>We are in the year 1852 at the headquaters of the Grand Trigonometrical Survey of India at Dehra Dun, 140 kilometers north-northeast of Dehli. Radhanath Sikdhar, the head of the Computing Office, bursts into the office of the Superintendant General, Sir Andrew Waugh, with some news they had been expecting for months.
“Sir, I have discovered the highest mountain in the world!”
The legend of Everest began at that moment. In reality the lengthy process which led to the “discovery” of Everest started at least fifty years before. It is, however, difficult to trace precisely its origin.
The first triangulations in Indian territory date back to 1764 and were carried out in the Ganges Valley, but the ambitious plan of providing the British colony with suitable cartographical support began later, at the turn of the next century, with the founding of the Grand Trigonometrical Survey.
The first detailed surveys of the Himalayan peaks by the Survey of India began in 1847, on the initative of the new Superintendant, Colonel Andrew Waugh. In those years, the trigonometrical campaigns were complicated and laborious, because the surveyors could study the peaks only from great distances. Being denied access, in fact, obliged the British military to place their measuring instruments as far as 250 kilometers from the mountains. It was hard work in those conditions, even more because, due to the monsoons, the surveying teams could count on good visibility only from October to December.
In autumn of 1847, Waugh was dealing with the measurement of Kangchenjunga, until then considered the highest mountain in the world.
Behind the Himalayan giant, however, the Survey Superintendant observed with interest another icy peak which apparently was even higher: in topographic circles it was soon baptized with the name of
Waugh decided to increase observations from other trigonometrical stations, which were nearer the Himalayan chain. His officers succeeded in advancing to within 170 kilometers of the mountains, and invariably, though bearing in mind the possibility of errors, all the measurements of “Peak B” indicated a height which was decidedly above that of Kangchenjunga. Subsequently the results of the various surveys were reexamined in the offices at Dehra Dun.
The process of calculation lasted for a few years, because each datum obtained by topographers had to be stripped of the effects of the refraction of light and the excessive distance of the peak from survey stations. In the meantime, Michael Hennessy, one of Colonel Waugh´s assistants, invented a new naming system for the Himalayan Mountains, identifying the most important peaks with Roman numerals: Kangchenjunga was thus renamed Peak IX, and Peak B became Peak XV. Lastly much effort, came the final results which were made official only in 1856:
28.156 feet (8.581,9 meters), Peak IX and 29.002 feet (8.839,8 meters), Peak XV.
Waugh declared that latter might prove to be the highest mountain in the world.