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Lady  Florence Caroline Dixie (1855–1905), by Andrew Maclure, pubd 1877Lady Florence Caroline Dixie (1855–1905), by Andrew Maclure, pubd 1877
Dixie [née Douglas], Lady Florence Caroline (1855–1905), author and traveller, was born in Kinmount, Cummertrees, Dumfriesshire, on 24 May 1855, one of a pair of twins, the youngest of the six children of Archibald William Douglas, eighth marquess of Queensberry (1818–1858), and his wife, Caroline Margaret (d. 1904), younger daughter of General Sir William Robert Clayton, bt.

The Douglases were an ancient Scottish family, vigorous and combative, and in Florence's generation they were haunted by disaster, dissension, and scandal: in 1858 Florence's father died from an accidental shot while cleaning a gun; her brother Francis was killed in 1865 on the first ascent of the Matterhorn; James, Florence's twin, was to commit suicide in middle age in 1891; and their eldest brother, the ninth marquess of Queensberry (), provoked the notorious Oscar Wilde case. Dissension affected the twins when they were seven years old and their mother alarmed their guardians by becoming a Roman Catholic and converting the children; she was threatened with the loss of her children, a real danger in an age which allowed a woman no rights over her own progeny, and an injustice against which Florence was to campaign in later life and which was the subject of her autobiographical The Story of Ijain (1903).

Their mother took the children abroad for two years and on their return Florence was sent to a convent school where she hated the repressive regime and the dogmatism of the religious teaching. She found relief in poetry, writing Songs of a Child under the pseudonym Darling—verses which were not, however, published until 1902. Early in life she developed a passion for sport and travel. She was a first rate horsewoman and a keen hunter of big game, one of the first women to take up this activity. She learned to swim and was a rapid walker. On 3 April 1875 she married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie, eleventh baronet (1851–1924), a strikingly handsome man, nicknamed Beau. They shared a taste for adventure and outdoor life, and the one flaw in an otherwise equal partnership seems to have been Beau's love of gambling, which was to prove a constant threat to the family property at Bosworth Park in Leicestershire, eventually sold to pay his debts. They had two sons, George Douglas (1876–1948) and Albert Edward Wolston (1878–1940), godson of the prince of Wales.

Neither domestic nor social life appealed to Lady Dixie, and, having accomplished the duty of motherhood, she determined to escape ‘the monotony of society's so-called pleasures’ (Dixie, 2). In December 1878 she set off for South America where ‘scenes of infinite beauty and grandeur’ might be lying hidden in the solitude of the mountains which bound the barren plains of the Pampas, into whose mysterious recesses no one had yet ventured. ‘And I was to be the first to behold them: an egotistical pleasure, it is true; but the idea had a great charm for me’ (Dixie, 3). She was accompanied by her husband, her eldest and her twin brothers, and a friend, Julius Beerbohm, a naturalist with some knowledge of the country. Although she was the only woman in the party she took the lead throughout their six months abroad, not only in the pursuit of the big game with which they stocked their larder but also in coping with emergencies varying from the entertainment of unexpected visitors to the devastating shock of an earthquake.

The publication of Across Patagonia (1880) established Lady Dixie's reputation as a bold and resourceful traveller with a pen as ready as her gun. It was also partly the reason for her appointment as the Morning Post's war correspondent in South Africa where the Anglo-Zulu War was raging; she was the first woman to be officially appointed by a British newspaper to cover a war. Her husband accompanied her and, although on arriving in Cape Town in March 1881 they found to her chagrin that hostilities were over, they spent the next six months in southern Africa. They toured the country, visiting the battlefields and learning something of the causes and the course of the late conflict, while Lady Dixie contributed articles to the Morning Post in which she championed the cause of Cetewayo and his Zulu people. These provided material for A Defence of Zululand and its King (1882). The same views were expressed in her account of the South African adventure, In the Land of Misfortune (1882), a more serious work than Across Patagonia though it has its lighter moments. In some of these Beau is made to cut a less than heroic figure, as when he sleeps through the invasion of their tent by errant mules which his wife is left to drive out—or so she alleges (In the Land of Misfortune, 372).

On her return to England, home politics engaged Lady Dixie's attention, particularly those affecting Ireland which she saw as another ‘land of misfortune’ in need of her support. She was strongly in favour of home rule (as also for Scotland) but opposed measures advocated by the Land League during the agitations of 1880–83, thereby incurring the enmity of the extremist Fenians. On 17 March 1883, when Fenian outrages were exciting London, she announced that, while she was walking by the Thames near Windsor, two men disguised as women, whom she inferred to be Fenian emissaries, vainly attempted her assassination. Her statement attracted worldwide attention, but Sir William Harcourt, the home secretary, declared in the House of Commons that the story was unconfirmed, and nothing further followed.

Lady Dixie's political interests were thenceforth concentrated on the advocacy of complete sex equality. Her aims ranged from the reform of female attire to that of the royal succession law, which, she held, should prescribe the accession of the eldest child, of whichever sex, to the throne. She desired the emendation of the marriage service and of the divorce laws so as to place man and woman on the same level. She formulated such views in Gloriana, or, The Revolution of 1900 (1890); her stories for children, The Young Castaways, or, The Child Hunters of Patagonia (1890) and Aniwee, or, The Warrior Queen (1890) had a like purpose. Latterly, financial difficulties caused her and her husband to give up their home in Leicestershire and to settle on her family's Kinmount estate. In later life she became convinced of the cruelty of blood sports, which she denounced in Horrors of Sport (1891) and the Mercilessness of Sport (1901). She also supported secularism, contributing to the Agnostic Journal. Lady Dixie died at Glen Stuart, Annan, Dumfriesshire, on 7 November 1905, and was buried in the family grave at Kinmount.

Dorothy Middleton

Sources  

F. C. Dixie, Across Patagonia (1880) · C. Stevenson, Victorian women travel writers in Africa (1982) · The Times (8 Nov 1905) · Burke, Peerage · A. Sebba, Battling for news: the rise of the woman reporter (1994) · B. Roberts, Ladies in the Veldt (1965) · B. Roberts, The mad, bad line: the family of Lord Alfred Douglas (1981) · DNB · parish register, Cummertrees, Dumfriesshire · private information (2007) [A. Sykes]

Archives  

Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Kimberley


Likenesses  

A. Maclure, lithograph, 1877, BM, NPG [see illus.] · engraving, 1883, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne · T [T. Chartran], chromolithograph caricature, NPG; repro. in VF (24 March 1883) · cartoon, repro. in VF (1884) · engraving, repro. in Sebba, Battling for news, facing p. 114

Wealth at death  

£257 2s. 1d.: administration, 12 Dec 1905, CGPLA Eng. & Wales