Thomas Duncan Bourdillon (/bÉ"rˈdɪlÉ™n/ bor-DIL-É™n; 16 March 1924 in Kensington, London - 29 July 1956 in Bernese Oberland, Switzerland), known as Tom Bourdillon, was an English mountaineer, a member of the 1953 British Mount Everest Expedition which made the first ascent of Mount Everest.

Background and education

Tom Bourdillon

Bourdillon was the elder son of Robert Benedict Bourdillon (1889â€"1971), a scientist who had been a founder member of the Oxford University Mountaineering Club in 1909, and of his wife, Harriet Ada Barnes. He was a grandson of Francis William Bourdillon, nephew of Francis Bernard Bourdillon and cousin of John Francis Bourdillon.

He was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he read Physics and was president of the Oxford University Mountaineering Club.


He made a career as a physicist in rocket research.


Active as a climber while still a schoolboy, Bourdillon developed his climbing during his years at Oxford. By his mid twenties he was an inspiring figure in the renaissance of British climbing in the Alps, and he then moved on to the challenge of the Greater Ranges and Mount Everest.

Bourdillon had been with Eric Shipton on the 1951 reconnaissance of Everest and on Cho Oyu in 1952, and he was put in charge of oxygen equipment on the 1952 and 1953 British Everest expeditions. With his father, Robert Bourdillon, he developed the closed-circuit oxygen apparatus used by Charles Evans and himself on their pioneering climb to the South Summit of Everest on 26 May 1953. They came within three hundred feet of the summit, which was reached by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay three days later.

Bourdillon died with another climber, Richard Viney, in a climbing accident on 29 July 1956 while ascending the east buttress of the Jägihorn in the Bernese Oberland.


On 15 March 1951 Bourdillon married Jennifer Elizabeth Clapham Thomas (born 1929), the daughter of Ronald Clapham Thomas. They had one daughter and one son, the latter ten weeks old when his father died.


Bourdillon appears as himself in two films, The Conquest of Everest (1953) and (archive footage) The Race for Everest (2003).


  1. ^ G.M. Miller, BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names (Oxford UP, 1971), p. 18.


  • Thomas Duncan Bourdillon by Audrey Salkeld in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  • Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition 1951 by Eric Shipton (1952)
  • The Ascent of Everest by John Hunt (1953)
  • Tom Bourdillon at the Royal Geographical Society
  • Image of Bourdillon
  • Thomas Duncan Bourdillon at the DNB
  • First to Summit
  • Conquest of Mount Everest
  • The Conquest of Everest (1953) at IMDb
  • Tom Bourdillon at IMDb
  • Audrey Salkeld, ‘Bourdillon, Thomas Duncan (1924â€"1956)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2007

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