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Lady Florence Dixie

Florence Dixie
Detail from the Vanity Fair portrait of 1884
Born Florence Douglas
(1855-05-25)25 May 1855
Cummertrees, Dumfries
Died 7 November 1905(1905-11-07) (aged 50)
Glen Stuart, Dumfriesshire
Nationality British
Occupation War Correspondent
Known for Feminist
Spouse(s) Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie

Lady Florence Caroline Dixie (25 May 1855 – 7 November 1905), before her marriage Lady Florence Douglas, was a British traveller, war correspondent, writer and feminist.

Early life

Born in Scotland at Cummertrees, Dumfries, Lady Florence Douglas was the daughter of the 8th Marquess of Queensberry and his wife Caroline, daughter of General Sir William Clayton, 5th Baronet (1786–1866), Member of Parliament for Great Marlow.[1] She had a twin brother, Lord James Douglas (d. 1891), an older sister, Lady Gertrude Douglas (1842–1893), and three older brothers: John, Viscount Drunlanrig (1844–1900), later the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, who gave his name to the rules of boxing and who brought down Oscar Wilde; Lord Francis Douglas (1847–1865), who died in a climbing accident on the Matterhorn; and Lord Archibald Douglas (1850–1938), who became a clergyman.[2][3]

In 1860, Lady Florence's father died in what was reported as a shooting accident, but was widely believed to have been suicide.[3] In 1862 his widow converted herself and her youngest children, Florence and her brother James, to Roman Catholicism and took them to live in Paris for two years. This led the children's guardians to threaten Lady Queensberry with the loss of her children, a real possibility at a time when women's rights were very limited. In later life, Lady Florence campaigned on such injustices, highlighted in her book The Story of Ijarn (1903).[4]

Lady Florence was educated at home and, after returning from Paris, in a convent school. She hated the school's repressiveness and the dogmatism of its religious teaching and took to writing poetry. Her childhood verses were published in 1902 as Songs of a Child, under the pseudonym 'Darling'.[4]

From an early age, Lady Florence showed a love of sport and travel and a gift for writing.[5]

Marriage and children

On 3 April 1875, at the age of nineteen, Lady Florence Douglas married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie, 11th Baronet (1851–1924), known as "Sir A.B.C.D." or "Beau".[6][7] His father of the same name, the 10th Baronet, had died in 1872.[8] The young couple lived at first at Bosworth Hall, near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. They had two sons, George Douglas (born 18 January 1876), who later became the 12th baronet, and Albert Edward Wolstan (born 26 September 1878, died 1940), whose godfather was the Prince of Wales.[4][9] Sir Alexander Beaumont Dixie was High Sheriff of Leicestershire for 1876.[10] In 1877, Lady Florence published her first book, Abel Avenged: a Dramatic Tragedy.[11]

Husband and wife shared a love of adventure and the outdoor life, but a shadow was cast over them by his habit of gambling for high stakes; eventually his ancestral home and estate at Bosworth were sold to pay his debts.[4] After this, in the 1880s, the couple moved to Glen Stewart, one of the houses on Lord Queensberry's Scottish estate of Kinmount, previously the home of Lady Florence's mother, the Dowager Marchioness.[6]

Problem family

Several members of the Queensberry family were affected by mental illness. As mentioned above, Lady Florence's father is believed to have committed suicide. Her twin brother, Lord James Douglas (known to his family as Jim), was deeply attached to her and was heartbroken when she married. In 1885, he tried to abduct a young girl, and after that became ever more manic. In 1888, he married a rich woman with a ten-year-old son, but this proved disastrous.[6] Separated from his twin sister 'Florrie', James drank himself into a deep depression[6] and in 1891 committed suicide by cutting his throat.[3]

Lady Florence's eldest brother, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, is remembered for his contribution to the sport of boxing and to the downfall of the writer Oscar Wilde. The Queensberry rules for the sport of boxing, written in 1865 by John Graham Chambers and published in 1867, were endorsed by the young Queensberry, an enthusiastic amateur boxer, and thus took his name. In 1887, Queensberry and his wife Sibyl Montgomery were divorced. During the 1890s, their youngest son, Lady Florence's nephew, Lord Alfred Douglas (1870–1945), had a close relationship with Wilde, to the growing fury of his father, who accused the writer of "posing as a somdomite" (sic). Wilde sued Queensberry for libel, a bold step which ultimately led to his downfall and imprisonment.[12]

Lady Florence's great-nephew Raymond Douglas (1902–1964), the only child of Lord Alfred, spent most of his life in a mental hospital.[13]

Travels in Patagonia

Weary of her life in English society, during 1878–1879 Dixie travelled with her husband, two of her brothers and

South African war correspondent and Zululand

In 1881, Dixie was appointed as a field correspondent of the Morning Post of London to cover the First Boer War (1880–1881)[1] and the aftermath of the Anglo-Zulu War. She and her husband travelled to South Africa together. In Cape Town, she stayed with the Governor of the Cape Colony. She visited Zululand, and on her return interviewed the Zulu king Cetshwayo, who was being held in detention by the British.[7]

Her reports, followed by her A Defense of Zululand and Its King from the Blue Book (1882) and In the Land of Misfortune (1882), were instrumental in Cetshwayo's brief restoration to his throne in 1883.[7][19] In Dixie's In the Land of Misfortune, there is a struggle between her individualism and her identification with the power of the British Empire, but for all of her sympathy with the Zulu cause and with Cetshwayo, she remained at heart an imperialist.[20]

Women's football

Dixie played a key role is establishing the game of women's association football, organizing exhibition matches for charity, and in 1895 she became President of the British Ladies' Football Club, stipulating that "the girls should enter into the spirit of the game with heart and soul." She arranged for a women's football team from London to tour Scotland.[3][21]

Politics and feminism

Dixie was an enthusiastic writer of letters to newspapers on liberal and progressive issues, including support for Irish Home Rule.[5] Her article The Case of Ireland was published in Vanity Fair on 27 May 1882.[11] Nevertheless, she was critical of the Irish Land League and the Fenians, who in 1883 made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate her. As a result, Queen Victoria sent her servant John Brown to investigate.[3]

Dixie held strong views on the emancipation of women, proposing that the sexes should be equal in marriage and divorce, that the Crown should be inherited by the monarch's oldest child, regardless of sex, and even that men and women should wear the same clothes.[5] She was a member of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies,[3] and her obituary in the Englishwoman's Review emphasized her support for the cause of women's suffrage (i.e. the right to vote): "Lady Florence... threw herself eagerly into the Women's Movement, and spoke on public platforms."[20]

In 1890, Dixie published a utopian novel, Gloriana, or the Revolution of 1900, which has been described as a feminist fantasy.[3] In it, women win the right to vote, as the result of the protagonist, Gloriana, posing as a man, Hector l'Estrange, and being elected to the House of Commons. The character of l'Estrange is clearly based on that of Oscar Wilde.[22] The book ends in the year 1999, with a description of a prosperous and peaceful Britain governed by women.[3] In the preface to the novel, Dixie proposes not only women's suffrage, but that the two sexes should be educated together and that all professions and positions should be open to both. In this preface, she goes farther and says:[23]

During the 1890s, Dixie's views on field sports changed dramatically, and in her book The Horrors of Sport (1891) she condemned blood sports as cruel.[5]

Assassination attempt

The New York Times dated 19 March 1883, reported an attack on Lady Florence Dixie by two men disguised as women, under the heading A DASTARDLY IRISH CRIME AN ATTEMPT TO ASSASSINATE LADY FLORENCE DIXIE. SHE IS WAYLAID BY TWO MEN DISGUISED IN WOMEN'S CLOTHES – HER LIFE SAVED BY A ST BERNARD DOG.[24]

The New York Times dated 30 March 1883, carried a further story headed "LADY FLORENCE DIXIE'S OWN STORY. From the Pall Mall Gazette of March 19".[25]
Reports are published of an attempt to assassinate Lady Florence Dixie at her residence, the Fishery, situated near the Thames, and about two and a half miles from Windsor. Lady Florence Dixie gives the following account of the occurrence:
Lady Ripon[26] and Sir H. Ponsonby called yesterday with a message of sympathy from the Queen to Lady Florence.
However, the New York Times of 8 April 1883, carried a further report:[27]
LONDON, March 21 – It has been boldly suggested by the St. James's Gazette that Lady Florence Dixie is labouring under a mistake in regard to the dramatic occurrence which has occupied so much attention during the last 48 hours. Possibly when this reaches you its boldness will have been justified. The Tory journal does not believe that her ladyship has been attacked at all. Others share this opinion. In a week's time, the general public may share it.


When Dixie died in November 1905, the New York Times carried a report headed LADY FLORENCE DIXIE DEAD This stated that the "Author, Champion of Woman's Rights, and War Correspondent" had died on 7 November "at her home, Glen Stuart, Dumfriesshire", and included the following passage:[28]
Lady Florence Dixie was a member of the Queensberry family and inherited the eccentricities as well as the cleverness possessed by so many members of it. Some years ago she startled London by declaring that she had been kidnapped she believed by Irish agitators, and had been held for some days in captivity. Her story was never disproved, but neither was it proved, and there were many people who said that the whole affair was imaginary.[29]


Lady Florence Dixie's eldest son, George Douglas Dixie (18 January 1876 – 25 December 1948) served in the Royal Navy as a midshipman and was commissioned into the King's Own Scottish Borderers in 1895.[30] On 26 November 1914, he was promoted a temporary captain in the 5th Battalion the KOSB.[31] He married Margaret Lindsay, daughter of Sir Alexander Jardine, 8th Baronet, and in 1924 succeeded to his father's title and was known as Sir Douglas Dixie, 12th Baronet.[32] When he died in 1948, Sir Douglas was succeeded by his son Sir (Alexander Archibald Douglas) Wolstan Dixie, 13th and last Baronet (8 January 1910 – 28 December 1975). Married Dorothy Penelope (Lady Dixie) King-Kirkman in 1950 as his second wife, and they had two daughters; 1) Eleanor Barbara Lindsay; and 2) Caroline Mary Jane. Both daughters have issue.

Lady Florence Dixie's grandson Sir Wolstan Dixie wrote an autobiography called Is it True What They Say About Dixie? The Second Battle of Bosworth (1972).[33] The title alludes to a 1940s song by Irving Caesar, Sammy Lerner and Gerald Marks recorded by Al Jolson in 1948.[34]


A monochrome lithograph of Dixie by Andrew Maclure was published in 1877, a copy of which is in the National Portrait Gallery.[5]

A more significant lithograph, by Théobald Chartran, printed in colour, appeared in Vanity Fair in 1884 and is one of the long series of caricatures published in the magazine between the years 1868 and 1914. These were all coloured illustrations featuring notable people of the day, and each was accompanied by a short (usually adulatory) biography. Of more than two thousand people so honoured, only eighteen were women. When Dixie was featured in the magazine on 5 January 1884, she joined this small band, which included Queen Isabella II of Spain (1869), Sarah Bernhardt (1879), the Princess of Wales (1882) and Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts (1883). Victoria, Princess Royal, and Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, followed later in 1884.[35]



The published works of Lady Florence Dixie include:


  • Abel Avenged: a Dramatic Tragedy (London, Edward Moxon, 1877)[11]
  • Waifs and Strays: The Pilgrimage of a Bohemian Abroad (London: Griffith, Farren Okeden and Welsh, 1880, 60 pp)[36]
  • A Defense of Zululand and Its King from the Blue Books (London: Chatto and Windus, 1882, 129 pp) [36]
  • The Young Castaways, or, The Child Hunters of Patagonia (1890), for children[4]
  • Aniwee, or, The Warrior Queen (1890), for children[4]
  • Isola, or the Disinherited: A Revolt for Woman and all the Disinherited (London, Leadenhall Press, 1902)[11]
  • The Story of Ijain, or the Evolution of a Mind (London, 1903)[11]

Shorter works

  • "The Case of Ireland" in Vanity Fair, issue dated 27 May 1882[11]
  • "Cetshwayo and Zululand" in Nineteenth Century Volume 12 #2 (August, 1882) pp. 303–312[11] [36]
  • "In the Land of Misfortune" (1882)[20]
  • "On Cetshwayo and his Restoration" in Vanity Fair, 12 July 1884, pp 21–22[11]
  • "Memoirs of a Great Lone Land" in Westminster Review, Volume 139 (March, 1893) pp. 247–256[36]
  • "The True Science of Living: The New Gospel of Health" in Westminster Review, Volume 150 (1898) pp. 463–470[11]
  • "The Horrors of Sport" (Humanitarian League publication no. 4, 1891)[5]
  • The Mercilessness of Sport (1901)[4]
  • Introduction to Joseph McCabe's Religion of Woman (1905)[3]

Private letters

Unpublished works include:

  • Florence Dixie to William Gladstone, 11 August 1882 (British Library: Gladstone Papers 391, Add. MS. 44476, f. 127)[11]
  • Florence Dixie to William Gladstone, 23 October 1883 (British Library: Gladstone Papers 391, Add. MS. 44483, f. 257)[11]
  • Florence Dixie to William Gladstone, 21 May 1890 (British Library: Gladstone Papers 425, Add. MS. 44510, f. 34)[11]
  • Florence Dixie to Mr Clodd, 3 July 1903 (University of Leeds: Brotherton Collection)[11]
  • Correspondence with Lord Kimberley (Bodleian Library, Oxford)[4]
  • Correspondence with Darwin Correspondence Project website.

About her

  • "Woman's Mission" in Vanity Fair, 16 August 1884, pp 114–116[11]
  • "Woman's Mission" in Vanity Fair, 23 August 1884, pp 134–135[11]


  • Adler, Michelle, Skirting the Edges of Civilisation: British Women Travellers and Travel Writers in South Africa, 1797–1899 (Ph D dissertation, University of London, 1996) [36]
  • Adler, Michelle, "Skirting the Edges of Civilsation: Two Victorian Women Travellers and 'Colonial Spaces' in South Africa" (about Lady Florence Dixie and Sarah Heckford) in Darian-Smith, Kate, Gunner, Liz and Nuttall, Sarah (eds.) Text, Theory, Space: Land, Literature and History in South Africa and Australia (London & New York: Routledge, 1996) pp. 83–98 [36]
  • Anderson, Monica, "Role-Play and Florence Dixie's 'In the Land of Misfortune'" in Women and the Politics of Travel, 1870–1914 (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8386-4091-5) pp 119–154[20]
  • Czech, Kenneth P., With Rifle and Petticoat: Women as Big Game Hunter (New York, Derrydale Press, 2002, 189 pp)[36]
  • Frawley, Maria H., A Wider Range: Travel Writing by Women in Victorian England (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Delaware, Newark, 1991, 334 pp) [36]
  • Frawley, Maria H., A Wider Range: Travel Writing by Women in Victorian England (Rutherford, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and London: Associated University Presses, 1994, 237 pp) [36]
  • Qingyun Wu, "The Discourse of Impersonation: The Destiny of the Next Life and Gloriana; or, The Revolution of 1900", paper presented to the Pennsylvania Foreign Language Conference, Duquesne University, 16–18 September 1988
  • Roberts, Brian, Ladies in the Veld, especially chapter entitled "The Lady and the King: Lady Florence Dixie" (London: John Murray, 1965) pp. 75–181 [36]
  • Stevenson, Catherine B., "The Depiction of the Zulu in the Travel Writing of Florence Dixie", paper presented at the 1980 African Studies Association Conference, 15–18 October 1980, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (New Brunswick, New Jersey: ASA, Rutgers University, 198 [36]
  • Stevenson, Catherine B., Victorian Women Travel Writers in Africa (Boston: Twayne, 1982, 184 pp.) [36]
  • Stevenson, Catherine B., "Female Anger and African Politics: The Case of Two Victorian Lady Travellers" in Turn of the Century Women Volume 2, 1985, pp 7–17[36]
  • Tinling, Marion, "Lady Florence Dixie, 1855–1905" in Women Into the Unknown: A Sourcebook on Women Explorers and Travelers (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1989)[36]


External links

  • Spartacus Educational on Lady Florence Dixie
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