Mountaineer and journalist.
Malcolm Ross was born in Dunedin on 13 July 1862, a son of Alexander Ross, a first-generation immigrant from Scotland. He was educated at the Palmerston District High School and the University of Otago. Early in life he showed the interests he was to follow to the end – a passion for sport, particularly mountaineering, and a talent for writing. He served his apprenticeship in journalism on the Otago Daily Times from 1882 to 1889. In 1889 he became private secretary to the managing director of the Union Steam Ship Co. (Sir James Mills). In 1890 he married Forrest Grant, who shared both his love of mountains and his literary ability. A few years later he returned to journalism, moving to Wellington where he worked as parliamentary correspondent to several local papers and as New Zealand correspondent to The Times (London) and other overseas journals. As a war correspondent in 1914–18 he visited Samoa, Egypt, Gallipoli, and France.
Besides his interest in running, rowing, cycling, tennis, and golf, Malcolm Ross was a footballer of distinction, representing Otago in 1885–86. His paper sent him into the Manapouri-Sounds area in 1888 to take part in the search for the missing Prof. Mainwaring Brown. In 1890 he made the first of many visits to the Hermitage and was one of a group of young New Zealanders who attempted Mount Cook, then unclimbed, but although they had been associated with some manful attempts, neither he nor his brother Kenneth (d. 1959) was a member of the successful party in 1894. In 1892 the brothers had made the second ascent of the east peak of Earnslaw and the first ascent of Double Cone in The Remarkables. Although Ross also reconnoitred Tutoko, his main work lay in and around Mount Cook where, in his best season 1897, with T. C. Fyfe as guide, he made first ascents of the Minarets, the north peak of Haidinger, and the first crossing of Lendenfeldt Saddle from the Tasman Glacier to the Whataroa. His greatest climb was the first traverse and fourth ascent of Mount Cook in 1906 (with S. Turner and guides Peter Graham and Fyfe), an ascent forced through in difficult conditions in a 36-hour “day”.
Ross published several books, most notably A Climber in New Zealand (1915) and, with his son Noel, Light and Shade in War (1916). He helped to found the New Zealand Alpine Club in 1891 and served it as vice-president and editor. He was elected to the Alpine Club (London) in 1909. He died in Wellington on 15 April 1930.
It is difficult to think of Ross's career without remembering his wife (d. 1936) who devoutedly aided all his enterprises except the most exacting mountain climbs. The Ross household in Hill Street, a stone's throw from Parliament, was on easy social terms with many of the legislators who figured in Malcolm's reports. Unhappily their only son Noel, who had shown considerable promise as a journalist and had joined The Times, died in London in 1918 from sickness resulting from his war service.
Malcolm Ross's success in journalism was in some part due to his man-of-the-world relations with the men who controlled events in New Zealand's capital. His war dispatches were the high-water mark of his professional achievement, which included a great deal of miscellaneous writing and many articles and pamphlets on the country's scenic attractions. As a mountaineer he profited by the pioneering work of such men as G. E. Mannering, but entered into the activity in time to make an excellent contribution himself. Although he was one of the most enterprising amateurs of his day above snow line on the high peaks, his greatest expedition was probably the exploratory crossing of Lendenfeldt Saddle when his friend and guide, Fyfe, received injuries to his leg which made an already hazardous journey desperate and exceedingly arduous. Ross's gifts as a writer enabled him to pass on to others much of his enthusiasm for mountains.
by David Oswald William Hall, M.A., Director, Adult Education, University of Otago (retired).
- The Exploration of New Zealand, McClymont, W. G. (1959)
- New Zealand Alpine Journal (1930), (1955)
- Canterbury Mountaineer, No. 16 (1946–47)
- Otago Daily Times, 17 Apr 1930 (Obit).