The British Empire Library

Britannia's Daughters: Women of the British Empire

by Joanna Trollope

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
Recently, there has been a wide and welcome upsurge in what had for long been a neglected aspect of Colonial Service life, namely the role, experience and perceptions of participant women. Joan Alexander, Rosemary Hollis, Sylvia Leith-Ross and Margery Perham, all have written studies, reminiscences or diaries reviewed here on other pages about the supportive role played by women (wives or otherwives, as an African colleague once expressed the alternatives!) in the building, maintenance and demolition of the British Empire. Several more memoirs are known to be in hand.

What Joanna Trollope has done is to research the lives and adventures of an astonishing number of astonishing daughters of the Victorian age who made their very positive mark on the British Empire. Honoria Lawrence, Florence Nightingale, Flora Shaw and the three Marys (Kingsley, Slessor, Curzon) are, of course, all there; so, too, are the less lionized, like the Strickland sisters, Catherine Parr Traill, Maud Diver, Isabella Bird, Flora Annie Steel, nurses and governesses and missionaries, administrators' wives and pioneering women without count. Each of us is bound to regret the absence of a favourite 'daughter of the Empire'. My own is Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Governor-General of Canada in the 1890s, whose reforming busybodiness earned her the tart sobriquet in Ottawa of 'the Governess-General' but who was really a bold spirit born fifty years before her time; while my wife's is each and every unnamed Colonial Service wife who, to quote two of Joanna Trollope's neat chapter titles, faced up to 'the supreme test of character' by opting for residence in 'no place to take a man'.

This well written book is enhanced by some splendidly apt quotations from contemporary Victorian verse and a large number of sepia photographs which cleverly add to its authenticity. Here is the remarkable story of those of Britannia's daughters who made their own incalculable contribution to Empire, an Empire which in turn offered them the opportunity to escape and embrace the opportunity for self-reliance and self-expression which the canons of Victorian propriety could not have allowed them at home.

British Empire Book
Joanna Trollope


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