Florence Caroline Dixie (Lady Dixie)

1857–1905

Traveller and writer. Married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie in 1875.

Sources: DNB (See the bibliography for full references to sources)

Further Information:

Lady Florence Caroline Dixie (1855-1905) was a Scottish traveller and author who lived a very unusual life given her status as a privileged Victorian wife and mother. After marrying Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie (known as Beau) in 1875 and having two sons, Lady Dixie rejected the strictures of middle class life and embarked on a series of worldwide adventures. In 1878 she traveled to South America with a small party including her husband, camping under the stars and hunting big game.

Lady Dixie’s observations of the country and its inhabitants were published in Across Patagonia (1880). In 1881, along with her husband, she journeyed to South Africa as a war correspondent covering the Anglo-Zulu War for the British newspaper, the Morning Post. While the war was largely over by the time they arrived, they spent six months exploring the country. Her observations were the foundation for several books including A Defence of Zululand and its King (1882) and In the Land of Misfortune (1882). Lady Dixie was active in politics, in particular supporting home rule for Ireland and advocating for feminist legal and social reforms, such as abolishing patrilineality and supporting sexual equality in marriage and divorce. In her lifetime, Lady Dixie also penned a number of additional books and articles on a wide range of topics.

Lady Dixie was one of the women with whom Charles Darwin corresponded during his lifetime. On 29 October 1880, Lady Dixie wrote to Darwin to correct his description of the Tucotuco which could be found in his Journal of Researches (1839). Darwin had written that the Tucotuco were nocturnal South American rodents that lived almost entirely underground. Yet in her travels through Patagonia in 1879, Lady Dixie had observed Tucutuco scurrying around outside of their burrows both in the daytime and at night. On 4 November of 1880, Lady Dixie asked if she could send Darwin a copy of her book describing Patagonia. True to her adventuring spirit, in her letter Lady Dixie catalogued the various live exotic animals she brought back from South America, including a jaguar cub whose mother she had to shoot in self-defence. On 29 November 1880, Lady Dixie sent Darwin a copy of Across Patagonia (1880), as well as a short tragedy she wrote when she was a child. The copy of Lady Dixie’s Across Patagonia remains part of the Library of Charles Darwin located in the Rare Books Room of Cambridge University Library.

Relevant Gender Resources:

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/women-and-science

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/womens-scientific-participation

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/gender-and-scientific-participation

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/women-as-a-scientific-audience

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/darwin-and-gender-introduction

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/gender/2012/03/08/lady-florence-dixie-a-woman-who-had-it-all/

Primary Sources:

Darwin, C. R. 1839. Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle’s circumnavigation of the globe. Journal and remarks. 1832-1836. London: Henry Colburn. (pp.58-60)[Accessed via: http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?pageseq=1&itemID=F10.3&viewtype=image]

Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12781

Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12795

Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-12875

Secondary Sources:

Middleton, Dorothy. ‘Dixie , Lady Florence Caroline (1855–1905)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32836, accessed 2 March 2013]

Rutherford, H. W., 1908. Catalogue of the library of Charles Darwin now in the Botany School, Cambridge. Compiled by H. W. Rutherford, of the University Library; with an Introduction by Francis Darwin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (p.22)[Accessed via: http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?keywords=dixie&pageseq=42&itemID=A4&viewtype=side]