Burnaby, Elizabeth Alicia Hawkins (1860–1934), alpinist, photographer, and author, was the only child of Sir St Vincent Hawkins-Whitshed , 3rd and last baronet, of Killincarrig, Greystones, Co. Wicklow, and his wife Anne Alicia, third daughter of the Rev. Hon. John Gustavus Handcock, rector of Sunaduff, Co. Leitrim. An exact date of birth is not known, but she was 11 at her father's death (9 March 1871) and 19 at her first marriage (27 June 1879), to Lt-col. Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, Royal Horse Guards, chaplain to HRH the duke of Cambridge. He was killed in action at Abu Klea, Sudan, 17 January 1885, leaving a son. She married secondly (1886) John Frederick Main (d. 1892) and thirdly (12 June 1900) Francis Bernard Aubrey le Blond of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, who survived her.
In 1881 Elizabeth Burnaby was in poor health, suffering from congestion of the lungs. Her doctor, Sir Richard Quain (qv), ordered her to go to Switzerland, to relatively low-altitude locations. She knew nothing of and cared less for mountain climbing and, as a child, had had no inclination to be a climber, although her mother had read passages of Edward Whymper's Scrambles among the Alps to her. In the summer of 1881 her health improved, and she accompanied friends on to a glacier and attempted to climb Mont Blanc. Thus began her twenty-year association with active climbing in the Alps. She lived almost entirely in Switzerland after the death of her first husband in 1885, leaving St Moritz in 1900.
In 1882, before the winter had set in, Burnaby climbed Mont Blanc twice, one attempt being from the Italian side. She successfully climbed the Matterhorn in August 1883. Over the next seventeen years she was to climb extensively in Switzerland in the western and central Alps. At the beginning of her climbing career she hardly knew how to put on her boots without the assistance of a maid, but she was to become independent quickly and develop her own style. She was slight but strongly built and became renowned for her physical courage and good climbing judgement. Noted for her staying power and good sense of humour, she always used the best guides and climbed in skirts that hardly reached her knees. She was the first woman to make ‘manless’ ascents in the Alps and climbed Piz Palü (3,901 m) in 1900 without a guide, when her sole companion was Lady Evelyn McDonnell. The records of the Alpine Club in London show that Burnaby climbed in the Alps in every season from 1882 to 1899. Her last recorded climbing season was in 1904. In 1907, at its foundation, she became president of the Ladies' Alpine Club.
From the beginning of her climbing career, Burnaby used a camera. At first she used dry plates, which had been introduced at the beginning of the 1880s, and a wooden folding camera. This type of camera was not easy to use in the mountains: it was big and awkward when opened out for use, necessitating the extension of a bellows and tightening many screws to keep it rigid. In addition the camera had to be mounted on a tripod and set up on sloping ground. Later, in 1887, she carried a lighter and more compact roll film camera.
She used her photographs in a number of ways. Her book High life and towers of silence (1886) was illustrated with ten of her photographs, and in the late 1880s the Alpine Journal occasionally reproduced her photographic work. In 1889 Oscar Eckenstein and August Lorria published a work entitled The Alpine portfolio: the Pennine Alps, containing photographs from the best contemporary Alpine photographers. Mrs Main (as she had been since 1886) had four photographs included in the work. By 1894 she had over 1,000 Alpine views on sale at the print sellers Spooner & Co., of the Strand, London. These photographs covered many Alpine locations: the Engadine in summer and winter, the Zermatt district, Saas, the Bernese Oberland, Chamonix, Dauphiné, Lake Geneva, and the Tyrol. Her speciality was photographing snow and she described her technique in a small illustrated book, Hints on snow photography (1895). The Alpine Club held an annual exhibition of photography and reviewers mentioned favourably the exhibits of Mrs Main in the years 1887, 1895, and 1900. In 1913 Winter sports in Switzerland, written by Edward Frederick Benson, the novelist, who had represented England in figure skating, was illustrated by forty-seven reproductions of her photographs. The photographs cover general Alpine scenes, outdoor ice rinks, bob-sleigh runs, ski slopes, ski jumping and curling.
In the first world war, Mrs le Blond (as she was from 1900) worked at first in French hospitals in Dieppe. At the end of 1916 she returned home and took charge of the appeal department of the British ambulance committee, which supplied transport for the French wounded in the Vosges. She loved France and the French people; after the war she was honorary secretary of the committee to restore Reims cathedral and organised the erection of the statue of Marshal Foch in London. In 1933, the year before her death, she became a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur. She died 27 July 1934 at Llandrindod Wells. There is a photographic portrait of her in the Alpine Club, London.