Posted: 4th December 2022
As part of the Ferens Art Gallery winter exhibition, Queen Victoria and Hull, Hull and District History Research Group have been researching Victorian Hull. This blog is the latest in a series revealing the hidden stories of Victorian Hull.
Isabella Charlet-Straton was mountain climber, raised in Hull, who inspired generations of female adventurers and was a role model for the emerging women’s rights movement. She is known for the first winter ascent of Mont Blanc in January 1876.
Isabella Straton was born in Sussex in the year 1838 but moved with her family when she was 8 years old to grow up in Hull, moving again at the age of 17 to London in pursuit of a further education.
In her twenties on the death of her parents and sisters she inherited the Straton family fortune becoming financially independent with an income roughly of £4000 per year.
She was introduced to mountain climbing through her friend Emmeline Lewis Lloyd, with whom she travelled throughout the Alps and Pyrenees on hiking and climbing expeditions during the 1860’s and 1870’s. The first climb they attempted was in 1869 on the Matterhorn. In 1870 they became one of the first women to climb Mount Visa and the following year they made the first ascent of Aigulle du Moine, When Emmelina Lewis Lloyd retired in 1873, Isabella climbed with Jean Charlet, a French mountain guide from Chamonix who had accompanied both the women on their previous expeditions.
After climbing for twenty years Isabella and Jean eventually married. In 1875, they made the first ascent of a peak on the Aiguille de Triolet which Jean named ‘Pointe Isabelle’. This peak has two summits joined by a small ridge. The northern peak is 12,339ft (3.761M).
In 1881 they climbed a new peak which they named ‘Pointe De la Perseverance’ in honour of ‘the perseverance that they had shown before they had dared to confess their feelings for each other.
Accompanied by Jean and Sylvian Coultet, Isabella climbed Mont Blanc four times, including the first winter ascent in 1876. This climb published in local and foreign newspapers made Isabelle into a climbing celebrity.
Isabella and Jean married in November 1876, both taking the surname Charlet-Straton, and lived in Argentiere, Chamonix. They had two sons who they encouraged to take up climbing, one climbed Mont Blanc at the age of thirteen and the other at eleven. Robert the eldest son was killed in WW1 in 1915
Isabella died in 1918 in La Roche-sur-Foron, Haute Savoire and is buried in Argentiere. When their grandchildren opened a hotel in Chamonx they named it ‘Pointe Isabella’ in her memory.
You can visit the Queen Victoria and Hull exhibition from 20 October 2022 until 19 February 2023.
Image credit: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons