Ethel Brilliana Tweedie

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Ethel Brilliana Tweedie
Mrs Alec Tweedie (1862-1940), by Herbert Gustave Schmalz.jpg
Mrs Alec Tweedie (1862-1940) (Herbert Gustave Schmalz), 1894)
Born Ethel Brilliana Harley
London, England
Died 15 April 1940
London, England
Nationality United Kingdom
Occupation author
Known for travel books

Ethel Brilliana Tweedie F.R.G.S. (1862–1940) was a prolific English author, travel writer, biographer, historian, editor, journalist, photographer and illustrator. She wrote as Mrs. Alec Tweedie, Mrs. Alec-Tweedie and as Ethel B. Harley.[1]

Early life[edit]

Ethel Tweedie was born 1 January 1862 in London, the daughter of George Harley F.R.S. and Emma Jessier (Musprat) Harley, into an early life of wealth and privilege. Her siblings included a sister (Olga) and three brothers (Vaughan B., Vernon De V. and Harold S.), She was named by her father for a famous relative, Lady Brilliana Harley (wife of Sir Robert Harley, of Brampton Bryan). She was educated at Queen's College, London, and abroad in Germany.

In 1886 she visited Iceland on holiday with her brother Dr. Vaughan B. Harley, M.D., her future husband Alexander (Alec) Tweedie, a woman friend, and two other men.[2] At the suggestion of her father, she kept a journal of her travels and published it afterwards as her first book, A Girl's Ride in Iceland' in 1895.[1][3]

Following a telegram warning of the sudden serious illness of her brother in Christiania, Norway in 1893, she and her sister travelled to see him.[4] She returned to Norway again within two years, then later published her second book A Winter Jaunt to Norway: with Accounts of Nansen, Ibsen, Bjornson, Brandes, and Many Others outlining her travel experiences and meetings with a number of famous people while abroad.

Author, photographer, painter[edit]

Tweedie's extensive bibliography spans the years from 1889 to 1936. Though she may be best known as a travel writer today, her works also include a biography of her father (George Harley, F.R.S. The Life of a London Physician (1899)), some works that are essentially a layperson's studies in early 20th century ethnography (Cremation the World Around (1932) and America As I Saw It; Or, America Revisited (1913)), and a great number of short works published for the London popular press. After 1912 her works became more autobiographical.[1]

She was a photographer, a prolific painter and a watercolorist; her published works included her own sketches and paintings. Returning from a two-year journey in the Near East, she exhibited 300 watercolour sketches in 1921 at the Alpine Gallery in London,[1] and continued with other exhibitions and one-woman shows over following years.

Tweedie was an early and enthusiastic advocate of women's rights and women's suffrage. She felt strongly that families should provide early safeguards for both boy and girl children (an unusual sentiment for her times) for their education and upbringing.

She served on many charitable committees; she was a life governor of University College Hospital and St. Mary's Hospital.[1]

Family life[edit]

In 1887 she married Alexander Leslie Tweedie a marine insurance broker born in India. They lived happily and had two sons. Sadly, he died suddenly nine years later, 25 May 1896, killed by the shock and responsibilities of the financial disaster that followed the catastophic failure of his marine insurance syndicate. A few weeks later her father also died, leaving her nothing of his estate. She was essentially destitute, with two young boys to raise. With no capital to draw from and no other means of income, she turned to writing, relying on her writing skills and publishing contacts made during earlier, happier times.

She wrote for the popular press in London when possible. She wrote books based on her journeys, including detailed and fascinating portraits of famous people she met abroad. She travelled widely and wrote of peoples in lands that were not usual British or European holiday destinations. She continued to write and publish even after her boys reached their majority and moved away. She settled into a life of international travel and reflection, continuing to write and publish until only a few years before her death in 1940.

Her son Leslie Kinloch Tweedie (11 January 1890 – 17 January 1916) died in the first world war; her eldest son Harley L. Alexander Tweedie (6 May 1888 – 1926) died in an aircraft accident while serving with the Royal Air Force in Transjordan.[5]

She died in London, 15 April 1940 aged 78.[1]

Related Information[edit]

The website The Tweedie Archive [1] hosts more information on Tweedie (Tweedy) genealogy. The website Hanson Acutioneers[2] includes an undated photograph of her in later years, as well as information on an estate sale of her possessions.

NORA (the Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research) [Vol. 17, No. 4, 273-288, December 2009] published an interesting study of her travels in the North in "Europe's Northern Periphery and the Future of Women in the Travel Narratives of Ethel Tweedie" [3].


Novels and longer works[edit]

  • A Girl's Ride In Iceland (1889)
  • The Oberammergau Passion Play (1890)
  • A Winter Jaunt To Norway: with Accounts of Nansen, Ibsen, Bjornson, Brandes, and Many Others (1894)
  • Wilton, Q.C.; Or, Life in a Highland Shooting-Box (1895)
  • Danish versus English Butter-Making (1895)
  • Through Finland In Carts (1897)
  • The First College Open To Women: Queens College, London: Memories and Records of Work Done, 1848–1898 (1898)
  • George Harley, F.R.S.; or, The Life of a London Physician (1899)
  • Mexico As I Saw It (1901)
  • Behind The Footlights (1904)
  • Sunny Sicily: Its Rustics and Its Ruins (1904)
  • Porfirio Diaz: Seven Times President of Mexico (1906)
  • Porfirio Diaz: The Maker Of Modern Mexico (1906)
  • Hyde Park: Its History And Romance (1908)
  • Thirteen Years of a Busy Woman's Life (1912)
  • America As I Saw It; Or, America Revisited (1913)
  • Busy Days: A Birthday Book (1913)
  • Women the World Over: A Sketch Both Light and Gay, Perchance Both Dull and Stupid (1914)
  • My Table-Cloths; A Few Reminiscences (1916)
  • Mexico: From Diaz To The Kaiser (1917)
  • Women And Soldiers (1918)
  • A Woman On Four Battle-Fronts (1919)
  • Mainly East (In Prose – Perhaps Prosey) (1922)
  • An Adventurous Journey: Russia-Siberia-China (1926)
  • Me and Mine: A Medley Of Thoughts And Memories (1932)
  • Cremation the World Around (1932)
  • Manchuria, Japan and China: water colour drawings by Mrs. Alec-Tweedie (1932)
  • Tight Corners of My Adventurous Life (1933)
  • My Legacy Cruise (the Peak Year of My Life) (1936)
  • The Preface to Prescott's History of Mexico (?)
  • A Chat With Dr. Nansen (?)

Essays and shorter works[edit]

  • Women and War Economy (April 1916, The English Review VolumeXXII No 4)


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Obituary – Mrs. Alec-Tweedie" (Obituaries). The Times (London). Tuesday, 16 April 1940. (48591), col F, p. 9.
  2. ^ A Girl's Ride in Iceland. Horace Cox, Windosr House, London. 1895. p. 3. 
  3. ^ Supplemental Volume II. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 1901. p. 393. 
  4. ^ Thirteen Years of a Busy Woman's Life. John Lane, The Bodley Head, London. 1912. p. 49. 
  5. ^ Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Second Lieutenant Leslie Kinloch Tweedie, Royal Field Artillery

External links[edit]