Dr. Somervell, British Medical missionary from S. India - part of 1924 Everest expedition in which Mallory and Irvine died!


Missionary, surgeon & mountaineer, teacher Dr.Somervell, FRCS journals.sagepub.com

Missionary, surgeon, teacher & mountainer. Somervell, FRCS en.wikipedia.org

Dr. Howard Somervell FRCS (16 April 1890 – 23 January 1975), born in Kendal, England was a man of many talents. Coming from an affluent family,  at an early age he showed keen interest in mountain climbing which lasted for a long time. While in college, he developed interest in Christian faith, He gained a medical degree in 1921.  Married to Margret Hope Simpson, he had three children by her. He joined the Royal Medical Corps and his military experience in France and later in England during the battle of  Somme in May 1916  exposed him to the horrors of war and made him a pacifist. Dejection drove him to resign  from the military post in 1921. 

Being a good mountain climber when he was  in the Alpine area in 1922, he got a chance in the same year to join a British  expedition to Mt. Everest, a challenging task in those days. He developed  friendship with George Mallory, an ace mountain climber and one of the expedition members.  On this expedition on 18 May, Somervell, Mallory and two other climbers and several Sherpa porters had set up   camp on the North Col  at 7020 m. Their idea was to set one more camp at 8000 m before the final aasault. However, their plan did not go well as oxygen in the  air was very low - too dangerous to survive. Following day, they reached 8170 m despite exhaustion and, frostbite  they experienced previous day. in an oxygen-starved mountain zone. Reaching the peak before the fall of night was an impossible one. They  made history by setting a world altitude record, At that point of time with poor quality mountain gear, they could not make it to the junction  with the Northeast Ridge. In June against the advice of team head Charles   Bruce, Mallory Somerville and other two British climbers again made an attempt on the formidable peak with a compliment of 15 Sherpha porters. Below the North Col they had to move slowly through waist -high snow. Again, it was a futile attempt that ended in tragedy with the death of seven Sherpas in an avalanche. Dr. Somervell took considerable risk in the avalache-prone area  and saved sherpas stranded there.

1924 British wxpedition, Mt. Everest. artsandculture.google.com

British mountaineers Mallory and Ervin, 1924 expedition, Mt. Everest...killerclimbs.com/

1924 British expedition  to Mt,. Everest, Mallory, Irvine, Somervell,et al. .pinterest.com

On return, a brief  visit to the Travancore Medical Mission Neyyoor, Travancore Princely state in Soutth India made him realize lack of additional doctors to deal with numerous patients.  Back from England after giving up his lucrative medical career, he  decided to work in the Mission hospital in 1922 at the invitation of  Dr Pugh.  While working in Kerala and enjoying his hobby - painting, he joined the second unlucky British expedition in 1924 to  Everest.  This time he along with  with Edward Norton. made an assault on the peak after the first group  - Bruce and Mallory returned to the camp due to bad weather. They  set up a camp  and on  4th June, they managed to come closer to notorious second step.. Somervell, because of fatigue  and heavy coughing, decided to quit,but  his partner Norton went farther (un-roped and alone) and finally gave it up as the snow condition was vey bad.  This time a new  altitude record - 8570  (28120 feet)  was made that was not broken until 1952 when  a Swiss expedition made  unsuccessful attempt on Everest.  On this expedition,  Somerville  had a vey close call with death while descending, but managed to stay alive. The mucous membrane got frostbitten and made him breathless. On 8th June Mallory and Sandy Irvin ( 1924, expedition's third  attempt to scale Everest.) went  up almost close to Everest but disappeared  in a flsh owing to intense snow squall. Though. it was a failed expedition, the team members made history in the Himayayan mountineering.  In the same year Somerville had won a Gold Medal in the - 1924 Winter VIII Olympiade in Chamonix in mountaineering(Alpinism).

This high altitude mountain climber, Olympic medalist and surgeon became a  dedicated medical missionary in the South Travancore Medical Mission, Neyyoor and gained popularity  in that area.   For an Englishman, working in a tropical country where the monsoon brings in lots of rain, it was a tough job to get adjusted to hot and humid  weather. For more than two decades, he dedicated his life to the cause of the people of Neyyoor,  thus truly keeping the spirit of Christ's ''Gospel of Love''' unlike some of the  modern-day  fake missionaries. He also acknowledged the contribution of the Travancore Maharajas to his medical mission.

 CSI mission hospital, Neyyoor, KanyakumariDist.thehindu,com

Location of Kanyakumari Dist. TNthemapspro.blogspot.com

Dr.Somervell Memorial CSI Medical College Hospital.Karakonam missionariesoftheworld.org

Somervell (1890-1975) was  responsible for setting up  an X-ray unit and latee a  radium treatment unit for cance patients there. Besides, he  not only  performed hundreds of surgeries in a month but also visited many villages  to treat  cholera and malaria epidemic that  broke out in South Travancore. In those days leprosy was the most dreaded disease and people were afraid to go  near  thelepors, hence they lived in separate colonies near the towns. Somerville, being sympathetic as he was, opened  an exclusive hospital  to treat for leprosy patients in Colachel in Kanyakumari district.  He retired in 1945 and later became an associate professor of surgery at Vellore Christian Medical College (TN) in 1949, a post he held until his retirement in 1961. His paintings covering various themes related to his  travel in India, and Tibet during his Everest  expeditions in 1922 and 1924 was popular. The Royal Geographical Society in April 1925 and at the Redfern Gallery, London in 1926 exhibited many of his sketches. He was the recipient of an OBE in 1953.  Somervell died in Ambleside in 1975. A teaching hospital at Karakonam, (now in Kerala state) carries his name  the Dr. Somervell Memorial CSI Medical College Hospital. Here is a selfless man who lived not his personal gains, but for others to relieve them of their pain and suffering. Dr. Somervell  disapproved of conversion of natives to Christianity.. Indeed a noble soul. 



South Travancore Medical Mission Hospital in Neyyoor,