An Account of Fanny Duberly

An Account of Fanny Duberly

After over 150 years, the Crimea is once more in the news

by Robert Innes-Smith

The whole world has heard of Florence Nightingale, the 7th Earl of Cardigan and other powerful personalities connected with that terrible war in the Crimea in the 1850s. But there is one woman whose name has almost been forgotten yet was a true heroine of that conflict, suffering terrible hardships yet dutifully chronicling it in detail. Who was she?

Always known as ‘Fanny’ Frances Isabella Locke was born in 1829. She was the youngest of three sons and six daughters, her father being a banker and MP called Wadham Locke who had an estate in Wiltshire. He married into another Wiltshire family, the Powells of Hurdcott Park – Maria Selina Powell whose maternal grandfather was The Rt Rev Edward Willes, DD, Bishop of Bath and Wells.

Of Fanny’s sisters, Selina (to whom she sent many letters during the war) was married to a Tory landowner called Francis Marx; Louisa married William Campbell-Colquhoun of Clathick, a Scotch laird, and Katherine married Major George Duberly of the 64th Regiment. Not surprisingly young Fanny met George’s brother Henry Duberly of the 8th Hussars and they eventually married.

We must now move forward to 1854 – more precisely to 10pm on April 24th. Here Mrs Duberly starts her spectacular diary as she and her husband set out for the Crimea from Varna on the Black Sea to join in a war to prevent Russia from taking over the moribund Ottoman Empire. It was the start of perhaps the bloodiest and nastiest war ever fought by British troops before the Great War of 1914. The Crimeanaras a catalogue of incompetence, unnecessary bloodshed both human and animal and virulent diseases. The names Balaclava, Inkerman, Alba and Sebastopol will be indelibly enshrined in our history Incompetence there was, certainly, but there was also heroism and courage beyond belief. We hear of that famous (or infamous) trio Lords, Raglan, Lucan and Cardigan and learn about the famous charge of the Light Brigade, immortalised by Tennyson. The 7th Earl of Cardigan was an impossibly arrogant, vain and intolerant man yet someone we have to admire for his undoubted chivalrous selfless courage as he led his brigade (as the result of an erroneous order) into the ‘Valley of Death’ and back again. He and his superior officer and brother-in-law Lucan hated each other which did not help. Raglan was not the best man for the post of Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary army to the East. Although brave and determined, he lacked the qualities of his hero Wellington. Fanny professed to ‘hate’ Cardigan but as she got to know him better and for his kindness to her, ended up as an admirer. It has been suggested that she became his mistress but that is unlikely as she loved and protected her husband like a mother hen, hardly leaving his side.

Fanny spent the whole war in the Crimea supporting Henry and in the process suffering appalling hardships herself and having to be in close contact with dead, dying and mutilated soldiers not to mention the smashed bodies of countless horses and even camels. All of this is described in detail in her diaries. She had brought her own horse to the field of battle – her beloved ‘Bob’ who also suffered from cold and starvation and figures largely in this sad saga. Here feminists can reasonably complain. By enduring endless hardships throughout the whole campaign Fanny was never offered the medal which the men earned and which she undoubtedly deserved. That was unforgivable male chauvinism.

Cholera and other deadly diseases caused more deaths than bullets and shells. Fanny records in detail the terrible weather they all had to endure. The cold was cruel and she and the soldiers were not provided with enough warm garments. On the other hand, Cardigan (typically) forbade some patrols to wrap their cloaks round them at night because it was ‘effeminate’! Then in contrast the summer heat was almost as unbearable. These huge contrasts were reflected in day-to-day life. At one moment Fanny and Henry were ground down by the unspeakable conditions. Then, in better weather, Fanny records how she and her husband’s fellow officers indulged in hunting and socialising, complete with excellent cuisine, not to mention champagne. They certainly deserved these pleasant interludes. The Countess of Errol, who accompanied her husband for a while, had a lady’s maid and a foreign cook. The late Lady Errol (‘Puffin’) had a life-sized painting of her forebear’s horse in the dining room at Easter Moncreiffe. Fanny usually managed to have a cook and complained bitterly if one left her.

Fanny also wrote many letters home, mainly to her sister Selina, which complement the diaries. She writes in March 1855 ‘We gave our first dinner party on Tuesday and had excellent soup, fish and hashed venison and roast venison and a brace of woodcocks…’

At one point, after describing her witnessing the results of shell fire she goes on to tell us that on the next day they competed with the French troops with some primitive steeple chasing.

Sometimes they lived in freezing tents but at other times Fanny was lucky enough to be offered a cabin in one of the moored vessels. Whatever was happening and wherever she was Fanny had clothes problems. She desperately wanted some new warm garments and was forced eventually to wear ‘trowsers’ which caused much unfavourable comment in some quarters. Eventually she writes home ‘A Zouave [French Algerian] tailor is coming to make me a new riding body of light blue cloth, embroidered in black. I have a lovely drab hat and feather which Captain Agar brought me from Constantinople’. In the same breath she mentions Tennyson’s famous poem about the Charge which she describes as ‘rotten trash’.

They seemed to get on with the French troops who were allies. Sometimes she was privately rather snooty about them although pointing out how much more ordered and efficient the ‘frogs’ were in comparison with our own shambolic lot.

Although one of the very few women amongst countless men, an extremely attractive one, she always recorded how gallant, polite and kind they all were to her. How very different from today! The troops themselves seemed to respect her and nicknamed her affectionately ‘Mrs, Jubilee’.

We nearly missed having these priceless diaries as Lord Raglan and Lord Lucan were emphatically against having ‘a lady’ in such perilous surroundings. They firmly refused Fanny permission to board ship to the Crimea. Such was her gallant spirit and determination to be with her husband that she managed to trick them. She appealed to Cardigan and that splendid fellow promised to turn a blind eye if she wanted to try. This she did by disguising herself as a peasant woman and, once aboard, it was difficult to get rid of her and the top brass had more pressing things on their minds.

Fanny’s prose was often elegant, even poetic at times, but she always realised that she might be killed at any moment. This she accepted philosophically. She quotes a proverb: ‘Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they will not be disappointed’.

She witnessed the spectacular Charge and later visited the “Valley of Death” where she saw one or two relics still lying about.

Roger Fenton, the acclaimed photographer, worked hard at his craft in the Crimea and photographed Fanny, mounted on ‘Bob’ with her husband Henry standing by. It is the only known portrait of her, and her features are vague and in profile. She mentions this in a letter home: ‘Bob and I and Henry [notice her priorities!] were photographed yesterday – a very good picture. It must have been taken on April 3rd 1855

At one point Fanny faints on her horse, but is rescued before she fell off. She writes home: “At last in agonies from pain of over fatigue, illness and excitement I was tumbled from my saddle and tumbled into bed where I have remained until now – but up to the Front again in an hour’s time – Oh that I were a man to take part in such magnificent deeds of wondrous courage and glorious self-sacrifice. What a woman.

As the war progressed the diary is filled with sadness as she seemed to have lost all the young and not-so-young officers who made friends with her and as the friendships blossomed their fleeting relationships were snuffed out by bullet or germ causing her considerable grief. She also records the death of Lord Raglan. She writes: ‘We are almost tempted to lose sight of the inefficient general, in the reflection of the kind-hearted gentlemanly man who had so hard a task.

Fanny Duberly’s journal was published in 1855. In 2007 Oxford University Press republished it with cleverly interpolated relevant letters she wrote home. It has been edited by Christine Kelly with a marvellous introduction and copious and helpful notes together with a biographical section.

Fanny and Henry survived the war and settled in Cheltenham. Henry died in 1891, Fanny in January 1903. Though born in the reign of George IV she could have survived until the 1920s.

Subscribe to access the full Salisbury Review Publication.
If you are already a subscriber, click here to download the latest publication.

Share This News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *