Lady Hester Stanhope – Queen of the desert

I was looking through the fossil fish collection yesterday and came across an exciting find. On the back of one of the specimens was written the name Sir Joseph Banks 1816/17.

Specimen from Lebanon sent by Lady H Stanhope Sir Joseph Banks 1816.17

The early date and the importance of Sir Joseph Banks made me think it would be exciting to investigate a little further. Also mentioned was the name Lady H. Stanhope.

I didn’t get too far with Joseph Banks because  it seems that after 1805 he had lost the use of his legs, so it seems unlikely he would have collected the fossil fish. I then went on to look into Lady Hester Stanhope and it seems she led a remarkable life!

Lady Hester Stanhope

It seems she became dissatisfied with London Society life and left for the eastern Mediterranean in 1810, eventually settling in the Lebanon in 1818. This is absolutely remarkable as it was unheard of for a woman to undertake this sort of trip in the early 1800s.

I feel I have only scratched the surface of this story, so I’ll keep investigating. I’m not too sure what the link to Sir Joseph Banks is yet, but I think he might have been a friend of the family. If you have any extra pieces of the jigsaw, please let me know.

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4 Responses

  1. I’ve found a nice blog post about Lady Hester Stanhope at: http://alturl.com/wsvph

  2. I believe the Banks family were connected with the manor of Walmer

    “Mr. James Hugessen, of Dover, who died possessed of it in 1637, and in his descendants it continued down to WilliamWestern Hugessen, esq. of Provenders, who died in 1764, leaving three daughters his coheirs; the youngest of whom, Sarah, died unmarried, and under age, in 1777; upon which the two remaining daughters and coheirs became entitled to it, of whom Dorothy married Sir Joseph Banks, bart.”

    Hester lived at Walmer Castle from 1802-1805 acting as the hostess for her Uncle William Pitt the Younger, it may be that during that time she met Sir Joseph Banks. If during her time in the middle east, she had found or been given a fossil she would have remembered her friend Sir Joseph. As she was highly intelligent woman, who unusually for the time, did not see her sex as a bar to the kind of social interaction with “the great men” of letters and science, normally associated with the men if her class.

  3. Joseph Banks and Hester Stanhope were first cousins once removed. The families were in close touch. The childless Banks left his estate in Lincolnshire to Hester’s brother.

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