Sue Young Histories

Frances Isabella Duberly 1829 - 1903

December 16, 2008

Frances Isabella Duberly 1829 - 1903 was an adventurous soldier’s wife from the Crimean War and Sepoy Mutiny. Her husband, Captain Henry Duberly, was the paymaster to the 8th Royal Irish Hussars, part of the famed Light Brigade of Balaclava.

Frances Isabella Duberly was an advocate of homeopathy and a friend of George Augustus Frederick Paget.

Born Frances Isabella Locke in 1829, the daughter of a Wiltshire banker, Wadham Locke, she has been described as “a splendid rider, witty, ambitious, daring, lively, loquacious and gregarious”.

She certainly possessed the physical requirements and tough attitude required of her surroundings: “was awoke by the reveille at half past two; rose, packed our bedding and tent, got a stale egg and a mouthful of brandy, and was in my saddle by half past five.”

After the death of her mother in 1838, she moved to live with her eldest brother (also Wadham Locke) at Ashton Gifford House in Wiltshire. She left Ashton Gifford on her marriage in 1845 - which took place shortly after her brother had married for a second time.

She travelled with her husband to the Crimea in 1854 and stayed with him throughout his time there, despite the protests of commanders such as Lord Lucan.

As the only woman at the front lines, she was of course the center of much attention. She was told of planned attacks ahead of time, giving her the opportunity to be in a good position to witness them. Such was the case at the Battle of Balaclava, where her journey from camp to meet up with Henry and watch the battle took her quite close to the enemy.

Though her husband survived the day (being away on Staff duties), many of her friends did not: “Even my closed eyelids were filled with the ruddy glare of blood.”

Being so close to the front line in one of the first ‘modern’ wars, Mrs. Duberly differed from many of her compatriots back home in realizing the reality of it all; when her husband asked if she wanted to view the aftermath of the Battle of Inkermann she told him she could not: “The thought of it made me shutter [sic] and turn sick.”

Mrs. Duberly’s adventurous actions did not always sit well with society. She was pointedly snubbed at the Royal review of her husband’s regiment after the war.

The journal she published after the war originally had been intended with a dedication to Queen Victoria, but this was refused, much to her dismay.

Nonetheless she was popular with the troops (who nicknamed her ‘Mrs. Jubilee’) and many of the people back in England. Her published journal met with some success, and prints of a photo of her taken by Roger Fenton sold quite well.

Mrs. Duberly again accompanied her husband when the 8th Hussars were sent to India in

  1. There she stayed with him throughout his time campaigning during the final months of the Sepoy Mutiny. She was adamant about going along with the troops, she told her sister that she would “stain my face and hands and adopt the Hindoo caftan and turban…I ain’t going to stay behind.”

At Gwalior in 1858, while watching the start of a cavalry charge her horse sprung off with the rest and, instead of holding back, she told her husband “I must go!” and so she did.

She was undoubtedly a great friend of and supporter of her husband, who never seemed to be jealous of his wife as the center of attention in the all male environment of the Victorian Army in the field. Indeed, she saw Henry as “a friend I am obliged to support.”

Henry was suffering from heavy illness when the time came to go ashore in the Crimea, she told her sister that “Lord Cardigan intends him to land with the troops, but I don’t intend him to do so.”

Of course, the two had their differences of opinion on the nature of military service, when orders came from Lord Lucan for her to be put ashore in Constantinople she wrote that Henry “looks upon the order as a soldier; I as a woman, and laugh at it.”

She and her husband returned to England in 1864. The images she had seen on her campaigns stuck with her, and when asked to reminisce about what she had witnessed, she replied “those days are best forgotten.”

Nevertheless, her adventurous spirit remained; she complained to a nephew in 1896, “I cannot stand dullness for long, and life gets duller and duller as one gets older.” Seven years later she died, having reached the grand old age of 73.


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