Flora Shaw

(19/12/1852 - 25/01/1929)

Today is the 171st anniversary of the birth of Dame Flora Louise Shaw, Lady Lugard, DBE (19 December 1852 – 25 January 1929), as a prominent figure in British journalism and literature, with a legacy that extends to the realm of diplomacy and nation-naming.

Born in London(some suggest Kimmage) into a family of fourteen children, Flora was the daughter of Captain (later Major General) George Shaw and Marie Adrienne Josephine Desfontaines, a Mauritian native. She spent many of her summers in the Kimmage estate of her grandfather Frederick Shaw and wrote a children’s novel Castle Blair set in Kimmage.

In her early career, from 1878 to 1886, Flora Shaw, writing under the pseudonym F. Shaw, delved into literature, crafting five novels that included works for both children and young adults. Her novels, characterised by a traditional framework, emphasised the virtues of resourcefulness and bravery in young girls, within the context of supporting “gentlemanly” fathers and prospective husbands. Notably, her first novel, “Castle Blair,” set in Kimmage, garnered international acclaim, being translated into several languages and remaining popular well into the 20th century.

Transitioning to journalism, Shaw seized an opportunity during her stay in Gibraltar in 1886, where she reported on Zebehr Pasha, a slaver and former governor of Sudan. Her articles purportedly played a role in his release. Subsequently, she contributed to esteemed publications such as The Pall Mall Gazette and the Manchester Guardian. In 1889, she joined The Times as the Colonial Editor, becoming the highest-paid woman journalist of her time.
Shaw’s journalistic prowess took her on extensive travels, covering events such as the Brussels Anti-Slavery Conference in 1889–90 and journeys to Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Her writings for The Times, marked by a fervent belief in the positive impacts of the British Empire, envisioned economic growth and political consolidation within the empire. She adeptly projected a late-Victorian metropolitan imagery of colonial space and time, emphasising vast empty spaces awaiting English settlers.

Her most notable contribution, however, came in 1897 when, writing for The Times, she suggested the name “Nigeria” for the British Protectorate on the Niger River. In her essay, Shaw argued for a shorter and more practical term, coining “Nigeria” to replace the cumbersome “Royal Niger Company Territories.” This suggestion, born out of her keen insights into the geopolitical landscape, remains an enduring legacy, as Nigeria adopted this name and became a nation.

In 1902, Flora Shaw married Sir Frederick Lugard, a colonial administrator. She accompanied him during his service as the Governor of Hong Kong (1907–1912) and Governor-General of Nigeria (1914–1919). Renowned for her philanthropy during the First World War, she played a significant role in founding the War Refugees Committee.

Flora Shaw, Lady Lugard, received numerous accolades, including being appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 1918 New Year Honours. She passed away on 25 January 1929, leaving behind a remarkable legacy as a journalist, imperialist, and the woman who named Nigeria. Her influence on public opinion and the shaping of imperial narratives during a pivotal era in British history remains a testament to her enduring impact.

Person Photo
Connection with area: Lady Lugard , journalist born in Kimmage, Co. Dublin.