Sunday, 21 November 2010

Three times before breakfast

I’m currently reading Fearless on Everest, an excellent biography of mountaineer Sandy Irvine, who was lost on Everest with George Mallory in 1924. The author is Irvine’s great niece, Julie Summers.

I first came across Julie’s work when searching for information about my grandfather’s first cousin, Marjory Agnes Standish Thomson. (Marjory’s mother, Alethea Isabella Evans Davis, was the sister of my great-grandfather, Rev Alban Edgar Brunskill Davis. )

I knew that Marjory had married a man called Henry Hall Summers in 1917 and divorced him in 1925. I had even found an account of the divorce proceedings in The Times:
Summers nee Thomson Marjory 1925 divorce
Google led me to Julie’s website and her account of her involvement in the recent film about Mallory and Irvine, The Wildest Dream. (Narrated by Liam Neeson, it was Natasha Richardson’s last film before her tragic death in Canada in March 2009.)
Julie writes that:
Although National Geographic were relaxed about showing the corpse reconstruction, they balked at a tale I told of Sandy’s prowess.
Sandy Irvine had a brief but indiscreet love affair with Marjory Summers, the very much younger second wife of Harry Summers … Marjory, who had been a chorus girl when she married Harry at the age of 19, found life married to her stout, balding, fifty-two year old husband quiet. Dull even. … In a move of the utmost audacity she followed Sandy to Norway when he went with the Merton College Arctic expedition to Spitsbergen in July 1923.
I found Sandy’s diary from the expedition in the library at Merton College, Oxford …on the last night that they were on board … Sandy visited Marjory’s cabin at five o’clock in the morning and made love to her three times before breakfast.
This is not the sort of information you expect to find about your first cousin twice removed. Her mother came from a family of zealous high church Anglicans. Her father was an Elder Brother of Trinity House, a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, and a friend of Prince Louis of Battenberg. What on earth was she doing as a chorus girl in 1917? Lying to a judge in 1925? But the black sheep of the family are invariably the most interesting. Julie’s website even provided me with a photograph of Marjory in a raffish hat:
I would highly recommend Fearless on Everest to anyone who is fascinated, as I am, by Mallory and Irvine’s attempt on Everest. The book has received excellent reviews.
I have not yet seen The Wildest Dream, which was released in the UK whilst I was in America. Have you seen it and, if so, what did you think? Is Marjory portrayed in the film?
Julie Summers tells me that Marjory does indeed feature in the film. If only I could track it down in a cinema near to my home. Perhaps one day it will come out on DVD?
Julie has also very kindly sent me some new photographs of Marjory. I think this one gives a much better idea why men like Henry Hall Summers and Sandy Irvine fell for her:
 Summers nee Thomson Marjory


  1. My grandmother had a long term relationship with Henry Summers right up to his death in about 1945. We always thought that he was a relative and referred to him as Uncle `Henry, only to discover through tracing family trees that he was no relation at all. Quite a surprise. My grandmothers name was Ellen AKA Edna Ellis[nee Allberry]. Have you come across her in your research. My cousin has photos of the two of them in Egypt where they used to winter,leaving her children at home with the housekeeper. My father died young so I did not have the chance to ask him about family. I would love to hear from you if you have any further details. Kindest Regards. Anthea Ellis

  2. Thank you, Anthea. This is fascinating. I've replied to you by email.

  3. What happened to Marjorie Summers?
    It must have been quite sad for her.


  4. Marjorie married and divorced again - twice. The second divorce was in 1933. Within 10 days she had remarried and two months later she was off on a sea voyage. I have the feeling that Marjorie always lived life to the full. The third divorce was in 1948. She died, childless, in 1958.