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Flora Louisa Shaw was born in Woolwich where her father was stationed. She began her career in journalism in 1886 and was sent by the Manchester Guardian newspaper as the only woman reporter to cover the Anti-Slavery Conference in Brussels.
In 1892 The Times sent her to Southern Africa. Her belief in the positive benefits of the British Empire infused her writing. As a correspondent for The Times, Shaw sent back 'Letters' during 1892-93 from her travels in South Africa and Australia. Writing for the educated governing circles, she focused on the prospects of economic growth and political consolidation of these self-governing colonies within an increasingly united British Empire, a vision largely blinkered to the force of colonial nationalisms and local self-identities.
These lengthy articles in a leading daily newspaper reveal a late-Victorian era metropolitan imagery of colonial space and time. Shaw projected vast empty spaces awaiting energetic English settlers and economic enterprise. Observing new landscapes from a rail carriage, for example, she selected images which served as powerful metaphors of time and motion in the construction of racial identities. Her appointment as Colonial Editor for The Times allowed her to travel throughout the British Empire.
A little known aspect of her prominent career was that when she first started writing for The Times, she wrote under the name of F. Shaw, trying to disguise the fact that she was a woman. Later she was so highly regarded, it didn't matter and she wrote openly as Flora Shaw, and she was regarded as one of the greatest journalists of her time, specialising in politics and economics.
Between 1878 and 1886 she wrote five novels, four for children and one for young adults. The first, Castle Blair, was extremely popular in the UK and US well into the 20th century. It was based on her own Anglo-Irish childhood experiences. The critic John Ruskin called Castle Blair "'good and lovely, and true'". Shaw also wrote a history of Australia for children.
Flora Shaw was close to the three men who most epitomised empire in Africa: Cecil Rhodes, George Goldie and Frederick Lugard. In 1902 she married the colonial administrator, Sir Frederick Lugard, who was Governor of Hong Kong (1907–1912) and Governor-General of Nigeria (1914–1919); they had no children. While they lived in Hong Kong she helped her husband to establish the University of Hong Kong.
Naming of Nigeria
In an essay, which first appeared in The Times on 8 January 1897, she suggested the name "Nigeria" for the British Protectorate on the Niger River. In her essay Shaw was making a case for a shorter term that would be used for the "agglomeration of pagan and Mahomedan States" that was functioning under the official title, "Royal Niger Company Territories". She thought that the term "Royal Niger Company Territories" was too long to be used as a name of a Real Estate Property under the Trading Company in that part of Africa. What is important in Shaw’s article was that she was in search of a new name and she coined "Nigeria" in preference to such terms as "Central Sudan" that was associated with some geographers and travelers. She thought that the term "Sudan" at this time was associated with a territory in the Nile basin.
She then put forward this argument in The Times of 8 January 1897 thus: "The name Nigeria applying to no other part of Africa may without offence to any neighbours be accepted as co-extensive with the territories over which the Royal Niger Company has extended British influence , and may serve to differentiate them equally from the colonies of Lagos and the Niger Protectorate on the coast and from the French territories of the Upper Niger."
In 1905 Shaw wrote what remains the definitive history of Western Sudan and the modern settlement of Northern Nigeria.
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