Fanny Duberly

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Captain and Mrs Duberly photographed in the Crimea by Roger Fenton in 1855

Frances Isabella ("Fanny") Duberly (27 September 1829 – January 1903) was an English soldier’s wife who published a journal of her experiences on campaign in the Crimean War and the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Her husband, Captain Henry Duberly, was paymaster to the 8th Royal Irish Hussars, part of the British light cavalry that took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Duberley's journal of her time in the Crimea was published as Journal Kept During the Russian War. It not only includes eye-witness accounts, but is also a record of gossip and rumours circulating in the British Army.

Early history[edit]

Born Frances Isabella Locke in 1829, the daughter of Wadham Locke, a Wiltshire banker, Duberly has been described as "a splendid rider, witty, ambitious, daring, lively, loquacious and gregarious." She seemed to possess the physical requirements and tough attitude required of her surroundings, saying that she "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.

Crimea[edit]

Duberly 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 officer's wife at the front, she was a centre of 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 comprehending the reality of war. When her husband asked if she wanted to view the aftermath of the Battle of Inkerman, she told him she could not as "the thought of it made me shutter [sic] and turn sick."

Duberly’s adventures 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 had originally been intended to have 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 people in England. Her published journal met with some success and prints of a photo of her taken by Roger Fenton sold quite well.

India[edit]

Duberly again accompanied her husband when the 8th Hussars were sent to India in 1856. She stayed with him throughout the final months of the Sepoy Mutiny. She was adamant about accompanying the troops on campaign and told her sister that she would "stain my face and hands and adopt the Hindoo caftan and turban," refusing to stay behind. At Gwalior in 1858, while watching the start of a cavalry charge, her horse ran after the rest and, instead of holding back, she told her husband "I must go!" and galloped away.

Married life[edit]

The Duberlys had no children. She was a great friend and supporter of her husband, who never seemed to be jealous of his wife as the centre of attention in the all-male environment of the British Army in the field. She described her husband as "a friend I am obliged to support." He was ill when the time came to go ashore in the Crimea and she told her sister that "Lord Cardigan intends him to land with the troops, but I don’t intend him to do so." The Duberlys had their differences of opinion on the nature of military service. When orders came from Lucan that she must be put ashore at Constantinople, she wrote that "Henry looks upon the order as a soldier; I as a woman, and laugh at it."

Later life[edit]

The Duberlys returned to England in 1864. She retained her campaign memories but, when asked to reminisce about what she had witnessed, she replied that "those days are best forgotten." Nevertheless, she retained her adventurous spirit and complained to a nephew in 1896 that "I cannot stand dullness for long, and life gets duller and duller as one gets older." She died at Cheltenham in 1903, aged 73.

Fiction[edit]

Fanny Duberly was played by Jill Bennett in the 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade. In this, she was wrongly depicted as having a sexual relationship with Cardigan, played by Trevor Howard.

She featured in two books about Harry Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser: Flash for Freedom! and Flashman at the Charge. In both of these, particularly the former, she is a target for Flashman's lust but he fails in his attempted seduction of her. Fraser introduces her, still Fanny Locke, as "a damned handsome eighteen with the shape of a well-developed matron." He remarks on her prettiness, fair hair and blue eyes as well as complimenting her on her riding skills: "she could ride, that girl." Flashman desires to have sex with her, opportunity allowing, and laments not being able to do so or at least to "give her tits a squeeze." Fraser has Flashman jealous of Duberly's husband, describing him in Flashman's words as a "muff" who, when on guard duty, sits outside the room "like a blasted water bailiff."

Mrs Duberly is mentioned in Queen Victoria's Bomb by Ronald Clark (1967). The story consists of the memoirs of Professor Franklin Huxtable whose invention of an ultimate weapon in the 1850s was supposed to make warfare impossible. The bomb is trialled in a remote part of India and resulted in the vaporising some unfortunate horses whose shadows were left as a permanent record burnt on the landscape.

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Rappaport, Helen. No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War. Arum, 2007.
  • Tisdall, E.E.P. Mrs. Duberly's Campaigns. New York: Rand McNally, 1963.