By the time they married in 1902, Sir Frederick Lugard and Flora Shaw had emerged as two of the most dynamic figures of the late Victorian era. Lugard had enjoyed – or, sometimes, endured – a spectacularly wide-ranging military and administrative career: embarking on any number of exploratory journeys and fighting battles from Sudan to Burma, and various points in between. Africa, both east and west, had been the main arena of his endeavours, culminating in his appointment as the first governor-general of Nigeria. He had his share of tricky moments: he was once bitten by a crocodile in Kenya and, on another occasion, was obliged to deploy some ingenuity when meeting with the king of Buganda: his clothes were all in tatters apart from a pyjama top, so he applied some brass buttons to make things look a little smarter.
Flora Shaw’s life had been every bit as colourful. She had a rare talent for entering the orbits of, and usually impressing, eminent figures – from John Ruskin to Thomas Carlyle and from George Meredith to Robert Louis Stevenson. Her writing and reportage was much admired and took her to Canada, Australia and South Africa. The highpoint arrived in 1893 when she was appointed as colonial editor of The Times: the first time a woman had reached such dizzy journalistic heights.
O’Grady is impressed by the Lugard/Shaw double act, especially their joint efforts to lobby for their vision of how Britain’s African territories ought to be ruled. In any event, theirs was an effective and, above all, affectionate relationship. In her last note before her death, back home in England, Flora thanked her husband for the ‘last happy years... I want you never to remember anything but the joy and peace of it.’ They had both, after all, earned a rest.
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