The Last Hero - Bill Tillman: A Biography of the Explorer

  • 288 pages
  • Mountaineers Books
  • 978-0-89886-452-6
  • Aug 31, 1995

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* Features insights from thousands of Tilman's previously unpublished letters and papers.
* Details Tilman's explorations with Eric Shipton in the Himalaya and Karakoram

Arguably the greatest explorer and adventurer the twentieth century produced, Bill Tilman was in his 80th year when he disappeared in Antarctic waters in 1977. The yacht on which he had set sail was ill-suited for the voyage but he had committed himself to go. His iron-willed integrity forbade any last minute doubts.

It was his will power, as well as his extraordinary tenacity, that most of those who knew him remember best. To a later generation those qualities were often perceived as stubborn, wayward refusal to accept the inevitable.

Bill Tilman grew up, in the starkest sense, during the first world war where he was twice awarded the Military Cross. It was while farming in Africa between the wars that he met Eric Shipton with whom he developed a famous climbing partnership. Together they explored and climbed in the remote areas of the Himalaya and Karakoram, as well as each playing leading roles in the British Everest expeditions before WWII.

That war saw Tilman behind enemy lines in Albania and Italy, but it was after the war, when he was well into his 50s, that he took up deep sea sailing on an ancient gaff-rigger Bristol pilot cutter "Mischief." Tilman and "Mischief" sailed off into a 20-year legend, in both Arctic and Antarctic waters.

To many who knew him well, as much to the thousands of climbers and sailors who relished his 15 memorable books, Bill Tilman remains an enigma-a shy, self-effacing man who hardly credited his own achievements and never married. But Tilman was also one of this century's greatest travel writers, a master of the good story with frequently black humor, an aspect of which this biography also confirms.

Using a mass of previously unpublished material, from thousands of letters and papers, Tim Madge shows the human face of a man who deserves a belated recognition from a world which needs its adventurers, and indeed its heroes, more than ever.


  • 288 pages
  • Mountaineers Books
  • 978-0-89886-452-6
  • Aug 31, 1995

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