became the first president of the Ladies Alpine Club. Showing great courage and providing inspiration to future generations about females taking part in activities deemed masculine.


Elizabeth Main: Skating on the lake of Sils

It could be said that Elizabeth's love for traveling and photography was stumbled upon by accident. Months after her marriage to captain Fred Burnaby she embark on a journey in pursuit to solve her ongoing health issues. This journey to find a cure for her lung trouble led Elizabeth to Chamonix in 1881 this where she "saw for the first time those glacier-clad alpine ranges which were to mean so much to me for the rest of my life" within days she embarked on a journey through the Swiss countryside. From then on the Greystones native traveled through Italy, Switzerland and Norway recording an incredible life through photography. Elizabeth Hawkins paired her love of mountaineering with photography taking amazing photos at the peaks of mountains that had never been seen before at close quarters. Elizabeth developed and printed her own work often in terrible conditions and would sell them in aid of charity or give them as a prize at mountaineering events. Sadly very little of Elizabeth's photography work is left from her days mountaineering and traveling.


  1. ^ Thompson, Simon (2010). Unjustifiable risk? : The Story of British climbing. Milnthorpe: Cicerone. p. 71. ISBN 9781852846275.


  • Raughter, R. (2011) Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed: From Killincarrick to the roof of the world.


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