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A new exhibition marking the anniversary of the 1924 Everest Expedition opens at the Oriental Museum


A new exhibition opens at the Oriental Museum on 24 May to mark the centenary of the first Western, and ultimately tragic, attempt to climb Mount Everest.


The exhibition, called “Eternal Ascent: Bentley Beetham and the 1924 Everest Expedition” tells the story from the perspective of expedition member, Bentley Beetham, a biology teacher from Darlington.


It uses pictures selected from his large collection of photographs and glass lantern slides taken during the course of the expedition.


Bentley Beetham was born in Darlington and attended Barnard Castle School, later returning to the school as a biology teacher. He learnt to climb first in the Lake District and then the Alps but had never climbed in Asia before joining the expedition. With fellow expedition members, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, he set out on an adventure of a lifetime. What he lacked in experience Beetham amply made up for in enthusiasm and his skill as a photographer would prove invaluable.


Reflecting on the importance of this photographic collection, Graham Ratcliffe MBE, Chairman of the Bentley Beetham Trust said: “When the 1924 Everest Expedition packed up and left Base Camp in the middle of June 1924, leaving behind two of their climbers who had perished high on Everest's North East Ridge, they must have felt weighed down by the sense of loss, that they had not succeeded. Little could they have known at the time how revered, how iconic, their expedition would become, that of a legend.


“The internationally important photographic record they left behind leaves us in awe of their audacious undertaking a century ago; of glimpses into Tibetan life, a timeless record of a world that is fast disappearing.”


Artist Stephen Livingstone has worked with members of the Bentley Beetham Trust to select, research and interpret 200 of Beetham’s captivating images. These have been used to recreate the journey around the museum’s walls, allowing visitors to follow in the footsteps of the expedition team.


Discussing the process of creating the exhibition, Stephen said: “As I began to look through the many hundreds of photographs and glass slides in the Durham University Archive, it became apparent that I could tell the complete story of the 1924 Mount Everest Expedition in pictures, something which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been done before.


“With careful selection and sequencing I was able to create a filmic experience where visitors can follow Bentley Beetham’s day-by-day progress from Darjeeling in India, across the arid wastes of Tibet, to within touching distance of the summit of Everest. Along the way the intrepid mountaineering schoolmaster faces many challenging scenarios and encounters a cast of fascinating characters, including of course George Mallory and Andrew Irvine who will mysteriously disappear on the mountain.”


Situated at the heart of the Himalayan mountain range, Everest straddles the border between Nepal and Tibet. The mountain is sacred to all the peoples of the region. Alongside the images will be an audio commentary created by members of the regional Nepali community, adding a Himalayan perspective to these powerful photographs.


The exhibition will run from 24 May to 15 September 2024.

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