My great great aunt Alice Magee née Mainwaring formerly Cavenagh-Mainwaring (1879-1952) was known as Queenie.

Alice was the ninth of ten children of Wentworth Cavenagh (1822-1895) and his wife Ellen Jane Cavenagh née Mainwaring (1845-1920).

The family lived in Adelaide, South Australia, two miles from the city centre in the suburb of Marryatville. Wentworth Cavenagh was a member of the South Australian Parliament, elected in 1862 to represent Yatalapart of the Adelaide metropolitan area north of the River Torrens. He served as Commissioner for Crown Lands and Immigration from 1868 to 1870 and Commissioner of Public Works from 1872 to 1873.

In 1887 Alice and some of her sisters attended a children’s fancy dress ball. A photographer took pictures of many of the children in their costumes. Alice, aged 8, was dressed as “Wee Wifie”. (Wee Wifie was a novel for children by Rosa Nouchette Carey first published in 1869.)

Queenie Wee Wifie B-7723-72

Queenie Cavenagh : age 8 dressed as ‘Wee Wifie’. Part of Children’s Fancy Dress Ball, 1887 Collection. Image from the State Library of South Australia B 7723/72


In 1892 the family surname was changed, and the name and arms of Mainwaring was assumed in addition to Cavenagh in acknowledgement of Ellen’s inheritance of the family property of  Whitmore in Staffordshire. In 1892 when Alice was 13 the family left Australia for England. Whitmore was leased and the family settled at Southsea near Portsmouth in the south of England.

A cousin has told me that Queenie and Gertrude, known as Kiddie, the two youngest children were sent to school in France, possibly because it was cheaper than England.



My grandmother wrote on the back of the photograph that it was taken in 1908 and the names: Back row, left to right: Queenie Magee; Kate Cudmore; Nellie Millet Middle row, L to R: Eva Gedge; May Gillett Front centre: Kiddie Bennett


In 1911 Alice and Gertrude, neither of whom had yet married, were living with their mother in Southsea.

Alice married William Edward Blackwood (Bill) Magee (1886-1981) on 14 August 1913 at St Simons, Southsea.

In December 1910, W.E.B. Magee gave his future mother-in-law a book of the first two operas of the Ring Cycle.

In 1917 and again in 1918, as Lieutenant Commander, William Magee was mentioned in dispatches as part of the honours for the Destroyers of the Harwich Force. In 1920, for services in the Baltic in 1919, Lieut.-Cdr. William Edward Blackwood Magee, R.N. was made Companion of the Distinguished Service Order, for distinguished services in command of H.M.S. Watchman.  William Edward Blackwood Magee became a Captain in 1929.

Alice and Bill had two children, Richard (1915-1937) and Jean, known as Moll (1917-1996).

Between the wars Alice and Bill lived in Dinan, France.  Dinan, a spa town in Brittany, had a thriving colony of English expatriates. Alice and Bill’s daughter Moll wrote a book about their time there.

On 20 January 1937, Richard Magee, a sub-lieutenant on HMS Anthony, was
lost overboard and drowned in the Gulf of Lion. He was only 21.

In 1939, at the outbreak of World War 2, the National Register, a census, was compiled in the United Kingdom. At the time of the 1939 register, Bill, by then a retired Naval officer was in Hastings, Moll was a volunteer and living with her aunt May Gillett and May’s children in Dorset (Mabel known as May 1868-1944 had married Francis Gillett but had been widowed in 1938.)

Alice is not on the 1939 register, presumably because she was still in France in 1939.

During World War 2 Bill went back into the navy.

Robert Capa, the war photographer was on board the Magee’s ship when he was in command of a convoy crossing the Atlantic. Magee was the commodore in charge of the convoy.

Magee from Gay Scan-10

W.E.B. Magee photographed by Robert Capa. Magazine of 13 June 1942 annotated “Mrs Magee”.

Commodore Magee DSO, RNR first greeted me with “Now, don’t expect any scoops for your blasted photography on this trip! Our job is not to fight but to run and dodge. We’d rather have a hundred freighters safe in port than a hundred Victoria Crosses any day”.

Capa continues Commodore Magee retired in 1933 and in August 1939 he was figuring on redecorating the little house in Dinan where he had lived for eight years and meant to settle there indefinitely. Bill asked how it felt to be back at sea said – “After eight year’s retirement, the first time I was on the bridge I felt just like Toscanini would feel if, after eight year’s rest, he returned to the concert platform – looking around, discovered an orchestra responding as well as any he had conducted before”

In 1945 Captain (Commodore second class, R.N.R.) William Edward Blackwood Magee, D.S.O., R.N. (Ret.), was appointed Commander of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire for Distinguished Service in the War in Europe.

On 6 April 1952 Alice, of Rosecroft, Titchfield, Hampshire, died aged 76. She outlived seven of her siblings.

On 3 April 1981 Captain William Edward Blackwood Magee, CBE, DSO, RN, retired, died at Fordingbridge, Hampshire. He was 94.

Related posts


  • Name change from Cavenagh to Cavenagh-Mainwaring London Gazette March 4 1892 page 1274
  • 1911 census retrieved through Class: RG14; Piece: 5551; Schedule Number: 147
  • William Magee’s career:
    • London Gazette 22 June 1917 and Edinburgh Gazette 25 February 1919
    • Edinburgh Gazette 10 March 1920
    • London Gazette 7 December 1945
    • 1939 Navy List
  • Death of Richard Magee: “Deaths.” Times [London, England] 27 Jan. 1937: 1. The Times Digital Archive.
  • 1939 register retrieved through FindMyPast
    • William E B Magee 09 Jul 1886 Male Capt Royal Navy Retired Married schedule 93 sub schedule 16 address 28, 30, 31 Eversfield Place , Hastings C.B., Sussex, England
    • Jean M Magee [Moll] 26 May 1917 Female Volunteer W 2061340 Dorset C St A Single 114 4 address Conygar , Dorchester R.D., Dorset, England. At the same house were Mabel A Gillett [nee Cavenagh-Mainwaring] Anne M Barrett [nee Gillett] and Michael C Gillett.
  • Death of Bill Magee: Brief obituaries Times, 11 Apr. 1981, p. 14. The Times Digital Archive,
  • I am grateful to my cousin Gay Doggart for the images of the photo album of Queenie Cavenagh-Mainwaring and some pictures of Queenie from within. Also for the image of Commodore Magee on the cover of the Illustrated magazine.

Further Information