Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 1.djvu/284

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Burdett-Coutts
Burdett-Coutts
264


But Miss Burdett-Coutts's philanthropic efforts were not limited to England. Ireland early attracted her. There she characteristically sought to combine with relief of distress a permanent improvement of the conditions of life and industry amongst the poor. In 1862 Father Davis, the parish priest of Rathmore, co. Cork (now Baltimore), appealed to her for aid on behalf of the people of the south-west of Ireland, especially in the district of Skibbereen, Crookhaven, and the (Islands' (Cape Clear, Sherkin, Hare, and the Calves), which had never recovered from the sufferings of the famine years 1848 and 1849. She established large relief stores at Cape Clear and Sherkin. In 1863 she sent a party of emigrants from the district to Canada, and later on two other parties. She sought to create a demand in England for Irish embroidery and other cottage industries. Her chief work, however, was to revive and extend the fishing industry of the south-west coast. She advanced large-sums of money, on a well-devised scheme of repayment out of profits, to provide the fishermen of Baltimore and the Islands with the best fishing-boats that could be built, and fitted them with modern and suitable gear. In the course of five years the new fishing fleet of Baltimore was valued at 50,000l. Much of the capital was in tune repaid ; and Father Davis used all his influence to keep his parishioners scrupulously to their engagements. In 1884 she paid her first visit to the district and was everywhere welcomed with enthusiasm. With the assistance of Sir Thomas Brady she soon afterwards helped to inaugurate a fishery training school for 400 boys at Baltimore. The school was opened by her on 16 Aug. 1887, when she was received with bonfires on the wild hill-sides, and flags flew from every cottage down the coast from Queenstown to Baltimore. In the distressed 'congested' districts of the west of Ireland she also took a keen interest. In 1880 she offered to advance no less a sum than 250,000l. to the English government for the supply of seed potatoes, on the failure of the potato crop. The government after some hesitation decided to take the matter up themselves.

An ardent desire to spread civilisation and enlightenment led her to support liberally many schemes for the extension of British rule over savage lands. She largely aided the enterprise of her friend, Sir James Brooke [q. v.], who founded the kingdom of Sarawak, in Borneo, in 1842, long maintaining there a model farm for native training in agriculture; she gave generous aid to Robert Moffat and David Livingstone in their African exploration, and extended like support to (Sir) Henry Morton Stanley, who rescued Livingstone in 1871. From the doubts at first cast on Stanley's veracity in his accounts of his African experiences she defended him with spirit, and he became a devoted friend. In 1887 she actively encouraged Stanley's expedition in search of Emin Pasha, which led to the foundation of a new East African empire. On the Guinea coast she also exerted her beneficence from early life. She learned that the cotton industry was retarded there by want of appliances, and she introduced cotton-gins into Abeokuta (Southern Nigeria). There followed a large increase in both cotton culture and trade, which were mainly in the hands of the natives. The Alake of Abeokuta visited England in 1904, and thanked his father's benefactress personally for her gift. Other of her foreign benefactions included the provision of lifeboats for the coast of Brittany and the supplying of funds for the ordnance survey of Jerusalem. An offer to restore the aqueducts of Solomon, and so secure a regular supply of water for the poor population of the sacred city, was not accepted.

Meanwhile in 1871 Queen Victoria gave signal expression to the gratitude of the nation to Miss Burdett-Coutts for her many services by conferring a peerage on her under the title of Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate and Brookfield, Middlesex. This is the only instance of a woman being raised to the peerage in recognition of her personal worth and public achievement. An honour no less unique for a woman proceeded from the City of London, which conferred its honorary freedom on her on 18 July 1872. The freedom of the city of Edinburgh followed on 15 Jan. 1874. Various City companies paid her the same tribute, the Turners on 10 Jan. 1872, the Cloth-workers on 16 July 1873, the Haberdashers on 1 Nov. 1880, and the Coachmakers in 1894.

In 1877, during the Russo-Turkish war, the baroness made a strenuous effort to help the Turkish peasantry who were swept from their native villages in Roumelia and Bulgaria by the Russian advance. An eloquent appeal from her in the 'Daily Telegraph' of 13 Aug. 1877 led to the formation of the Turkish Compassionate Fund, to which she subscribed 2000l. Large contributions both in money,