Obituary: Patricia Cunninghame Graham

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CRUCIAL at the establishment and retention of the British Empire was a breed of indomitable, spunky women, of practical turn of mind and no-nonsense approach, cheerful in adversity, game for anything, able to cope, who married and gave children to the servants of the Empire, civilian and military. Such a one was Patricia Hanbury, most happily married for 57 years to Admiral Sir Angus Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore, Lord-Lieutenant of Dumbartonshire from 1955 to 1968, and a considerable persona, in her own right, in the life of Scotland until he died at the age of 88 in 1981.

Her generation remembered her with affection as one of the hostesses of the age, but always careful to bring together all sorts of people from various walks of life. She was the antithesis of a self-important snob.

Patricia Hanbury was one of three sisters and two brothers, a daughter of Lt-Col Lionel Hanbury, Commander of the 4th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment in France, 1914-17, who in 1920 became High Sheriff of the County of London. Patricia admired her father, a conventional Old Etonian of his time given to shooting and fishing, but also much more than that.

Hanbury sat under Lord Rayleigh FRS, Sir James Johnson Dobbie FRS and Chaston Chapman as a member of the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors. This concerned itself with claims by patentee vendors, inventor vendors, claims of existing patent and claims by persons employed in research. Throughout her life, spanning nearly a century, Patricia maintained that sense of curiosity about industry which had been passed on to her by her father and which facilitated her relationships with those involved in industry in the west of Scotland where her husband was to play such a prominent part.

Her maternal grandfather, who died in 1915 but in whose home she spent her teenage years during her father's absence on the battlefield in France during the First World War, was Henry Allhusen, who with his father, Christian Allhusen, was a pioneer of the chemical manufacturing industry setting up in embryo form in Newcastle upon Tyne and Teesside.

Allhusen had been elected as Conservative Member of Parliament for Salisbury by 147 votes at a by-election in January 1897 where the turnout had been 94.2 per cent. During what is in modern parlance a "chicken run" in 1900 he then became the Conservative Member of Parliament for Hackney Central with a comfortable majority, albeit he was to be swept away in the Liberal landslide of 1906. Allhusen imbued his granddaughter with a sense of service to the country.

In 1924 she married the then Lt-Cdr Angus Cunninghame Graham, nephew of R.B. Cunninghame Graham, the celebrated socialist, South American explorer and author of widely read books such as A Brazilian Mystic (1920), The Conquest of the River Plate (1924) and Jose Antonio Paez (1929), a study of one of the founders of modern Venezuela. "Don Roberto" greatly approved of his young niece-in-law and particularly of her sense of adventure.

Her husband Angus who had served as a midshipman in 1914 with the Grand Fleet after Osborne and Dartmouth rose rapidly and became the senior naval officer of the China station, 1936-38. Patricia Cunninghame Graham was able at first hand to to recount to people in Britain the horrors of the Japanese invasion of Mancuria and China. A cousin twice removed of myself, she would tell the family quietly and gently of exactly what had happened in those terrible years at the hands of the Japanese. She would also say that as the wife of a naval officer she supported righteous wars but that no one should think that they would be entitled to start unnecessary wars. Forty years later she told me that she was absolutely against military action against Argentina in the Falklands, on the grounds that it could have been avoided.

Her husband became the commanding officer of the Signal School on the outbreak of war on account of his technical ability which was unusual in a naval officer of that time. In 1941 a period of separation ensued when Cunninghame Graham became the captain, after repeated requests for a command at seas, of HMS Kent. He ended the war as the Commodore of the Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham and as an ADC to King George VI. His wife had the reputation of being as at ease with the Chatham naval wives and their problems as with the court circles in which her husband had moved since he was on the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert in 1912.

Cunninghame Graham became the Admiral Superintendent of Rosyth in 1947, and Flag Officer Scotland in 1950. In his retirement he did 13 years as Lord-Lieutenant of Dumbartonshire and as his Lady Patricia was involved in endless good work such as the Royal Naval Lifeboat Institution, the Earl Haig Fund and the Queen Victoria School in Dunblane.

A great deal of that time, too, was devoted to the Scottish National Trust in a period when it was a small and intimate organisation. She won golden opinions from those building up the properties of the National Trust at a time of great difficulty and few resources.

Tam Dalyell

Mary Patricia Hanbury: born Burnham, Buckinghamshire 9 July 1901; married 1924 Angus Cunninghame Graham (KBE 1951, died 1981; one son, one daughter); died Melrose, Roxburghshire 27 May 1998.