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Charles Dilke

Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke (1843 - 1911) was a British politician and writer. Dilke was educated at Cambridge and became a Liberal MP in 1868. Dilke’s political career blossomed, and he was Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs from 1880 until 1882, and admitted to the Privy Council in 1882. He was a specialist in foreign and colonial policy and was for many years the leading parliamentary authority on such. Dilke was widely expected to eventually become prime minister. In 1884 Dilke married Emilia Frances Pattison nee Strong, a widow. In 1886 he was named as co-respondent in a divorce case in which he was alleged to have seduced Virginia Crawford, wife of MP Donald Crawford, starting in 1882 when she was only 19 years of age. Although the case against Dilke was dismissed and he was awarded costs, nonetheless public doubts about his ‘respectability’ lingered, and were exacerbated by a smear campaign against him by the journalist W.T. Stead. Stead’s campaign against Dilke evidently continued for some time, with Schreiner commenting with some exasperation in an 1892 letter to Stead, “Forgive Dilke! It is a blot upon your soul!!”

Although his political career was badly damaged by the Crawford scandal, Dilke remained an active and respected parliamentary force regarding foreign and colonial policy and practice. He later played an important role in opposing the Draft South Africa Act in 1909. When the ‘black’ delegation led by Will Schreiner (at the request of the others) arrived in London in 1909 to protest against the Act, Will at Olive Schreiner’s instigation immediately began to work closely with Dilke who had done much to prepare the political way for Schreiner, and was a strong supporter of protecting and extending the black franchise in South Africa and also of opposing the assimilation of other ‘native territories’ into South Africa. During July 1909 Will Schreiner worked closely with Dilke, attempting to rally the support of key Liberal MPs and drafting amendments for Dilke to put before parliament as the Bill was debated. It is clear that it was in fact Olive Schreiner who originally arranged for Will Schreiner to meet Dilke when he travelled to Britain in 1892 (see Olive Schreiner BC16/Box1/Fold1/1892/12). Although there are no letters from Olive Schreiner to Dilke, one letter to his wife Emilia Dilke is extant which makes clear Schreiner’s support for Dilke and rejection of public gossip about him, while mentions in her letters indicate that some letters were exchanged between Schreiner and Dilke although none appear to have survived.

For further information see:
Roy Jenkins (2004) ‘Dilke, Sir Charles Wentworth, second baronet (1843-1911)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32824
Liz Stanley (2012, in progress) ‘“The Tone Of Things There I Fear Rather Hopeless”: Olive Schreiner, Will Schreiner, Charles Dilke and the 1909 Protest Against The Draft South Africa Act’ Quarterly Bulletin of the National Library of South Africa
Roy Jenkins (1968) Sir Charles Dilke: A Victorian Tragedy London: Collins
David Nicholls (1995) The Lost Prime Minister: A Life of Sir Charles Dilke London: Hamledon Press
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