Dorothy Nevill

Biography of Dorothy Nevill

Lady Dorothy Fanny Nevill (1 April 1826 London- 24 March 1913 London), was an English writer, hostess, horticulturist and plant collector.

She was one of five children of Horatio Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford and Mary Fawkener, daughter of William Augustus Fawkener, sometime envoy extraordinary at St Petersburg and close friend of Empress Catherine. She received no formal education, but was tutored by a governess in French, Greek, Italian and Latin.

In 1847, she was embroiled in a scandal when caught in a summerhouse with a notorious rake, George Smythe MP, heir to a peerage. Smythe refused to marry her, and her parents's actions and statements destroyed her reputation. In 1847 she married a cousin twenty years her senior, one Reginald Henry Nevill (d. 1878), a grandson of the 1st Earl of Abergavenny and produced six children, only four of whom survived beyond childhood. She travelled extensively and cultivated a large circle of literary and artistic friends, with a sprinkling of politicians, including James McNeill Whistler, Richard Cobden, Joseph Chamberlain and Disraeli, whom she greatly admired. She was however, never received by Queen Victoria.

In 1851 the Nevills acquired a large Sussex property, 'Dangstein' near Petersfield. Dorothy Nevill turned the estate garden into a horticultural landmark. Her exotic plants were housed in seventeen conservatories and were the subject of numerous articles in journals on horticulture. Through her plants she became friendly with both William and Joseph Hooker at Kew and supplied Charles Darwin with rare plants for his researches. She kept exotic birds and mammals on the estate, farmed silkworms and maintained a museum of her collections. After her husband's death, when he left all his money to their surviving children to curtail her expenditures, she moved to another of their estates, 'Stillyans' near Heathfield in Sussex.

She was a noted conversationalist - "The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place, but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment." - and leading society hostess, her salons attracting celebrities and politicians. She served on the first committee of the Primrose League and wrote a number of volumes of memoirs

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