1838 - 1901
Frederick Whymper was born in 1838 in London, England. He was the eldest son of Elizabeth Whitworth Claridge and Josiah Wood Whymper a celebrated wood-engraver and artist. Frederick's younger brother Edward, later became the renowned Alpinist after his first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. As a young man Frederick worked with his father and brother in producing engravings for several publications. From 1859 to 1861 his landscapes were exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
Whymper arrived in Victoria in the autumn of 1862, and the following summer he travelled to the Cariboo district of British Columbia on what he described as "a sketching and pedestrian tour." He remarked that "many claim holders and mining companies in the upper country" commissioned drawings from him, and this fact may explain why his drawings seem intent on topographical precision. However, he also made sketches and sets of drawings for some of Victoria's leading citizens.
After a second winter in Victoria, Whymper set out in March 1864 for Bute Inlet, in order to publicize through his drawings the road that Alfred Waddington was attempting to build to the Cariboo. He dutifully gave good reports of the enterprise, but attracted more attention from his account of the background to the killing of workers on the project by Indians which had occurred while he was leaving the region. Despite the sensation, Whymper's work was not overlooked. The Victoria Daily Colonist noted his drawings of "the windings of the trail and ... [its] formidable obstacles" and his renderings of "magnificent glaciers."
Soon after he arrived back in Victoria, Whymper applied for the position of artist on the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition (VIEE.) Of wiry build, he accepted the rigours of an expedition which covered much of the southern part of the island. An exhibition of thirty-three of his drawings from the V.I.E.E. was held in Victoria in November 1864. His drawings and engravings drew attention to British Columbia, and some of them appeared not only in his own publications but also in Robert Brown's The Countries of the World, and Gilbert Malcolm Sproat's Scenes and Studies of Savage Life.
In 1865 Whymper joined the Russian-American Telegraph project, which intended to construct a telegraph line linking the United States and Europe through British Columbia, Alaska, and Siberia. As its artist he went to Norton Sound (Alaska) during the summer and then crossed to Petropavlovsk (Russia). Following a winter in San Francisco, he again set out for Petropavlovsk and subsequently travelled around the Gulf of Anadyr (Russia).
Near the end of October 1866 he crossed to Mikhailovski on Norton Sound, and after a winter at Nulato he ascended the Yukon River to Fort Yukon, where he received news of the successful laying of a transatlantic telegraph cable. On his return to Mikhailovski in August 1867 he was told of the abandonment of the Russian-American project.
Whymper went back to England in November 1867 and his narrative Travel and Adventure in the Territory of Alaska was published the following year. Four chapters are concerned with his travels in British Columbia and Vancouver Island, and the book is illustrated with drawings of these regions.
In 1869 he returned to San Francisco by way of New York and worked on the staff of the newspaper Alta California. City directories describe him as an artist and mining engineer, and in 1871 he was a founding member of the San Francisco Art Association.
The publication of others of Whymper's writings in England from the mid 1870s suggest that he had left North America by then. These books were essentially works of popular education, as indicated by the titles of two of them: The Heroes of the Arctic and their Adventures and The Sea: Its,Stirring Story of Adventure, Peril and Heroism. They are sometimes illustrated by his drawings, but by the time the books appeared he seems to have given up drawing for writing and to have settled down. The cause of his death in London was described in an obituary as "failure of the heart, probably due to indigestion, arising from sedentary pursuits." Frederick Whymper died on there November 26, 1901 at the age of sixty-three.
Today, Mount Whymper north of Lake Cowichan, is named in honour of the early explorer, artist and writer.
Gilmore, Berenice. Artists Overland: A Visual Record of British Columbia, 1793-1886. Burnaby Art Gallery. Burnaby, B.C. 1980.
"Frederick Whymper." Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
Vol. 10. University of Toronto Press. Toronto, Ontario. 1972.