Lord Francis Douglas

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Francis William Bouverie Douglas

Birthdate: (18)
Death: 1865 (18)
Immediate Family:

Son of Archibald Douglas, 8th Marquess of Queensberry and Caroline, Marchioness of Queensberry
Brother of John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry; Lord James Edward Sholto Douglas and Lady Florence Dixie

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About Lord Francis Douglas


Lord Francis William Bouverie Douglas (8 February 1847 – 14 July 1865) was a novice, British mountaineer. After sharing in the first ascent of the Matterhorn, he died in a fall on the way down from the summit.

Early life

Born in Scotland at Cummertrees, Dumfries, Douglas was the son of Archibald William Douglas, 8th Marquess of Queensberry and his wife Caroline, daughter of General Sir William Robert Clayton, Bt. (1786–1866), member of parliament for Great Marlow. He had an older sister, Lady Gertrude Georgiana Douglas (1842-1893); an older brother, John Sholto Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig (1844–1900), later the ninth Marquess of Queensberry; a younger brother, Lord Archibald Edward Douglas (1850–1938), who became a clergyman; and a younger brother and sister, the twins Lord James Douglas (d. 1891) and Lady Florence Douglas (1855-1905), who married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie, 11th Baronet.

In 1858, Douglas's father, Lord Queensberry, died in what was reported as a shooting accident, but his death was widely believed to have been suicide. In 1862, his mother, Lady Queensberry, converted to Roman Catholicism and took her children to live in Paris.

Douglas was educated at the Edinburgh Academy.

Triumph and death on the Matterhorn

See also: First ascent of the Matterhorn http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_ascent_of_the_Matterhorn

At the beginning of 1865, the Matterhorn was still unconquered, and more than one assault on it was planned. One such group consisted of Douglas, Edward Whymper, and their guide Peter Taugwalder. Whymper had already made several unsuccessful attempts on the mountain. On 5 July, this group made the second ascent (and the first by the north-north-west ridge) of the Ober Gabelhorn, a peak of 4,053 metres on the north-west side of the Matterhorn; also in July, Douglas made the first ascent of the nearby Unter Gabelhorn (3,391 m) with guides Peter Taugwalder and P. Inäbnit.

Hearing of a planned assault on the main peak by an Italian party, Douglas and Whymper joined forces with two other British climbers, Charles Hudson and Douglas Robert Hadow, and their guide Michel Croz.

At 4:30 a.m. on 13 July, a combined party of seven men, led by Whymper, set off for the Matterhorn under a clear sky: Whymper, Douglas, Hudson and Hadow, plus Taugwalder and son, and Croz. They climbed past the Schwarzsee to a plateau where they camped. Meanwhile, the Italians, led by Carrel, had camped at a height of about 4000 meters on the Lion Ridge.

On 14 July, Whymper's party proceeded to a successful first ascent by the Hörnli route. However, on the way down, Hadow fell, knocking down Croz, and also dragging Hudson and Douglas, connected by a rope. The four fell to their deaths on the Matterhorn Glacier 1,400 metres below. Three of the bodies lost were later found, but not Douglas's.

Whymper later described the deaths as follows:

“ Michael Croz had laid aside his axe, and in order to give Mr. Hadow greater security was absolutely taking hold of his legs and putting his feet, one by one, into their proper positions. As far as I know, no one was actually descending. I can not speak with certainty, because the two leading men were partially hidden from my sight by an intervening mass of rock, but it is my belief, from the movements of their shoulders, that Croz, having done as I have said, was in the act of turning round to go down a step or two himself; at the moment Mr. Hadow slipt, fell against him and knocked him over. I heard one startled exclamation from Croz, then saw him and Mr. Hadow flying downward; in another moment Hudson was dragged from his steps, and Lord Francis Douglas immediately after him. All this was the work of a moment. Immediately we heard Croz's exclamation, old Peter and I planted ourselves as firmly as the rocks would permit; the rope was taut between us, and the jerk came on us both as one man. We held, but the rope broke midway between Taugwalder and Lord Francis Douglas. For a few seconds we saw our unfortunate companions sliding downward on their backs, and spreading out their hands, endeavoring to save themselves. They passed from our sight uninjured, disappeared one by one, and fell from precipice to precipice on to the Matterhorngletscher below, a distance of nearly four thousand feet in height. From the moment the rope broke it was impossible to help them. So perished our comrades! For the space of half an hour we remained on the spot without moving a single step. ”

The rival party of Italian alpinists reached the Matterhorn's summit three days later.


The deaths of Douglas, Croz, Hadow and Hudson led to years of recriminations and debate, many blaming Whymper, others suggesting sabotage and even murder. The coroner in Zermatt (a hotelier) asked few searching questions, and the climbing fraternity was deeply divided over the matter until long after the deaths of all concerned. The incident is seen as marking the end of the Golden age of alpinism.

The Rev. Arthur G. Butler was inspired to defend the climbing of the Matterhorn in verse:

“ We were not what we are

Without that other fiery element—

The love, the thirst for venture, and the scorn

That aught should be too great for mortal powers. ” 

Two years after Lord Francis Douglas's death, his brother the Marquess of Queensberry achieved fame as the man who gave his name to the Marquess of Queensberry rules of boxing. Forty years on, as the father of Lord Alfred Douglas, he became the man who brought down Oscar Wilde. Their sister Lady Florence Dixie also came to public attention, as a traveller, war correspondent, writer and feminist. Their brother Lord James Douglas suffered for many years from depression and alcoholism, and in 1891 he killed himself by cutting his throat.

A book about the death of Douglas and his companions, The First Descent of the Matterhorn, by Alan Lyall, was published in 1997.

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Lord Francis Douglas's Timeline

Age 18