Women have taken driving a car for granted for many years but it is easy to forget that in the early days of motoring in Great Britain it was regarded as a hazardous undertaking, not suitable for a woman.  As with having the right to vote and other male preserves.
The background to this story is that Louis Bazalgette had two elder sons, Joseph William (who sired my branch of the family) and John.  Most of John’s sons entered the army, the exception being George, who joined the Royal Marines Light Infantry.  There is a lot about George at this website http://www.royalengineers.ca/Bazalgette.html though there are some inaccuracies to be found there.   George is best known for commanding the British garrison on San Juan Island during its rather friendly dual occupation known as The Pig War.
In June 1870 George married Louise Seville, a lady 16 years his junior.  George died in 1885 and Louise outlived him by 23 years.  She must have been very fond of old George, though, because before her death, finding his burial plot too small for both of them, she had him dug up and moved to a larger plot, in which she finally joined him in 1918.
As a widow she may have found time on her hands, and her interest turned to the new sport of ‘automobilism’.  She was enough of a novelty that there were frequent articles in motoring magazines starting in 1899 about her intrepid journeys from London to far-flung places such as Essex.  She was also one of the few female entrants to the Automobile Club’s 1,000 Mile Trial in 1900.
An article in The Motor-Car Journal in September 1899 describes one such journey.

Mrs. Bazalgette, with a lady friend, has just concluded a pleasant trip on her Benz motor-car through Essex.  They were accompanied by a lad to clean and look after the car; but the outing fully demonstrated the capacity of ladies to go a-motoring and thoroughly enjoy it.  Leaving her house in Portman Square one day half an hour after noon Mrs. Bazalgette reached Chelmsford at 6.30 p.m., via Hatfield, through mile after mile of lovely lanes, and crossing two small rivers ere they reached Bishop Stortford on the way to their destination.  The only hindrances were the great harvest wagons that occupied most of the narrow lanes and necessitated stoppages here and there.  Among the other trips recently enjoyed by this expert lady-motorist have been runs to Henley, to Brighton, and to Oxford.  Most probably she will motor to Dover next week. These trips cannot fail to do much to popularise automobilism among the fair sex, who are being rapidly won to the seat of the motor car.”

An article in Louise’s own words, presumably transcribed from an address she delivered to the Automobile  Club, was reported in the Motor Car Journal in November 1899.

“Having been asked to speak at this meeting I do so in the hope that our gathering will lead to the formation of an Automobile Club the membership of which will be open to ladies as well as gentlemen, where ideas can be exchanged – ideas which may be a source of benefit and information concerning the use of motor-cars to all those interested in the new pastime.  I use the word “pastime” advisedly, in preference to “industry,” as I myself have little experience of automobilism except as a pleasure-giving pursuit.  The time surely has passed for gentlemen to object to ladies participating in their sports.  As I have owned and driven a Benz car for some three months, I have been especially asked to speak about lady motorists, and I think I can give the results of my practical experience, and present details that may be useful and interesting to those ladies and – may I dare say ? – gentlemen who want to know something of the subject.   My experiences may not be considered to be wide, for I have only driven a Benz Ideal and a Victoria, yet there are many gentlemen as well as ladies who have not progressed so far, and it is to them more especially that I address myself.  Before one can enjoy motoring as a pastime, one must have one’s own carriage, and I should recommend the purchase of a small, nexpensive
car of a good make.  Any well-built carriage will do for the first performance of an amateur,  even although its speed may be low, for it is generally undesirable to learn to drive on a vehicle constructed for great pace.  I have studied automobiles of almost every description for some
three or four years, so I have something to say concerning them.  I have travelled a great deal on my own car, and enjoyed more of the country than I at one time thought possible.  I generally do some-ten to fourteen miles per hour, visiting such places as Southsea, Brighton, Southampton,
Bedford and Norwich, and I have run swiftly on the high roads and wandered through the lanes of Kent, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Essex.  It is possible to drive a car with very little knowledge of machinery, if you have a skilled mechanic with you to help in case of a breakdown; but the lady motorist is in a much more happy frame of mind during her travels if she herself possesses knowledge of the mechanism of her automobile.  It is so much more enjoyable to really study and understand everything concerning the car you take an interest in.  You must not imagine that it is possible for any lady to acquire sufficient knowledge of the working parts of the driving machinery in a few days, or even months, but they should have the opportunity of studying it.  This is one of the main objects of the club we hope to form.
Many things may happen en route that may tax even the ingenuity of the expert, for some slight adjustment may be necessary, and the trouble must be diagnosed before the operation can be performed.  The lady motorist should at least know something about “short-circuiting.” ” back-shot,” “compression ” – as the doctor knows of a defective nervous system.  She should be able to detect whether the bearings are becoming heated, or the belt is slipping, for if it does it will have to be shortened, and the process of shortening is, to my mind, not beyond the powers of a woman.  Why the pastime of motoring is so interesting is that there is always something to be learned concerning the mechanism of the car.  Some experts maintain that no lady cares to start the driving wheel.  Why not?  The operation is perfectly easy—it requires skill rather than strength.  Indeed, the machinery of a motor is so delicate in its construction that very little force is necessary.  There is no sledge-hammer work.   The blacksmith might be able to do repairs under the direction of an expert engineer, but for my part I would prefer to leave my car in its damaged condition rather than trust it in the hands of the giant of the smithy.  I have driven my car some 2,000 miles, and have been most fortunate in not having experienced any mishap.   Yet the sceptics tell us of the dangers of the automobile!  But accidents may happen to the most expert and careful driver, for there is still much jealousy and prejudice to overcome.  These, however are only temporary, for the day will come when England will follow the lead of other countries, and horseless vehicles will be seen here, there, and everywhere – and probably nothing else!  Apart from the pleasure of motoring, some little consideration should be given to the profitable utilisation of the motor-vehicle.  If ladies are engaged in agricultural and horticultural pursuits, and find pleasant occupation in gardening, dairy-work, fruit culture, etc., why should they not with even greater dignity drive their produce to the markets?   Metropolitan dwellers revel in the delicious produce of the country, and if the motor-vehicle cheapens the transit of heavy loads, without the cost of reloading, the lady motorist can with hope look forward to the good times that are to come – and come they surely will – when ladies once discover how much enjoyment they can obtain from driving a motor-car.  That a great impulse will shortly be given to automobilism no one doubts;  but, like the boom in connection with cycling, it will not come until ladies take up the pastime; and the new club, the formation of which we have met to suggest, will do much to attain this end.”

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  1. I love the hint that ladies might one day drive long distance HGVs; Princess Anne would approve

  2. chasbaz says:

    She was a doughty old thing it appears.

  3. chasbaz says:

    She is somewhat eclipsed by the dashing Dorothy Levitt though – a fascinating character – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Levitt

  4. Louise Bazalgette says:

    Hello, my name is Louise Bazalgette and I am also an expert lady motorist!

  5. chasbaz says:

    Good to hear from you, Louise! I expect you don’t have to take along a lad to look after the vehicle though.

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