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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Major

Dido Elizabeth Belle - Etienne Daly's Decade of Research

Updated: Mar 22

Etienne Daly has been researching the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle for a decade now. In that time, he has uncovered some fascinating facts to add to those already known.

Dido was biracial. Her father was Sir John Lindsey, KB, and her mother, Maria Belle, a slave. Sir John was a naval officer who reached the rank of Admiral. He was the first to captain HMS Victory, later Nelson’s flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar.

Lindsay was from an aristocratic family. His uncle was William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Lord and Lady Mansfield had no children of their own, but Dido, and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, lived at the Mansfield’s country estate, Kenwood House. There, behind closed doors at least, Dido was one of the family.

Following her marriage to a Frenchman, John Davinière, Dido moved to a house in Pimlico located not too far distant from Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace).

Etienne’s discoveries are interesting. For instance, he says that Dido was the only woman of colour to have a bank account in the 1790s, held at a leading bank near the City. Her marriage took place (by licence) in one of the most fashionable churches of her day, St George in Hanover Square.

There is one known and very intriguing portrait of Dido. Depicted alongside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth, Dido wears a richly decorated turban. Etienne hypothesises that this belonged to her father, Sir John Lindsay, given to him at his investiture as a Knight of the Bath in 1771, in India. Nawab Muhammad Ali Khan Wallajah conducted the ceremony on behalf of King George III. A contemporary newspaper report said that the Nawab presented Lindsay with a rich dress of gold brocade, made after the European manner with the star upon the left breast. There was also a gold ring with Persian titles engraved on it.[1]

Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray © Scone Palace

Etienne believes that the turban Dido wears was part of the Nawab’s gift to Sir John. Additionally, Etienne has commissioned new portraits of Dido. In a black and white sketch by Ian Sciacaluga, Dido wears this turban. The second is a colour miniature by Edwina Hannam. They are shown below.

Dido Elizabeth Belle by Ian Sciacaluga

Dido Elizabeth Belle by Edwina Hannam

Dido was buried, in 1804, at St George’s Fields, an overspill burial ground belonging to St George’s, Hanover Square. Unfortunately, the site was cleared in 1969 to make way for housing. Only a small area survives, part of the ‘first-class’ plots where it is known that Dido was buried. However, without further research, it is impossible to determine further but Etienne believes that she lies in the undisturbed portion of the site, now fenced off to the public.

[1] General Evening Post, 14-17 September 1771.


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