Alexander, Cecil Frances (1818–95), hymn-writer, known in her family as Fanny, was born in Eccles St., Dublin, second daughter (and third among seven children) of John Humphreys and Elizabeth Frances Humphreys (née Reed). Her mother's brother was Thomas Reed (1796–1883), a general during the Indian mutiny; her father had been a major in the Royal Marines, and became land agent to the earl of Wicklow. The family moved to Ballykeane House, Co. Wicklow, when Fanny was seven, and when John Humphreys was appointed agent to the 2nd marquess of Abercorn (qv) they moved to Milltown House, Strabane, Co. Tyrone. Fanny wrote poetry from an early age. She was influenced by the Oxford movement, and collaborated with Lady Harriet (or Harriott) Howard (d. 1846), daughter of Lord Wicklow, in writing tracts. She did charitable work, helping to found, for instance, the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb in Strabane. She published (1846–9) several volumes of religious verse, including hymns, many of which became very well known. ‘Once in royal David's city’, ‘There is a green hill far away’, ‘All things bright and beautiful’, and ‘I bind unto myself today’, are among those which have enjoyed a lasting popularity. Hymns for little children, first published in 1848, appeared in at least sixty-nine editions, possibly close to a hundred. She wrote other verse, including the striking ‘Legend of Stumpie's Brae’; a ballad in Ulster-Scots dialect, which impressed Lord Tennyson.
She married (15 October 1850) William Alexander (qv), rector of Termonamongan, Co. Tyrone, and later Church of Ireland bishop of Derry and Raphoe, and continued her charity work among the poor people around her. She died 12 October 1895 at the palace in Derry, and was buried in the city cemetery. Her husband published (1896) an edition of her poems, with a biographical preface. Her elder son Robert Jocelyn Alexander won poetry prizes at Oxford. He was drowned (October 1918) when the RMS Leinster was torpedoed in the Irish Sea. One of her two daughters, Eleanor Jane Alexander (1857–1939), called ‘Nell ’ at home, was born 28 February 1857 in the rectory, Fahan, Co. Donegal. She was educated at home and, after several disappointing love affairs, remained unmarried and later kept house for her widowed father. A delegate from Armagh to the first meeting of the Women's National Health Association of Ireland (April 1908), she was awarded the MBE (1918) for war work, having been in charge of an auxiliary military hospital. She was also a Lady of Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and a magistrate in Middlesex. She edited her father's autobiography, published with additional material as Primate Alexander (1914), and also wrote novels: Lady Anne's walk (1903) includes a good rendition of Ulster dialect, and The rambling rector (1904) and The lady of the well (1906). Some of her verse was published in the Spectator, The Times, and elsewhere, and she was a member of the Irish Literary Society in London. She was granted apartments in Hampton Court palace, London, and died 3 June 1939.