Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed, 1860-1934: Our Lady of the Alps

Last time it was Victorian hero Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, as much a man as ever was.  Died a picturesque if not wholly surprising death while fighting the Fuzzy Wuzzies.  The nation mourned. I mentioned he had been married.

What sort of woman would marry such a man?

Elizabeth nee Hawkins-Whitshed, who, daughter of Captain Sir St. Vincent Hawkins-Whitshed (an  English baronet with a large estate in County Wicklow, Ireland,) was more than up to snuff.

Not at first, however.  She was one of those frail and sickly children, all croup and consumption, that you read about in Victorian writings. But like Teddy Roosevelt, she determined that this was no way to go through life.  If England and Ireland were unhealthy, how about Algiers?  No? Italy perhaps? Better.  The Tyrol?  Better still.  Finally, to Switzerland, where she found her life’s inspiration in mountains.

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Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, 1842-1885; “Play up! play up! and play the game!”

Just look at him! Was there ever such a portrait of easeful upper class twittery?  The vague smile, the languid self drapery, the unfocussed eyes, the half-forgotten cigarette, the mirror polished but virtually useless cuirass on the floor, the opera buffa hat on the second couch, the man’s complete obliviousness to himself and his surroundings.  The subject could have stepped straight of a Wodehouse novel, if Wodehouse had ever written about soldiers.

Once again, it’s a case for not making snap judgements. Continue reading