State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 82 Spring 2008


Front cover, depicting interesting mode of transport, of 'A Lady Pioneer'[attributed to Mrs. Nina E.
Mazuchelli], The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them: being a narrative of two years' residence in the eastern

Chris Elmore
The Vic Spitzer Collection:
books of high adventure, intrepid travel and exotic places

The State Library of Victoria has recently gained from a generous donation of travel and adventure books, which has been catalogued as The Vic Spitzer Collection.1 In brief, it comprises about 1200 volumes on mountaineering, exploration and trekking, with coverage of all the major mountaineering regions of the world, including the Polar regions, and with special attention to Mount Everest and Nepal. It also contains books on the cultures and peoples who inhabit these regions. Those of us who have not been there will regard many of the regions described and discussed in these volumes as exotic and unusual. The historical coverage of the collection is significant, beginning with volumes from the mid-nineteenth century and extending to volumes published in very recent years, although the bulk of volumes were first published during the years between 1951 and 1990.2


The collection was donated to the library under the Federal Government's Cultural Gifts Scheme by an interesting man, who was both a successful businessman and an intrepid traveller. Vic Spitzer came to Australia with his family from Romania in 1939. After service with the AIF in World War II he returned to enroll at Melbourne University to complete a science degree with major studies in chemistry. He began work as an industrial chemist, but later moved over to assist with the family timber business when his father retired. Later, after selling the business, he worked as a government patents examiner before undertaking the first in a variety of successful business ventures, including, most notably, the management of three acute private hospitals and, more recently, the development and running of a property trust. He also worked for a time as personal assistant to the managing director of a large public company.
Although his work demanded a lot of him, Spitzer always managed to find time for his interest in trekking, adventure travel and mountaineering. With work commitments limiting his chances for personal involvement in such activities, he exercised his interest by reading widely about the exploits of others in their published accounts. This, no doubt, was the genesis for what was later to become one of the best and most comprehensive specialist book collections of its kind in Australia. Combining his interest in adventure travel with his administrative skills, his persistence and his lively wit, it is hardly surprising that Spitzer was able to amass such a magnificent collection. It is worth noting, also, that the collection was largely built in the days prior to the advent of the internet, when serious collecting meant the sending out of wish lists, the purposeful scouring of booksellers' catalogues and the maintaining of world-wide personal contacts, both with those in the book trade and with those who were fellow collectors.
It was not until relatively late in life, with many of his work commitments behind him, that Spitzer was able to begin his own involvement in trekking and adventure travel, which eventually took him to sixty-three countries across the world, spread across all the continents. His personal trekking history is impressive. Between 1972 and 1992, he completed twenty trekking expeditions to places as varied as New Guinea, Patagonia and Kenya. He has had a special interest in Nepal, completing seasons spanning more than a decade in the region. Spitzer's long held interest in the subject, combined in later years with personal experience, has made his choice of volumes for inclusion in the Spitzer Collection particularly apposite.
Vic Spitzer finally retired in 2004, both from work commitments and from active trekking, and has only recently had the time to think about what he wanted to do with his large collection of travel books. The answer came in discussions with Des Cowley, Rare Printed Collections Manager at the State Library of Victoria.3 Spitzer believed that his books would be of general interest to readers, not just specialists, and was anxious that the collection should be easily accessible to all comers. He further believed that the items in the collection should remain together.4 When it was pointed out to him that many of the items in the collection would now be considered valuable and rare, and that it would be difficult to house the entire collection on open access, a compromise was proposed. The books would be split over various locations in the library. Each item on open access would be given a bookplate, advertising it as part of the collection. Items in closed storage would be identified by a note in the Library catalogue and a unique prefix to the call number. The outcome of this arrangement is that most items from the Spitzer Collection are now housed as part of the Rare Printed Collections, with a few of the more recently-published, the large format and the photographic volumes on open access shelves, or in other specialist areas.5


What does the Spitzer Collection contain? This can best be answered in terms of how the collection was built up. It began with books on Mount Everest, then opened out to include books on Nepal and the Himalayas, and was finally extended to books about mountaineering and travel in the rest of the world.6 Volumes about Everest comprise the largest single-topic grouping in the collection, almost a fifth of the total. Of these, many of the most interesting are those that pre-date the first successful climb to the summit by Hillary and Tensing. Between the years 1921 and 1952, the British climbing fraternity made no less than nine separate expeditions to Everest, most of them for reconnaissance purposes, but including the famous Third Expedition of 1924, when Mallory and Irvine were lost after an ill-fated summit attempt. In addition, British aviators achieved the first flight over Mount Everest, using biplanes that took off from India. It is a measure of just how comprehensive the collection is that all the written accounts of these exploits may be found, beautifully preserved and in excellent condition, as first editions.7 To round out this part of the collection, there is also the expedition report written by John Hunt after returning from the

A group of books relating to Mount Everest in the Vic Spizter Collection.

successful 1953 attempt on the summit, The Ascent of Everest, and two volumes by Sir Francis Younghusband, an early traveller with experience of the Himalayan region.8
One of the standout volumes of interest from this period of Everest exploration is the account of the Third Expedition of 1924, entitled The Fight for Everest.9 This expedition made two attempts on the summit and came close to conquering it some twenty-nine years before Hillary, but the near-successful attempt cost the lives of the second pair to attempt it, the famous George Leigh-Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Debate still rages as to whether it is possible that this pair actually reached the summit before losing their lives on the descent. George Mallory's frozen and preserved body was located by the Eric Simonson expedition of 1999, but there were no clues to help answer this enigmatic question. Subsequent accounts abound of what happened to Mallory and Irvine, but none can match the poignancy of the original account offered by their climbing companion, N. E. Odell. Odell's account was written up as Chapter VI of The Fight for Everest. At the time, Odell was in support of the two lead climbers and had climbed to about 26000 feet (7924 metres) and had just ascended a minor crag when
there was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere above me and I saw the whole summit ridge and peak of Everest unveiled. I noticed far away on a snow slope leading up to what seemed to me to be the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid, a tiny object moving and approaching the rock step. A second object followed, and then the first climbed to the top of the step. As I stood intently watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in cloud once more, and I could not actually be certain that I saw the second figure join the first. It was of course none other than Mallory and Irvine …10
This was the last ever sighting of the lost climbers. The tiny figures set against the great

'Mount Everest Sunrise', from 'A Lady Pioneer', [attributed to Mrs. Nina E. Mazuchelli], The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them: being a narrative of two years' residence in the eastern Himalaya and two months' tour into the interior, London: Longmans, Green, 1876, p.358.

natural background indicated the magnitude of the task which faced them and the cloud which obscured Odell's view seemed symbolic of the mystery that has shrouded their fate ever since.


The other standout Everest volume published prior to 1953 is the account of the first flight over Everest, published as First over Everest, which is every bit as enthralling from the viewpoint of technical ingenuity as the account of the 1924 Expedition is for the human drama.11 The idea of the expedition was to test the capabilities of the aeroplane and the camera as a means of acquiring new knowledge of the area around Everest. It was financed by Lady Huston and was implemented under the control of the Everest Flight Committee, formed for the purposes of scientific discovery. Flights were made over an extensive area of the Himalayas, enabling the production of a twenty-mile-long by two-mile-wide survey map of the area culminating in the summit of Everest. Two flights were made over Everest, on 4 and 19 April 1933. In his Foreword, novelist John Buchan admits that "there is no young man who, if he had the choice, would not prefer to stagger blind and panting onto the snow-cap of Everest rather than look down upon it from the air", but "the spirit of hardihood and adventure" is common to any assault of the great mountain whether from the air or from the ground.12
In point of fact, Buchan is correct. For the times, and given the state of contemporary aviation knowledge, this was quite a feat, both in terms of technical know-how and human

A stunning black and white photo (photogravure reproduction of a photographic plate) of the Newton Glacier in Alaska taken by Vittorio Sella. From The Ascent of Mount St. Elias by H.R.H. Prince Luigi Amedeo di Savoia, Duke of the Abruzzi, narrated by Filippo de Filippi, illustrated by Vittorio Sella and tr. by Signora Linda Villari with the author's supervision, Westminster: Archibald Constable, 1900, p.124. Vic Spitzer Collection.

physiology. For the best account of how humans react to high-level flying (about which little was known at the time), the reader can turn to The Pilot's Book of Everest, also available as part of the collection, which offers a more homely and perhaps less grand account of the undertaking than the "official" account already mentioned. In his "Apologia" at the start of the book, Squadron Leader Clydesdale, first pilot to the expedition, claims that, apart from the scientific quest, the flights were undertaken with "an element of romance". The undertaking was "an adventure, for there existed at least in some measure the idea that the unknown was being probed". The likelihood of technical failure of the aeroplane or equipment was, in his view, much over-rated in the minds of some; the real problematical element was how men would react and survive under conditions of extreme elevation and physical strain. Happily, the difficulties that arose proved less taxing than might have been expected.13
The most interesting chapters from the two books are those that describe the flights over Everest from the pilots' point of view.14 Certain problems are shared by aviators and mountaineers, such as difficult natural conditions, the unpredictability of the weather, limited visibility and equipment failures. For the aviators, visibility proved to be a real nightmare on their first flight. Later, the pilots began to experience the problems of massive downdrafts and updrafts of air which are common in the vicinity of mountains, so much so that, on one occasion, Clydesdale's plane lost 2000 feet (610 metres) within a few seconds, bringing him dangerously close to the level of the Everest summit. There were problems with the oxygen delivery systems, which compounded the haziness of mind which
the pilots suffered at such a great height. Uncontrollable drift also proved to be a problem for accurate navigation. At the end of the two flights over Everest, Clydesdale opined that, even though they might have expected to feel some of the romance of the enormous masses of ice and rock that they had seen below them, still, "we could take no liberties with Everest".15
Everest books dated after the successful summit attempt are of a different nature, reflecting, perhaps, the changing priorities of climbers and adventurers. Indeed, serious expeditions which attempt to pioneer new routes or achieve genuine technical breakthroughs have gradually given way to almost ludicrous and increasingly meaningless "records", as more and more people ascend.16 The latest craze, evident since the 1990s onwards, is to turn Everest into a giant arena for adventure sports. In the face of these changes, Everest has inevitably become something of a tourist destination, stripped of those elements that make it part of the great unknown, and leading to different notions of risk and safety. Tourists to Everest seem to desire safety above adventure, plodding in the footsteps of their well-paid guides, while adventure sportsmen go to extreme lengths to inject the risk back in, with speed climbs, snowboarding runs down the slopes and ascents by blind climbers or amputees. It may be that, as a collector, Vic Spitzer was of the old school, or that his collection largely pre-dates these trends, but, for whatever reason, most of the post-1953 books in the collection stick to the older expedition-style accounts, such as the two British south west face expeditions led by Chris Bonnington during the 1970s, or those which document genuine technical advances, such as the first solo ascent without oxygen by Reinhold Messner.


A second significant grouping of books in the Spitzer Collection is that related to Nepal and the Himalayas.17 At just on sixty per cent of the total, this group forms the backbone, so to speak, of the collection, and was one of the motivating interests that lead to the development of the collection in the first place, arising, no doubt, from Spitzer's personal interest in, and intimate knowledge of, the Himalayan region, after having completed eleven trekking seasons there between 1972 and 1992.
Perhaps one of the more interesting climbing expeditions of the post-1953 era in the Himalayas was the 1970 Bonnington expedition to climb the south face of Annapurna.18 This was a significant climb for a number of reasons. Annapurna is the tenth highest mountain in the world and was important in the history of Himalayan climbing as the first peak over the magic height of eight thousand metres to be climbed. This had been achieved in 1950 by a French expedition lead by Maurice Herzog, but had not been climbed since then, when Bonnington undertook to conquer it by the technically challenging south face. Prior to the climb, the south face was known to be swept by avalanches all the time and was judged to be more difficult than Everest, although the approach seemed easier. Its huge size
and unrelenting steepness necessitated a climb through a snow ridge, ice cliffs, a rock band, a steep snow arete and a rocky crest near the summit. It required a combination of ice climbing and standard mountaineering skills and presented a formidable challenge.19
After a relatively easy approach and the successful establishment of the lower camps, the real challenge began with the ice ridge, which took over eighteen days to conquer and became an ongoing source of difficulty when supplies had to be carried past it to the higher camps above. As they began contending with the next major hurdle, the rock band which began at about 24000 feet (7315 metres), the weather had cleared and progress by means of a fixed rope was steady. After these preparations, there was only the "mini rock band" at 26000 feet (7924 metres) to cross and a relatively straightforward snow traverse to the summit. The summit push was undertaken between 17 and 27 May and was successfully concluded by Dougal Haston and Don Whillans at their second attempt, the first having been cut short by bad weather. Unfortunately, the elation of their success was short-lived. In attempting to get as many team members to the summit as possible, Ian Clough, one of the best and most experienced climbers, was killed in an ice avalanche below Camp II, at a mere 17000 feet (5181 metres). Bonnington summed up the feelings for all the party when he described the body being brought out:
I met them just starting across the glacier. It was terribly difficult to believe that the inanimate bundle tied in a tarpaulin, strapped to a ladder, had only an hour or so before been an active, living person.20
But these are the realities of Himalayan climbing. At the end of his account, Bonnington attempts to evaluate the worth of their successful ascent balanced against its cost in human life. He can only conclude that climbing was a large part of all their lives and that the passion for climbing had been a strong one. The ascent of Annapurna had been "a breakthrough into a new dimension of Himalayan climbing on the great walls of the highest mountains in the world" and the starting point for new challenges in their lives.21
Published in 1971, Bonnington's book of the climb must be one of the best-produced mountaineering volumes ever published. As was common at the time, it sported a dust cover designed to make the book visually appealing on the bookstore shelf, using a spectacular colour photograph to achieve this. It was securely bound between cloth covers and it used good quality paper. It contains sixty colour photographs, all of which are equally as spectacular as the one on the dust cover, and able to make readers well appreciate the dangers and beauties of Himalayan climbing. There are also a number of route maps, one being a fold-out photograph of the mountain with the ascent route superimposed upon it.


Leaving aside Everest and the Himalayas, we may note the smaller group of volumes related to places and mountains on continents other than Asia.22 The only other significant grouping here is books related to exploration of the polar regions, of which there are a fair
number, mostly related to the Antarctic expeditions of Scott (1910–1912), Amundsen (1910–1912) and Shackleton (1914–1917). Several of these are books of photographs, one containing Frank Hurley's famous depictions of Shackleton's expedition. Frank Worsley's telling of the Shackleton expedition story benefits from Worsley's close association (as commander of HMS Endurance, the ship of passage for the expedition) with the events and personalities involved. Naturally, quite a number of these accounts are of general and continuing interest to readers and may therefore be found on open access.
One of the more interesting and lesser-known of polar explorers was Luigi Amedeo, the Duke of Abruzzi (1873–1933). Abruzzi was a mountaineer and explorer who made the first ascent of Mount St Elias in Alaska in 1897 and led an expedition to the Arctic in 1899. Later, in 1906, he led a party that climbed six of the principal peaks in the Ruwenzori Ranges, Uganda. His final major expedition was to the Karakorum and Western Himalaya in 1909. Abruzzi was born into royalty, a member of the ancient house of Savoy. His father reigned as king of Spain. His uncle and cousin both reigned as king of Italy. He was obviously the sort of explorer who troubles himself neither to write accounts of his journeys nor to photograph places of interest along the way. For these menial tasks there are always subordinates to save a royal the trouble of doing so. His expedition reports were regularly written by Filippo de Filippi and his photographs were mainly taken by Vittorio de Sella, although the Duke did raise his pen to write a preface or two and point the camera towards a few odd views of worth. As things turned out, this proved to be a suitable arrangement for posterity: de Filippi was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and was well able to report on the most significant aspects of the expedition; de Sella took some of the most sublime photographs ever seen of the world's wildest places. The Duke may have led his expeditions, but the communication of his accomplishments was the work of others.
The collection has a good coverage of the Duke's travels, six volumes in all, including two original Italian editions, all of which are valuable items with high bookseller's valuations. In the field of polar exploration, the relevant volumes in the collection are the original Italian edition and the English translation describing the ascent of Mount St Elias.23 The English version is one of the most lavishly produced volumes in the collection, with calf boards, thick, highly-calandered paper and guillotined edges (rather than the—for the time—more normal uncut quires that have to be slit by the purchaser). There is a profusion of smallish black-and-white photographic reproductions, two fold-out maps and four fold-out plates at the back of the volume, and many full-page lithographic reproductions throughout the body of the work. The process of foxing has begun and is advanced in places, but, on the whole, the volume is in very good condition.


The collection contains much smaller groupings again, related to the European Alps, the lower and less challenging peaks of America and Africa, and very much smaller groupings again of books on Australasia and Oceania. We should not be surprised by the size of these
groupings, as the trend towards more and more challenging expeditions and climbs has meant that adventurers, mountaineers and even trekkers have naturally gravitated towards the more extreme regions of the planet, with the result that there are more books written on extreme destinations. For leading-edge climbers and adventurers, there is simply less kudos in climbing the relatively easy slopes of Kilimanjaro at 5895 metres than there is in mastering the weather and technical slopes of a Himalayan peak above 7000 metres (as many of them are). Nevertheless, there is at least one fascinating account of an expedition to Kilimanjaro in the collection, that of H. H. Johnson's historic expedition of 1884, undertaken at a time in history when Mount Miltsin in Morocco at 12000 feet (3658 metres) was widely thought to be the highest mountain in Africa.
The account of his travels is recorded in The Kilima-Njaro Expeditions, published in 1886.24 Johnson's book is divided into two sections, part travelogue, part scholarly study of the local region, the second of these giving detailed accounts of various scientific topics, including (as his sub-title tells us) "natural history, languages, and commerce of the KilimaNjaro district". The dual nature of his account was in deference to contemporary notions of what was often called "scientific exploration", but for us of a later age, the travelogue is by far the more interesting of the two parts. Johnson was one of those very impressive late Victorians like Richard Burton and others who managed to combine the running of a fullscale expedition with the intellectual rigour of a scholar. At one point in the narrative he complains that he has been disappointed in his expectation of being given professional assistance from a specialist naturalist. Not only does he need to administer a thousand small details in the running of the expedition, so he tells us, but he must also spend time collecting botanical and zoological specimens in the approved scientific manner.
It is easy for us in the current age to forget just how intrepid an explorer had to be at the end of the nineteenth century. Any relatively fit trekker these days may simply ring up a specialist firm and organise a trip to the summit of Kilimanjaro almost as a week's outing, and with a reasonable prospect of an easy flight into Tanzania from anywhere in the world. Johnson had to travel from London, overland to Egypt, until joining his steamship at Suez and travelling on to Aden. From there he proceeded by steamer to Zanzibar, where he provisioned himself for the coming expedition and engaged thirty porters, men who were notable as old employees of Stanley in the Congo. From Zanzibar he then travelled by Arab dhau to Mombassa. From Mombassa, on the coast, he travelled through Taita and on to Kilimanjaro. At Kilimanjaro he made two ascents of the mountain, since his principal scientific interest was in the alpine district near the snowline rather than the lower levels.25 On his first ascent he made camp at 8000 feet (2438 metres) where tall trees were still in evidence, but by the time he had reached 9000 feet (2743 metres) he noted the end of the forests and the emergence of tussocky grasses. Further ascent was frustrated by a headlong retreat of his porters from a local band of marauders, and he was forced to join his men in this rapid departure from the mountain to protect both his person and his precious specimens.


Johnson's account of his ascent is honest, and does not try to pretend that he met with more success than he did. For this reason, it is a fascinating story, telling us more, perhaps, about exploration and the human spirit than one of the expeditions that met with great acclaim or more accomplishment. His second ascent took him closer to the summit. His party climbed to 9000 feet where they constructed their "base camp" of thatch huts within a fortified compound. From there, Johnson first tried an ascent on Kimawenzi, the smaller of the two peaks, but got no further than its base owing to "the terrible hurricane of wind" that greeted him; he doubted whether, in any case, the summit was attainable through "want of foothold". 26 Next he tried the main summit, getting to a height of about 16000 feet (4877 metres) and down again within two days, having reached the snow but unable, without the support of his porters (who carried his specimens), to reach the summit. Johnson admits somewhat ruefully that
Possibly there are some among my readers who have scaled the giant peaks of South America, India, and Armenia, and who would laugh at the puny difficulties that KilimaNjaro presents—a mountain that can be climbed without even the aid of a walking-stick, and where the most serious obstacles arise from mist and cold which would scarcely deter a cockney from ascending Snowdon.27
And yet, even so, he goes on to admit his great exhaustion, his intense feelings of bodily cold and a growing sense of desolation, alone, as he was, amidst the expanse of stones and snow. Johnson's reader, however, if he is fair-minded, will admit that Johnson was perhaps a little hard on himself and the supposed insignificance of his achievement in getting to the snowline alone and unaided. As any trekker or bushwalker knows, it is very easy to underestimate the asperity of the Alpine climate, which can turn nasty in very short order indeed. In addition, there have been relatively few trekkers even today who attempt the peak on their own. And how many modern-day trekkers would plan to gather a serious collection of preserved flora and fauna specimens as they travelled? The summit of Kilimanjaro was first reached by Dr Hans Meyer on 6 October 1899, in partnership with Ludwig Purtscheller and the Marangu army scout, Yohanas Kinyala Lauwo. A copy of the book that tells the story of this first ascent is included in the Spitzer Collection.28
In terms of significant groupings within the collection, mention should be made of the biographies, guidebooks, topographical studies and cultural-ethnographic studies that are included in the collection, predominantly in relation to the Himalayan region. For the studies of the Himalayan region, some indication as to the scope of such studies has already been given. It should also be noted that a lot of scientific information related to the natural world was made available right from the time of the earliest explorers and included as part of their published expedition reports.29 However, the collection also contains a significant number of specialist studies of the people, culture and topography of the Himalayan region, including a number of guidebooks. The collection is also quite strong on biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, such as those of Hillary, Tensing, Heinrich Harrer, and H. W.
'Bill' Tilman (1898–1977), English mountaineer and explorer, famous for his Himalayan climbs and sailing voyages.


In the course of research for this article, the author was kindly allowed access to the compactus in the rare books area of the library, allowing him to see the majority of the books in situ. As physical objects, they represent a real mix of formats and sizes, sporting a variety of covers and with varying standards of printing, graphic reproduction and quality of paper. An overwhelming impression is the change in book production techniques that this run of volumes illustrates to the attentive eye. At a time when the printing of text is undergoing extensive technical revision, cyber-space reigns supreme and there is serious talk that e-books may even supplant the printed word entirely, it is edifying to be reminded that technology changes slowly and deliberately, and that different and evolving methods of "text capture" may each reveal their own glories and limitations. It is somehow comforting to view row after row of beautifully-produced books on the shelves of the storage compactus, each indelibly marked (as it were) with the printing technologies of its own era. This is mere nostalgia, some people may think, but it provides a real lesson in how knowledge has been transmitted over time and must be a prime, if perhaps subliminal, motivation for serious collectors of volumes that span different eras, such as the Spitzer Collection does.
In terms of monetary worth and scarcity value, the collection contains a number of real gems. Perhaps the most valuable are the set of nine volumes by the Swedish explorer and geographer, Sven Anders Hedin (1865–1952), published in English as Southern Tibet. This set contains an impressive bound atlas of Tibetan panoramas and an extensive folio of maps. The Spitzer Collection also contains five volumes written by the British mountaineer, D. W. Freshfield (1845–1934), three of which are extremely rare and valuable, namely his Round Kagchenjungu (1903) and both volumes of Exploration of the Caucasus (1896). Only slightly less valuable and rare, but no less fascinating, is his Travels in the Central Caucasus (1869). Vic Spitzer tells the story of how, when he finally located and purchased an original edition of Round Kagchenjungu, he considered it too valuable to suffer excessive handling, leading him to purchase a cheaper reprint for reading purposes.30
For rare mountaineering books, it would be hard not to make further mention of Hans Meyer's Ostafrikanische Gletscherfahrten (1891), translated into English as Across East African Glaciers. The Spitzer Collection actually contains two copies of the English version, both of which, if put up for auction on the open market, would most certainly fetch considerably more than the German original, partly because of their excellent state of preservation and partly for their rarity. Note, also, the previously mentioned volumes related to the Duke of Abruzzi's travels, all of which are beautifully preserved examples of the book producer's art. Likewise the previously-mentioned volume by H. H. Johnson. Also
worthy of note are several books by Hungarian-British archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862–1943), two by British climber and explorer Edward Whymper (1840–1911), best remembered for the first ascent of the Matterhorn, and the two volumes of G. T. Vigne's Travels in Kasmir, Ladak, Iskardo (1842), which are the oldest items in the collection. Vigne, a Frenchman, was the first European to penetrate the heart of the Karakorum, eventually completing four expeditions in the region.31


A number of the books in the collection are worth looking at for their unexpected content, for the idiosyncratic tendencies of their authors, or for the superb photography and photographic reproduction within their pages. To take the last of these first, mention has already been made of Sella's stunning photography in relation to the Duke of Abruzzi's expeditions. To the work of Sella we may immediately add that of Galen Rowell, ten of whose books form part of the collection. For capturing the sheer grandeur of nature, Rowell's work rivals that of the famous Ansell Adams, particularly evident from In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods.32 Rowell has a nice touch with human subjects as well. When he photographs men in the great outdoors, he captures their frailty and vulnerability, and yet somehow is able to suggest their great capacity to display courage in difficult situations, with all of this balanced against the immense power and scale of the natural world.
As for idiosyncratic authors, a striking example springs to mind, arising from two books in the collection which originated from the same journey, but which record it in vastly different ways. In 1935, Peter Fleming, brother of Ian, of James Bond fame, undertook a journey overland from Beijing in China to Kashmir in India. The journey took seven months and covered about 3500 miles (5632 kilometres). On the journey he kept company with Ella Maillart, a Swiss traveller and writer, who made her name with a series of journeys to remote regions of Asia during the 1930s. It was a matter of contention as to who was accompanying who. Says Maillart:
Hearing me speak of the Tsaidam and the Smigunovs, he had said coldly: "As a matter of fact, I am going back to Europe by that route. You can come with me if you like…"
"I beg you pardon," I had answered, "It's my route and it's I who'll take you, if I can think of some way in which you might be useful to me."
The controversy still rages.33
Whoever was the instigator, the journey produced two great classics of travel writing, Fleming's News from Tartary and Maillart's Forbidden Journey.34 Reading these two books, each with its own interpretation of events, the reader would be forgiven for thinking that the authors had undertaken separate journeys. For human interest and mild idiosyncrasy, mention should also be made of Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984), an Italian linguist, explorer and orientalist who lead several expeditions to the Himalayan region. Vic Spitzer, who met Tensing Norgay, relates the story that Tensing tells of Tucci, who had, at one stage, hired
Tensing as a servant. According to Tensing, Tucci, whilst on expedition in the wilds of the Himalayas, would demand that a full table be set for his evening meal, including linen and candlesticks, and that Tensing should serve him at table wearing white gloves.35
Many would not expect a collection of travel adventure and mountaineering books to be written by or about women. In fact, women have always travelled in the most intrepid of ways and have often written about their experiences since at least Victorian times. The collection is quite strong on women adventurers, including the temperamentally difficult Alexandra David-Neel, whose biography was written by Barbara and Michael Foster.36 Neel was a woman full of contradictions. She used people shamelessly, including her husband whom she hardly ever lived with and whom she importuned endlessly with demands for money to support her wanderings around Asia. She travelled often in Tibet and learned the language, also claiming to be a Buddhist, although she was never noted for her sense of compassion. Her determination and the ability to survive hardship, however, are present everywhere in her writings. Also of note is the volume entitled The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them, which, so the frontispiece tells us, was written by "A Lady Pioneer".37 The lady concerned was, in fact, Nina Mazuchelli, the wife of a British army chaplain, who crossed the eastern Himalayas in the grandest style imaginable, accompanied by a swarm of servants, her very considerable number of personal toilet items and a fair load of miscellaneous baggage, while she herself travelled the whole journey carried by her porters in a palanquin. This was aristocratic travel at its purest! These two women are not alone in the annals of female adventure; a number of other accounts are available in the collection. For a conspectus of women travellers the reader may turn to Victorian Lady Travellers and, for women mountaineers, Women Climbing.38 Both of these volumes are available as part of the Sptitzer Collection.


Who might benefit from these valuable new acquisitions to the library? For the bibliophile, there is the pleasure of the many first editions and the opportunity to see and handle volumes that are rare and expensive. For scholars, there is a concentration of volumes in a number of fascinating and specialist areas of study, most notably in the area of mountaineering on Everest. Also, the books cover a wide historical era, and enable the social researcher and historian to access changing notions of exploration, scientific endeavour and the conduct of expeditions, many of these notions standing in contrast to current thinking about how such activities are best undertaken. For the general reader who likes to "dip", the Spitzer Collection provides a rich vein of interesting and often idiosyncratic characters, a many and varied list of exotic locations (many of them part of a now-vanished or vanishing world) and the opportunity to judge and assess human nature in conditions of hardship and challenge. I confidently predict that the volumes from this collection will see much use from a variety of readers, all of whom will be grateful to Vic Spitzer for his generous donation to the State Library of Victoria.


Vic Spitzer originally contacted the library in 2004. Valuation and official acceptance took place in 2005. Cataloguing of the collection is expected to be completed this year. See SLV News, March-June 2007, p.7, for the original public announcement of the donation.


Of the total book volumes recorded as belonging to the Vic Spitzer Collection in an SLV catalogue search, January 2008, when cataloguing was substantially complete, volumes first published before 1930 were scarce but rose in number between 1931 and 1950, then increased in number significantly during the period between 1951 and 1970. From 1971 to 1980, and again between 1981 and 1990, numbers increased, tapering off again between 1991 and 2000. A small number were first published after 2000. On these figures, it may be concluded that the collection is heavily weighted towards books first published between 1951 and 1990, and with a significant number during the 1980s.


Discussions took place over the period 2005–2006. See an exchange of letters dated between March and July 2006 in which this arrangement is agreed upon between Cowley and Spitzer. The letters are currently held in the Spitzer File, Rare Books Section, SLV.


Interview with Vic Spitzer by the author, Kew, 11 January, 2008.


Readers interested in retrieving items from the collection for perusal can obtain a convenient listing by going to and adding "Vic Spitzer Collection" as a phrase when constructing their search. The unique call number used for items in the Rare Printed Collections is Rarevs (which designates Rare Vic Spitzer).


Interview with Vic Spitzer by the author, Kew, 11 January, 2008.


The only expeditions without volumes describing them are the accounts of the Fifth British Expedition of 1935, led by Eric Shipton, and the lesser-known 1950 Anglo-American Reconnaisance Expedition of Nepal led by Charles Houston.


John Hunt, Ascent of Everest (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1953). The collection also contains a copy of Hunt's Our Everest Adventure: the Pictorial History from Kathmandu to the Summit (Leicester: Brockhampton Press, 1954). Francis Younghusband (1863–1924) lead a British army expedition to Lhasa in 1903 to force the Tibetans into negotiating on frontiers and trade, after the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, became concerned about possible Russian influence inside Tibet. The collection includes six of Younghusband's books, including two on Everest.


E. F. Norton, et. al., The Fight for Everest: 1924 (London: Edward Arnold and Co., 1925).


Ibid., p.130.


P. F. M. Fellowes, L. V. Stewart Blacker, et. al., First over Everest: The Houston-Mount Everest Expedition 1933 (London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1933).


Ibid., p.viii.


Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale and D. F. M'Intyre [sic.], The Pilots' Book of Everest (Edinburgh: William Hodge and Company, 1936). In regard to the views on the "romance" and the problems of human survival, see p.3.


See, in particular, ibid., Chapters VI, VII and IX.


Ibid., pp.174–5.


Among the more recondite of these records are claims to be the first married couple to ascend (Andrej & Marija Stremfelj of Slovenia, 1990), the first father and son team (Jean Noel Roche and his son Roche Bertrand, 1990), the first Nepalese woman (Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, 1993) and the oldest woman (Anna Czerwinska, 2000). While not wishing to take anything away from these feats, claims such as these could very soon multiply into the almost boundlessly ludicrous.


It is possible to talk about the Himalayan mountain system as a generic term for the ranges that separate the Indian sub-continent from the Tibetan Plateau, and in this sense the ranges extend across six nations: Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, geographers, and certainly climbers, often separate the Himalayan Ranges from the Karakorum Ranges and the Hindu Kush. The southern boundary that separates the Karakorum Ranges from the Himalayas is marked by the Bygilgit, Indus and Shyok River network. The mountains of this range span the borders between Pakistan, China and India. They include K2, the second highest mountain in the world. The Hindu Kush area is, in effect, the westernmost extension of the Karakorum and is located in Afghanistan and the northern sections of Pakistan.


Chris Bonnington, Annapurna South Face (London: Cassell, 1971). The present author well remembers reading this account with great interest when it was first released. Bonnington is a compelling writer, equally at home describing technical matters and the more human side of a climbing expedition. It should be noted that Bonnington refers to the peak as Annapurna I to distinguish it from the other peaks on the Annapurna massif.


At the time, there was a growing feeling in some climbing circles that the time had come to tackle Himalayan peaks with lightweight parties, making a single push for the summit without establishing long supply lines, as was the more conventional expeditionary approach of the past. One successful example of this approach was the ascent of Hidden Peak in 1975 by Reinhold Messner and Peter Habelar, the smallest expedition in the history of Himalayan mountaineering. For Annapurna, could Bonnington keep his team small and move up the mountain as a body, eschewing an established supply line? In the event, this proved impossible owing to the severe technical demands made by the chosen route, but the team that Bonnington assembled was only eleven in number, plus a team of six sherpas, which is a small number for an expedition attempting such a difficult ascent.


Ibid., p.227.


Ibid., p.229.


The term 'continent' may be defined geographically, geologically or by general usage, giving rise to a number of different 'models' of what a continent consists of. For the purposes of analysing the collection, a six-continent model seems the most appropriate. A survey of the subject listings in the SLV catalogue reveals the following approximate spread of book topics based on continents: Asia, 60 per cent; Polar Regions, 9 per cent; Europe, 5 per cent; America, 4 per cent; Africa, 2 per cent; and Australasia and Oceania, 1 per cent (with about 20 per cent of books related to more than one continent, or not related to any one specific continent). In the subsequent discussion of "Polar" exploration, I take this term to refer to the Arctic, the Antarctic and other cold climate regions, such as Alaska).


Filippo de Filippi, The Ascent of Mount St. [sic.] Elias [Alaska] by H. R. H. Prince Luigi Amedeo di Savoia Duke of the Abruzzi (Westminster: Archibald Constable and Co. Ltd, 1900).


H. H. Johnson, The Kilima-Njaro Expeditions: A Record of Scientific Exploration in Eastern Equatorial Africa. And a General Description of the Natural History, Languages, and Commerce of the Kilima-Njaro District, (London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Co., 1886).


For Johnson in 1885, Kilima-Njaro was the name of a "mountain mass" consisting of two principal summits, Kibo at an elevation of 18880 feet (5754 metres) above sea level, and Kimawenzi at 16250 feet (4953 metres), both of which ascend above the snow line. Modern triangulation gives a height of 5895 metres (19340 feet) for Kibo and 5149 metres (16890 feet) for Mawenzi. The Shira volcanic cone is often added as a third summit at 3962 metres (13000 feet). Modern-day trekkers have a choice of at least seven routes to the top of Kibo. Johnson's guess that Kimawenzi could not be climbed "through want of footholds" has proved correct and the climb requires the use of specialist gear and some technical knowledge.


Johnson, op. cit., p.264.


Ibid., pp.274–5.


Hans Meyer, Across East African Glaciers: An Account of the First Ascent of Kilimanjaro, trans. E. H. S. Calder, (London: George Philip and Son, 1891). Meyer mentions Johnson's attempts on the summit, casting a rather dubious eye over his estimates of elevation and professes to misunderstand some of Johnson's descriptions of significant points. He also concludes that Johnson did not attain a high enough elevation to test his climbing skills, thus explaining Johnson's remark that Kilimanjaro is a mountain "that can be climbed without even the aid of a walking-stick" (pp.12–15).


For previous mention of the Himalayan region and its features, vide supra, p.43. It was quite common during the age of "scientific exploration" for published expedition reports to be divided into two sections, one a narrative of the journey and the other a collection of chapters related to any or all of climate, geology, botany, zoology, anthropology and languages.


Interview with Vic Spitzer by the author, SLV Rare Books Stack, 22 January 2008.


Aside from these books, there are almost complete runs of important journals: The Alpine Journal, 1957 to 1993; The American Alpine Journal, 1950 to 1986; The Himalayan Journal, 1927 to 1993 (some in facsimile reprint only); and The Mountain World, 1953–1968/9.


Galen Rowell, In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1977).


Ella K. Maillart, Forbidden Journey: From Peking to Kashmir (London: William Heinemann, 1937), p.8.


Peter Fleming, News from Tartary: A Journey from Peking to Kashmir (London: Jonathan Cape, 1936) and Maillart, op. cit. There are two other volumes by Maillart in the collection, the better of which is Turkestan Solo: One Woman's Expedition from the Tien Shan to the Kizil Kum, trans. John Rodker (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, c1935).


Interview with Vic Spitzer by the author, SLV Rare Books Stack, 22 January 2008.


Barbara M. and Michael Foster, Forbidden Journey: the Life of Alexandra David-Neel (San Francisco: Harper and Row, c1987).


Anon. [Nina Mazuchelli], The Indian Alps and How We Crossed Them, being a Narrative of Two Years' Residence in the Eastern Himalaya and Two Months Tour into the Interior (London: Longmans Green and Co., 1876).


Dorothy Middleton, Victorian Lady Travellers (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965) and Bill Birkett, Women Climbing: 200 Years of Achievement (London: Black, 1989). Other books of note that cover women's adventures are: Arlene Blum, Annapurna, a Woman's Place (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, c1980); Luree [sic.] Miller, On Top of the World: Five Women Explorers in Tibet (New York: Paddington Press, c1976); Nea E. Morin, A Woman's Reach: Mountaineering Memoirs (New York: Dodd Mead, c1968). See also Francis Gribble, The Early Mountaineers (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1899), Ch. XXVI.