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Du Faur, Emmeline Freda (1882–1935)

by E. J. O'Donnell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Emmeline Freda Du Faur (1882-1935), mountaineer, was born on 16 September 1882 at Croydon, Sydney, daughter of Frederick Eccleston Du Faur and his second wife Blanche Elizabeth Mary, daughter of Professor Woolley. Educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School for Girls under Edith Badham, Freda spent much of her leisure scrambling, with only a dog for company, in the gullies of the new national park at Ku-ring-gai Chase. She became a confident rock climber with a love for exploring. Although she began training as a nurse, she failed to complete the course because of her 'sensitive, highly strung nature'.

In 1906 Freda Du Faur went to New Zealand to see the Christchurch exhibition. She visited Mount Cook and was immediately captivated by the mountains and snow. At the end of 1908, after she had spent another two weeks in the Mount Cook area, Peter Graham, a New Zealand guide, agreed to teach her snow and ice craft. Back in New Zealand in December 1909, she undertook a series of increasingly difficult climbs. Her proposal to climb and bivouac in the sole company of Graham, although a man of acknowledged propriety, caused a flutter: to preserve her reputation she was compelled to take a third person to act as porter. Not until her fame as a mountaineer was established was she able to dispense with a chaperon. She always wore a skirt while climbing despite objections.

After three months training under the care of her greatest friend Muriel Cadogan at the Dupain Institute of Physical Education in Sydney, she returned to New Zealand in November 1910. On 3 December, guided by Peter and Alex Graham, Freda Du Faur became the first woman to climb Mount Cook (3760 m), New Zealand's highest peak, in the then record time of six hours. 'I gained the summit … feeling very little, very lonely and much inclined to cry'. In the same season she climbed Mounts De la Beche (2979 m), Green (2828 m) and Chudleigh (2944 m, a first ascent). Although climbing late in the season next year, she conquered a virgin peak now named Mount Du Faur (2389 m), Mount Nazomi (2953 m, also a first ascent), Mount Tasman (3497 m, second ascent), Mount Dampier (3430 m, first ascent), and Mount Lendenfeld (3192 m, second ascent). In her final season she made first ascents of Mount Pibrac (2567 m) and Mount Cadogan (2398 m), both of which she named. On 4 January 1913 she accomplished the feat with which her name will always be associated—the first grand traverse of the three peaks of Mount Cook, with guides Peter Graham and David Thomson. The grand traverse is still regarded as the classic climb of the New Zealand Alps. On 10 February the same party made the first traverse of Mount Sefton (3149 m).

From 1914 Freda Du Faur lived in England, drawn there by Muriel Cadogan; they lived for some time at Bournemouth. In 1915 she published The Conquest of Mount Cook and Other Climbs in London (a reprint appeared in Sydney in 1936). Saddened by the death of her great friend in June 1929, she returned to Australia to live at Dee Why, initially with her brother's family and then in a cottage of her own. Her main interest was walking in the bush behind Dee Why and Collaroy; she was noticeably withdrawn and lonely. She died of self-inflicted carbon monoxide poisoning on or about 11 September 1935 and was buried in the Church of England cemetery at Manly. She never married.

Freda Du Faur's record of first ascents and difficult climbs made her pre-eminent among mountaineers of her time in New Zealand. She enjoyed the fame which followed her successes on Mount Cook, and was feminine enough to take trouble with her appearance after the most arduous ascents. She was an agile climber, especially on rock, with great endurance.

Select Bibliography

  • J. G. Wilson, Aorangi (Christchurch, 1968)
  • New Zealand Alpine Journal, 1936, p 388
  • private information.

Citation details

E. J. O'Donnell, 'Du Faur, Emmeline Freda (1882–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/du-faur-emmeline-freda-6025/text10297, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 19 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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