Florence Ricardo/Bravo


Florence was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1845. She was the daughter of a rich Scottish industrialist, Robert Campbell, and his wife Ann Orr. The family owned extensive estates in both Australia and New Zealand. The family moved back to these islands when Florence was still a small child and they settled down at Buscot Park, a large mansion in Oxfordshire now owned by the National Trust.


At the age of 19 Florence married a young soldier, Alexander Ricardo, who came from a rich and influential family. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a violent alcoholic and she was bitterly unhappy. It was almost impossible to get a divorce from him – a reflection of the fact that women had few rights at this time. She left her husband despite the opposition of her father and sought help from a family friend, Dr. James Manby Gully, a famous doctor whose patients included Dickens, Darwin and Florence Nightingale.  After she had left her husband Florence, moved into Furzedown in early 1871 where she lived as a guest of her solicitor, Henry Brooke where she appears on the census for that year with her maid, Fanny Plascott. Henry Brooke and his wife lived in Brooklands, a large house which stood on a site which is now at the junction of Clairview Road and Brookview Road.  The actual house was pulled down in 1903 and the land was sold for building on: Clairview Road and Brookview Road were built from 1905 onwards.


It was around the time that she moved to Furzedown that Alexander died of drink and she was left a wealthy widow. Unfortunately she caused a scandal in Furzedown when she was caught by the Brookes in a compromising situation with Dr. Gully (the family friend who had helped her), a man in his 60s who was already married (though his wife was insane and living in a private asylum).


Whilst living in Furzedown she became friendly with a widow, Jane Cannon Cox, the daily governess to the BrookesÕ daughter. Florence moved with Jane as her companion to the Priory, a large white, painted, house on Tooting Common at the top of Bedford Hill, Balham.


After ending her affair with Dr Gully and in an effort to regain her family and respectability Florence married Charles Bravo a young barrister. Unfortunately he turned out to be a fortune hunter and a violent and mean bully.


His mysterious death in April 1876 turned out to be murder and Florence, Jane and Dr. Gully were the main suspects in arguably the most mysterious murder of the 19th century. Though nothing could ever be proved against Florence, in the opinion of the author of this piece, it is very unlikely she was guilty as she did not have the opportunity to administer or dispose of the poison. Florence died an alcoholic recluse two years later.   This was a terrible end for a beautiful and intelligent woman. She was undoubtedly a victim of the discrimination against women of that era.  Had she lived even 20 years later her life could have been different – not only was she was an intelligent woman, an expert in horticulture, who would have been able to study at university but the Married WomenÕs Property Act of 1882 would have given her complete control of her own property and after the Divorce Act of 1890 she could have left and divorced her husband.