Theodore Howard Somervell OBE, FRCS was an English surgeon, mountaineer, painter and missionary who was a member of two expeditions to Mount Everest in the 1920s, and then spent nearly 40 years working as a doctor in India. He was born near Kendal in the Lake District from whence many of Britain’s great climbers have come. He was a close friend of George Mallory, and was part of the unsuccessful 1922 attempt on Everest with him, during which they read Shakespeare to each other in their tent. Somervell’s team tried Everest again in 1924, reaching 8,570m without oxygen, making Somervell very ill (he coughed up the lining of his throat, which saved him from choking). Mallory’s team, with oxygen, tried next; his body was found at 8,157m and may have only fallen from less than 300m higher - but there has been much argument as to whether he reached the summit or not. No one would climb higher than Somervell’s team without using oxygen until Messner and Habeler climbed Everest by the Southeast Ridge in 1978.
On his retirement he returned from India to England where he became President of the Alpine Club. A friend of William Rothenstein, he was a prolific watercolourist, often on dun coloured wrapping paper that he thought suited the colours of the Tibetan landscape.