Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed
Personal information
Nickname(s)Lizzie Le Blond
Born(1860-06-26)26 June 1860
Greystones, Ireland
Died27 July 1934
Llandrindod Wells, Wales
Occupationphotographer, autobiographer
Spouse(s)Frederick Burnaby (1842–1885)
John Frederick Main (1886–1892)
Francis Bernard Aubrey Le Blond (1900)
Climbing career
Type of climbermountaineer, alpinist, winter climbing
Updated on 8 July 2020.

Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed (26 June 1860 – 27 July 1934),[1] usually known after her third marriage as Mrs Aubrey Le Blond and to her climbing friends as Lizzie Le Blond,[1] 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.[2]

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 and has since become well known for photos showing her climbing in a skirt.[3] 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.[1] 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.

Personal 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[4] who raised her in Killincarrick House, Greystones, County Wicklow.[1] 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,[4] a British Army intelligence officer, in 1879. She gave birth to her son Harry Burnaby[4] 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.

In 1886, Elizabeth married her second husband John Frederick Main.[4] The marriage was short lived when he died alone in North America in 1892.

In 1900 she married her third husband, Aubrey Le Blond.[5]

She died on 27 July 1934, and was buried at Brompton cemetery in London.[5]


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.


Abandoning conventional mid 1880s London lifestyle, Mrs. Hawkins ended up in Chamonix where her first climb was making two thirds up of the way up Mont Blanc.[1] She is known now for the photos of her climbing a skirt, however she would change when out of public sight to avoid causing offence.[1] 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 inside. Her health declined due to trouble in her lungs, but that did not prevent her from going on expeditions. On the contrary, her time spent abroad was also used in search for a cure, and 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 over one hundred ascents, twenty of which were first ascents.[6] 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 once had to be carried out their carriage when it was completely covered in ice.

In 1907, Hawkins set up and became the first president of the Ladies Alpine Club.[6] She showed great courage and provided inspiration to future generations for females taking part in activities deemed masculine.


Elizabeth Main: Skating on the lake of Sils

Almost from the beginning of her climbing career Elizabeth carried her camera with her, capturing views which had never been seen before[5] she also took up photography and was an early adopter of snow photography.[1]

Over the years she took thousands of photographs, about four hundred of which were included in various publications,[5] Including Water, its Origin and Use by William Coles Finch.[7] Elizabeth developed and printed her own work often in terrible conditions and would sell them in aid of charity, give them as gifts, or give them as a prize at mountaineering events.[1] The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas USA is home to over 2,000 photographs of Elizabeth's taken between 1886 and 1903. Many of the photographs have captions and descriptions written by Elizabeth that do not appear in her known publications.

An exhibition was held at the Pontresina Alpine Museum in 2003 and a collection of her photographs published in a volume which the Greystones Historical Society presented to the local library during National Heritage Week 2011.[5] An exhibition of Elizabeth's photographs and archives from the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum was curated in house upon the donation of her collection in 2013 and a permanent display of her works called Queen of the Mountain installed at the Safari Museum in November 2023.

Selected works[edit]

  • The high Alps in winter, or mountaineering in search of health – published 1883[1][5]
  • 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


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Women's Museum of Ireland | Articles | Elizabeth (Lizzie) Le Blond". womensmuseumofireland.ie. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  2. ^ Thompson, Simon (2010). Unjustifiable risk? : The Story of British climbing. Milnthorpe: Cicerone. p. 71. ISBN 9781852846275.
  3. ^ "Greystones woman climbed mountains in a skirt so not to offend". The Irish Times. 12 July 2016. Retrieved 25 September 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d "Family tree of Elizabeth HAWKINS-WHITSHED". Geneanet. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "latouchelegacy.com – Elizabeth Whitshed (Burnaby) Hawkins". latouchelegacy.com. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Elizabeth le Blond". The Royal Parks. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  7. ^ Coles Finch, William (1908). "Preface". Water, its Origin and Use. London: Astom Rivers Ltd. p. vii.


External links[edit]

Media related to Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed at Wikimedia Commons