'An act of serendipity': Passport documents of Sir Ed Hillary, All Blacks, ex-PM discovered

Sir Edmund Hillary, Vernon Houk and Palle Mogensen
Sir Edmund Hillary, Vernon Houk and Palle Mogensen Photo credit: Getty

Sir Edmund Hillary's handwritten application for the passport he likely used to travel to Nepal to climb Mt Everest has been found in a box in Wellington.

The application is among about 70 belonging to notable New Zealanders which are believed to have been compiled by a Department of Internal Affairs staff member, who handed them to National Archives where they've sat for a number of years.

The treasure trove was only discovered recently - completely by chance - when a researcher asked Archives New Zealand if his grandfather's old application had been kept.

"It's just an act of serendipity," says chief archivist Richard Foy.

"We didn't expect to find these and we couldn't have found them, as they hadn't been listed down to the item level. So it was just by sheer luck."

The most prized find is Sir Edmund Hillary's handwritten passport application, signed February 16, 1950.

Sir Edmund Hillary's passport application
Sir Edmund Hillary's passport application Photo credit: Supplied

Sir Ed's application notes his profession at the time as apiarist - or beekeeper - and lists the countries he planned to visit, including England, Indonesia, Egypt, France, Switzerland and Italy.

The passport was likely used six months later, when Sir Ed was part of a 1951 British reconnaissance expedition to Mount Everest.

Also in the bundle was an application from fellow Kiwi climber George Lowe, who was part of the successful 1953 expedition when Sir Ed became the first person to climb the world's tallest mountain.

George Lowe's passport application
George Lowe's passport application Photo credit: Supplied

"We believe that it would have been on these passports that they would have ascended Everest," said Foy. "So it's an incredible find."

Archivists also found the passport applications for All Blacks legend George Nepia and the entire 1924 Invincibles side that toured Britain, Ireland and France.

George Nepia's passport application
George Nepia's passport application Photo credit: Supplied

Richard Roy says these application, which include headshots, could be used for future exhibitions or displays if the New Zealand Rugby Union is interested.

The full collection of applications, which ranges from 20th Century nursing pioneer Mary Isabel Lambie to former Prime Minister Joseph Gordon Coates, will be held onto by the National Archives.