Lady Florence Dixie, the First Woman War Correspondent. Sort of.


For the next two months, as the launch date for The Dragon From Chicago (1) hurdles toward me, it’s going to be women journalists all the time here on the Margins. (It is perhaps not surprising that I “met” a number of them over the last four years.)

First up, Scottish writer, traveler and feminist Lady Florence Dixie (1855-1905)

Engraved image of Lady Florence Dixie sitting on a horse and wearing a Victorian riding habit,

Lady Florence Dixie first came to my attention while I was reading Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire. Millard mentioned in passing that Dixie was the first woman war correspondent. I had a “wait, what?” moment. But I was deep in the throes of writing The Dragon From Chicago and I resisted the temptation to go down the research rabbit hole. (2)

Once I had a moment to circle back I learned that Dixie’s stint as a war correspondent was only a small incident in an event-filled life.

After a tumultuous childhood, (3) the 19-year-old Lady Florence married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie, known as “Sir A.B.C.D.” or Beau. They shared a love of adventure and the outdoors. Their travels together provided Dixie with material for several of her books. (4)

Although Dixie wrote popular novels for adults and children, many of which dealt with women and girls and their positions in society, she is best known for her bestselling travel books, Across Patagonia (1880) and In the Land of Misfortune (1882). Like her better known counterparts, Isabella Bird and Mary Kingsley, she presented herself as the protagonist of the stories in which documented her travels. (5)

In Across Patagonia, she told the story of her 1878 trip to Patagonia, with her husband, her brothers, and their friend Julius Beerbohm. They traveled some 1000 kilometers on horseback over a period of 60 days. In her account of the expedition, Dixie appears as a heroic adventurer, who meets the trials of the road with resilience: as she describes it she (and her companions) were “nearly starved…almost smothered in a pampas fire, badly shaken by earthquakes, forced to wade knee deep through rivers and sleep in the open with a saddle for a pillow.” She not only holds her own with her male companions in physical terms, she also takes on Charles Darwin on the intellectual plan. Darwin had claimed that the Tuco-tuco of Patagonia were nocturnal animals that lived almost entirely underground. Lady Florence had observed the small rodents in daylight hours, and wrote Darwin to tell him so. She later sent Darwin a copy of her book, in which she described her observations.

Dixie’s account of her Patagonia adventures, inspired Algernon Borthwick, the editor and owner of the Morning Post of London to hire her in 1881 to report on the First Boer War. When she landed in Cape Town, she learned that the war was over. Her first dispatch reported details of the peace treaty.

Dixie spent the next six months traveling through South Africa with Beau and reporting on the causes and consequences of the conflict. She described later her experiences in Africa in In the Land of Misfortune and A Defence of Zululand and its King.

In addition to her work as an author, Dixie was an active proponent of women’s equality. She advocated not only for women’s suffrage but for changes in marriage and divorce laws and the rules governing succession to the British crown. An enthusiastic sportswoman, she was the first president and an active promoter of the British Ladies Football Club


(1) You’ve heard it before: The Dragon from Chicago is available for pre-order wherever you buy your books. Unless you buy books solely at used bookstores and library sales. (No judgement. I’ve been known to come away with armloads of books from both.) If you want a signed copy, you can get one from my local independent bookstore: . Be sure to requested a signed copy, with details about how you want it signed, in the special instructions box. (Because several people have asked: they ship.)

(2) Something I seldom manage. In this case, I trusted that Candice Millard knew whereof she spoke and that Lady Florence would be available when I had more time.

(3) Among other things, she and two of her siblings were the subject of a child custody case between her mother, who was the widow of the 9th Marquess of Queensbury, and the children’s legal guardians after Lady Queensbury converted to Catholicism.

(4) Due to Beau’s drinking and gambling problems, the couple were sometimes referred to as “Sir Always and Lady Sometimes Tipsy.” Despite the lightheartedness of the nickname, Beau’s gambling added an element of financial insecurity to their lives that may have made her writing more than an engrossing hobby.

(5) I am shocked to realize that I have never written about the phenomenon of Victorian women travel writers. It is a fascinating and complicated subject. As a group, their works reject Victorian mores as applied to themselves but fail to examine the underlying racist and imperialist ideas of their times. With any luck I’ll circle back to this subject come the fall.


  1. Rick Daily on June 4, 2024 at 11:53 am

    The ‘FRIST’ woman war correspondent??



    • Pamela on June 4, 2024 at 1:50 pm

      Saw that typo as soon as the email hit my inbox. *sigh* It’s fixed now.

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