Shaw, Flora (1852–1929), Lady Lugard , journalist, was born in December 1852 in Kimmage, Co. Dublin, third among fourteen children of Gen. George Shaw and his wife, Marie de la Fontaine, daughter of the governor of Mauritius. Gen. Shaw was stationed at Woolwich, England, but the family spent every summer in Kimmage at the estate of their grandfather, the former tory MP Sir Frederick Shaw (qv). Flora was educated at home and helped in running the household, as her mother was an invalid who died in 1870. Gen. Shaw remarried two years later; his second wife was unsympathetic and Flora spent much time visiting her aunt in France and acting as housekeeper to friends. Her income from her father was limited, and in 1877 she wrote a children's novel, Castle Blair. Set in an Anglo-Irish estate (Kimmage), it has a juvenile hero, aiding a plot to free tenants from the English agent, but finally regretting his actions and looking forward to a future as a paternal landlord. This set the tone of all future writings; her sense of the responsibilities due from the ruling classes was extremely developed. Castle Blair was action-packed and went into numerous editions, but the publishers made all the money. She was, however, asked to write for a children's magazine, Aunt Judy's, which serialised two more novels, Hector (1882) and A sea change (1885). These continued the theme of rebellious boys being converted by virtuous girls.
While writing, she lived with friends in London and carried out charity work in the East End slums. This awakened her strong social conscience; she was serious-minded and wanted a wider stage than that offered by children's books. Her solution for overcrowding and poverty was emigration to Britain's colonies, which she believed should be expanded as much as possible. From 1883 she rented a cottage in Abinger, Surrey, which was to become her permanent home when in England; there she met the novelist George Meredith, who introduced her to W. T. Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, who promised to publish her letters from Gibraltar and Morocco, where she was to holiday in the winter of 1886–7. In Gibraltar she got her scoop: an interview with Zebehr Pasha, a notorious former ruler of Sudan and a slave-trader who was being kept as a political prisoner by the British. Shaw's articles in the Pall Mall Gazette (June 1887) and her fuller treatment in the Contemporary Review (September–November 1887) presented Zebehr in a sympathetic light. It is possible that they contributed to his release. They revealed Shaw as a natural journalist with a trenchant style, an eye for detail, and – what was to become her hallmark – impeccable research. She had found her calling. The following winter she was in Egypt as the accredited correspondent for the Pall Mall Gazette and the Manchester Guardian. Her articles were incisive, with an excellent grasp of politics and finance. Back in England she continued to write on mainly colonial subjects, and in May 1889 was sent to Brussels to cover the international anti-slavery conference for the Manchester Guardian. The following year she was taken on by The Times to write a fortnightly article. Her first assignment was to South Africa, where she wrote back vivid descriptions of mining and agriculture and argued that Dutch land interests should be reconciled with English commercial enterprise. Her articles were highly successful and she was next sent to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
Her father died in 1893, leaving her stepmother and sisters poorly provided for. Shaw therefore took on the support of three younger sisters, with whom she lived in Cambridge St., Warwick Square, London, for the next eight years. She also gave financial aid to two more sisters and their children, and was able to do this as from 1894 she was made colonial editor of The Times with an annual salary of £800, higher than any other woman journalist of her day. Shaw was a frequent visitor at the colonial office, where she carried out research, and she also benefited from well placed contacts around the world. One of these was Cecil Rhodes, for whom she had abiding admiration. Her influence on public opinion was high: in January 1897 she coined the term ‘Nigeria’ to designate the territories under the jurisdiction of the Royal Niger Company. The extent of her involvement in imperial politics was dramatically exposed in summer 1897 when she was called before a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the ‘Jameson raid’, a military incursion into the Transvaal in 1895, led by Dr Leander Starr Jameson, a friend of Rhodes and a British administrator in Rhodesia. Shaw was believed to be the go-between of Rhodes and the colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, in a plot to bring about full-scale British intervention. The credibility of The Times was also called into question, but Shaw acquitted herself with great dexterity and refused to implicate either her paper or the colonial office. A slight, elegant figure, who always dressed fashionably in black and was very good-looking, she used her charm against the committee, which feared to interrogate a woman. Emerging with her reputation intact, she immediately set off for Canada, where her uncovering of official corruption in the Klondyke led to a full-scale investigation by the Canadian government.
However, The Times editor, G. E. Buckle, distrusted her after the Jameson affair, and she seems to have suffered in 1898 from unrequited love for Sir George Goldie (1846–1925), head of the Royal Niger Company. This contributed to a breakdown in health and in 1900 she resigned from The Times. Two years later in Madeira she married (11 June 1902) Sir Frederick Lugard (1858–1945), high commissioner of Northern Nigeria, and found an outlet for her imperialism in helping promote his career. She proved unable to cope with the climate in Nigeria so returned to England, where she wrote the 500-page A tropical dependency (1905), which outlined her view that autocracy was more suitable for tropical Africa than self-government. Lugard was appointed governor of Hong Kong in 1907 and his wife proved a valuable asset. Despite serious illness she travelled widely in Japan and China, gaining support to establish the university of Hong Kong. Lugard returned to Nigeria in 1912 with the mandate to amalgamate the north and south protectorates, and Lady Lugard remained in England, where she turned her attention to the Home Rule crisis. Didactic as ever, she wrote to Edward Carson (qv) that the king should refuse to sign the home rule bill without an appeal to the country, and that the unionist petition should then be printed in every newspaper in the empire. In July 1914 she attended an Orange demonstration in Belfast and then began preparing for civil war by organising with the Ulster Unionist Council to evacuate women and children from danger areas. With the outbreak of war she smoothly transferred her evacuation plans to Belgium. As a member of the War Refugees Committee, she arranged Belgian children's transport to London, and in 1916 was awarded the DBE. After her husband's return from Nigeria in 1919, they retired to Abinger, where she died on 25 January 1929.
Shaw was exceptional among women of her time in the successful career she made in a profession dominated by men, and in her influence on the public. As colonial editor of The Times she played a leading role in legitimising Britain's imperialist agenda. Her articles were well researched, well written, and passionate; however, she was not above propaganda and her judgement was not always acute – she believed in the authenticity of the Pigott (qv) letters and after a visit to South Africa in 1901 she concluded that rumours of concentration camps were unfounded. In person she was energetic, generous, charming, and good at making friends, although Mary Kingsley noted that ‘she has got imperialism in place of ordinary human feelings or religion or sympathy or chivalry’ (Callaway & Helly, 79).