Dido Elizabeth Belle (1761-1804) was an illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman known as Belle. Very little is known about Belle except that she was biracial. Her daughter Dido was sent to live in the household of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, who was Lindsay’s uncle and thus Dido’s great-uncle.
Despite his revulsion for slavery, the social conventions of Mansfield’s household were discriminatory. Dido would not dine with the rest of the family, especially if they had guests, but joined the ladies for coffee afterwards in the drawing-room. As she grew older, she took responsibility for the dairy and poultry yards at Kenwood, and she also helped Mansfield with his correspondence - an indication that she was fairly well educated. The running of the dairy and poultry yard would have been a typical occupation for ladies of the gentry, but helping her uncle with his correspondence was less usual, since this was normally done by a secretary or a male clerk. Dido also received an annual allowance of £30 10s, several times the wages of a domestic servant; by contrast, Elizabeth received around £100, but she was after all an heiress in her own right, and Dido, quite apart from her race, was illegitimate in a time and place when great social stigma usually accompanied such status.
When Dido’s father died without legitimate heirs in 1788 he left £1000 to a son, and £1000 to his other illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Lindsay or Palmer (born c. 1765) who lived in Scotland, asking his wife Mary to take care of her. Mary Lindsay’s will does not mention Dido or Elizabeth Lindsay. Lord Mansfield left Dido £500 as an outright sum and a £100 annuity in his will, and officially confirmed her freedom.
After her uncle’s death in March 1793 Dido married John Davinier on 5 December 1793 at St. George’s, Hanover Square; both she and he were then residents of the parish. The Daviniers had three sons at least: twins Charles and John, also baptized at St George’s on 8 May 1795, and William Thomas, baptized there on the 26 January 1802.
Dido Belle Davinier died in 1804 and was buried in July that year at St George’s Fields, a burial-ground close to what is now Bayswater Road; in the 1970s, however, the site was redeveloped and her grave was moved. She was survived by her husband, who later remarried and had two more children.