Partner Muriel Cadogan
Manly Cemetery, 1 Griffiths St, Manly NSW 2095, Australia
Emmeline Freda Du Faur (16 September 1882 – 11 September 1935) was an Australian mountaineer, the first woman to climb New Zealand's tallest mountain, Aoraki / Mount Cook. Du Faur was a leading amateur climber of her day. She also has enduring significance as the first active female high mountaineer in New Zealand, although she never lived there.
"Freda Du Faur extended the limits of the possible, not just for women, but for all guided climbers of the period. Key factors were her rock-climbing ability, determination, and physical fitness".
Du Faur was born in Croydon, Sydney, New South Wales. She was the daughter of Frederick Eccleston Du Faur, a stock, station and land agent, and patron of the arts, and his second wife, Blanche Mary Elizabeth Woolley. Her grandfather was Professor John Woolley.
She was educated at Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School. She probably developed her passion for mountaineering when she lived with her family near the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. As a young woman, she explored the area and taught herself to rock-climb. She did not finish nursing training due to her "sensitive and highly-strung nature". Due to the interests of her parents, and an inheritance from an aunt, Emmeline Woolley, she had an independent income that enabled her to travel and climb.
Freda Du Faur summered in New Zealand, but did not visit the South Island until she journeyed there in late 1906. At that time, she traveled to see the New Zealand International Exhibition at Christchurch where she saw, and was inspired by photographs of Mount Cook. This experience prompted her to travel to the Hermitage hotel at Mount Cook. There, she became determined to climb to the snow-capped summits of the Southern Alps.
In 1908, a second trip to Mount Cook trip lead to her introduction to a New Zealand guide, Peter Graham. Graham agreed to teach Du Faur ropework, and snow and ice climbing to her skill on rocks. Du Faur found this freedom to be an enjoyable escape from the constraints and frustrations of family and society.
In 1909, Du Faur returned to undertake several climbs of increasing difficulty. The first of which was a significant ascent of Mount Sealy on 19 December 1909. Though these climbs were intended to be just Graham and Du Faur, social norms of propriety at the time did not look kindly on overnight climbing expedition composed solely of an unmarried woman and male guide. Thus, a chaperone was enlisted, and Du Faur committed to wearing a skirt to just below the knee over knickerbockers and long puttees while she climbed. Still, she received criticisms from both males and females for her choices in athleticism and dress. After her climb to the summit of Mount Cook in 1910, she's quoted as stating: "I was the first unmarried woman to climb in New Zealand, and in consequence I received all the hard knocks until one day when I awoke more or less famous in the mountaineering world, after which I could and did do exactly as seemed to me best". Following her notoriety, she would dispense of a chaperone but retain her, now customary, climbing attire. She enjoyed that her attire afforded an element of femininity to upset critics and challenge existing stereotypes of physically active women.
In 1910, Du Faur spent three months training with Muriel “Minnie” Cadogan (1885-1929) at the Dupain Institute of Physical Education in Sydney. At the completion of the training, she returned to Mount Cook in November 1910.
On 3 December 1910, Du Faur became the first woman to climb to the summit of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak at 3760 meters. Her guides included Peter and Alex (Alec) Graham, and together they ascended in a record six hours.
Du Faur stated about her ascent to the summit: 'I gained the summit … feeling very little, very lonely and much inclined to cry'.
On the return trip from the summit, Du Faur was photographed in front of a boulder to commemorate the historic climb. The boulder, now called "Freda Rock" is still present today approximately 200 meters into the Hooker Valley Track at Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand.
Following the Mount Cook summit climb and in the next four climbing seasons, Du Faur many noteworthy climbs.
In the same season as her Mount Cook ascent in 1910, she climbed Mounts De la Beche (2979 meters), Green (2828 meters) and had a first ascent of Chudleigh (2944 meters).
In the climbing season the following year, she climbed a virgin peak now named for her: Mount Du Faur (2389 meters). She also had a first ascents of Mount Nazomi (2953 meter), and Mount Dampier (3420 meters); and second ascent of Mount Tasman (3497 meters), and Mount Lendenfeld (3192 meters).
In her final season she made first ascents of Mount Pibrac (2567 meters), and Mount Cadogan (2398 meters), both of which she named. But perhaps her most notable climb was in January 1913 with Peter Graham and David (Darby) Thomson: the first grand transverse of all three peaks of Mount Cook. The grand traverse is still regarded as the classic climb of the New Zealand Alps and continues to be associated with Du Faur's name. On 10 February 1913, the same climbing party made the first traverse of Mount Sefton (3149 meters).
Du Faur would no longer climb after in March 1913.
In 1914, Du Faur and Muriel Cadogan moved to England, spending time in Bournemouth. Though they had planned to climb in the Alps, Canada and the Himalaya, World War I prevented their plans. The following year in 1915, Du Faur published her book The Conquest of Mount Cook in London. It proved important for its record of her mountaineering feats and her approach to climbing.
In June 1929, Cadogan died and Du Faur returned to Australia where she lived in Dee Why, Sydney. At first, she lived with her brother's family. Then, she lived in a cottage of her own. Her main interest was bush walking in Dee Why and Collaroy. But she suffered severely from depression at the loss of her beloved friend, Cadogan, and on or about 11 September 1935, she committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Du Faur is privately interred in the Church of England cemetery at Manly, New South Wales, Australia. At a ceremony on 3 December 2006, her previously unmarked grave was marked by a group New Zealanders. A memorial stone, made of NZ greywacke, and a plaque commemorating her alpine achievements were placed at her site.