Freda Du Faur

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Freda Du Faur
Emmeline Freda du Faur, by George Edward Mannering (1862-1947).jpg
Born Croydon, Sydney, Australia
Died Dee Why, Sydney, Australia
Nationality Australian
Known for Mountaineering pioneer

Emmeline Freda Du Faur (16 September 1882 – 11 September 1935) was an Australian mountaineer, the first woman to climb New Zealand's tallest mountain, Aoraki / Mount Cook. Du Faur was the leading amateur climber of her day. She also has enduring significance as the first active female high mountaineer in New Zealand, although she never lived there.

Early life[edit]

Du Faur was born in Croydon, Sydney, New South Wales. She was the daughter of Frederick Eccleston Du Faur, a stock, station and land agent, and patron of the arts, and his second wife, Blanche Mary Elizabeth Woolley (daughter of professor John Woolley).

She was educated at Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School. She probably developed her passion for mountaineering when she lived with her family near the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. As a young woman, she explored the area and taught herself to rock-climb. She did not finish nursing training due to the stress and demands of the work. Due to the interests of her parents, and an inheritance from an aunt, Emmeline Woolley, she had an independent income that enabled her to travel and climb.

Encountering Mount Cook[edit]

Freda Du Faur summered in New Zealand, but did not visit the South Island until she journeyed there in late 1906. At the time, she saw photographs of Mount Cook at the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch. This experience inspired her to travel to the Hermitage where she decided that she wanted to climb to the summits of the Southern Alps of the South Island. She visited the area twice. On her second visit in 1908, she investigated the mountains in more detail, and met the chief guide at the Hermitage, Peter Graham.

Graham introduced her to mountain climbing, and added experience of ropework, snow and ice climbing to her existing skills on rock. At a time when mountaineering itself was a rare pastime, Freda Du Faur's enthusiasm and perseverance enabled mountain guides to explore their own opportunities to make challenging ascents. She found the challenge of mountaineering a source of considerable enjoyment and freedom. Given strictures on Edwardian women, it may have also provided a welcome escape from many of her frustrations with family and society.

Mountaineering experiences (1906–1910)[edit]

Du Faur first ascended Mount Sealy within the Southern Alps on 19 December 1909. At the Hermitage, she fell afoul of other women, who insisted she should not spend a night alone with a guide, not even Peter Graham. It is unknown whether Freda was aware of her attraction to other women at this point, and how she privately responded to these concerns about morality. Unfortunately for Du Faur, the designated chaperone proved to be an encumberance. Her well-learnt ropework expertise saved his life when he slipped.

Given the rigour of the alpine environment, Freda dressed practically. She wore a skirt to just below the knee over knickerbockers and long puttees while she climbed. Du Faur wore it on all her subsequent mountaineering expeditions. She contradicted gender expectations after some of her major climbs. Her femininity disconcerted male critics and upset stereotypes about female athletes. She was a practical woman, however, and felt sunburn, dirt and discomfort were minimal discomforts when it came to the excitement of climbing.

Freda Du Faur proved to be a trendsetter in her chosen vocation, not only for similarly motivated women, but for other guided climbers of the Edwardian era. She was celebrated for her rock-climbing expertise, perseverance, and athleticism. Muriel Cadogan trained her for three months at the Dupain Institute of Physical Education in Sydney, before she travelled to New Zealand in November 1910.

Mount Cook: December 1910[edit]

Du Faur's rigorous preparation for the coming onslaught enabled her to climb Mount Cook soon after her arrival in New Zealand. On 3 December 1910, Peter and Alexander (Alec) Graham accompanied her to the summit. Her expedition was the first female ascent of the mountain, as well as the fastest to that date. She shared her tent with the guides. After this expedition, chaperonage, dress, and convention proved to be irrelevant to her enjoyment of mountaineering. She wrote:

'I was the first unmarried woman to climb in New Zealand, and in consequence I received all the hard knocks until one day when I awoke more or less famous in the mountaineering world, after which I could and did do exactly as seemed to me best.'

Over four climbing seasons she made many first ascents and notable climbs. Her feats included the second ascent of Mount Tasman, the first ascent of Mount Dampier and the first traverse of Mount Sefton as well as other 3000 m peaks. She made the first Grand Traverse of all three peaks of Mount Cook on 3 January 1913 with Peter Graham and David (Darby) Thomson.

Life after mountaineering (1913–1935)[edit]

Du Faur and Muriel Cadogan moved to England after this and planned to climb in the Alps, Canada and the Himalaya. World War I prevented their climbing in Europe but gave them a chance to work in London, where her book The Conquest of Mount Cook was published in 1915. It proved important for its record of her mountaineering feats.

Du Faur moved from London to Bournemouth, living in the suburb of Boscombe. Freda and Muriel had their own property at 28 Sea Road, Boscombe from the autumn of 1922, and were living there until 1925, but let the property out from 1926–1928. They were back at Sea Road in 1929. After Cadogan experienced something akin to a mental breakdown, Du Faur took her to a facility and admitted them both. However the two were separated and after Freda left, Muriel continued treatment, until her family came to take her back to Australia. Cadogan died in June 1929, on the voyage home.

In 1932 and 1933 Du Faur lived at Sea Road with Hannah Dickens, who remained in the flat on her own from 1934 onwards, although she appears to have been an occasional visitor up until 1935.[1] Freda Du Faur returned to Australia to live at Dee Why, Sydney, and took up bush walking. Suffering from depression at the loss of her beloved friend and her inability to get answers as to why she died, she killed herself on 11 September 1935. She poisoned herself with carbon monoxide and was privately buried in the Church of England cemetery at Manly. Du Faur's unmarked grave in the Manly cemetery was finally recognised during a ceremony on 3 December 2006 when a group of New Zealanders placed a memorial stone, of NZ greywacke, and plaque, recognising her alpine achievements.

Today, in the main divide of the Southern Alps, Du Faur, Pibrac and Cadogan Peaks are named in memory of this pioneering mountaineer, the Du Faur family house and her devoted lover.


  1. ^ Bournemouth Register of Electors, Mate's Street Directories & Kelly's Street Directories 1922–1936.


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