To boldy go where no (wo)man has gone before

The life and travels of Alexandrine (Alexine) Tinne (1835-1869)

A few years ago I visited an exhibition on Alexandrine (Alexine) Tinne at the Historical Museum of The Hague, which ran from October 2012 to February 2013. Until I read an article announcing this exhibition[1] I had never heard of Alexine Tinne, but the article got me intrigued. When I visited the exhibition it soon became very clear that Alexine definitely was an Awesome Woman. During her life-time, Alexine was actually quite famous, both in the Netherlands and abroad. In this blog post I hope to take Alexine Tinne out of obscurity and back into the spotlight.

Alexandrine Tinne
Alexandrine Tinne, photographer unknown. Photo collection Dutch National Archives, the Hague, 134-1390.

Alexine’s life shows some parallels with that of Empress Sisi of Austria: Alexine also loved to travel and rash rides on horseback.[2] But where Sisi travelled rather ‘light,’ particularly for a royal, Alexine’s travels were very luxurious. Where Sisi would walk at a pace people had a hard time keeping up with, Alexine was carried by four blacks. Their porters would carry suitcases full of clothes, china, cutlery, tapestries, paintings, and furniture (among which was a very heavy iron bed). Alexine would also bring along her five dogs, each carried by a dromedary.[3] It is hardly surprising that Alexine’s travel company did not pass by unnoticed.

Unlike Sisi, however, Alexine never married and was pretty adamant she wanted to remain single. This was pretty unheard of for a young woman in the nineteenth-century high society circles. She was shortly engaged to Adolf Frans Josef Count von Königsmark in 1854, but a year later they got into an argument and Alexine broke off the engagement stating she never wanted to see him again. Count von Königsmark chased her all the way to Smyrna (Izmir), Turkey, but was unsuccessful in changing Alexine’s mind.[4] Like “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, ‘the lady is not for turning.’ This episode is only one example demonstrating how Alexine was even more strong-willed and unconventional than Sisi could ever dream to be. She was doing ‘men’s business’ (i.e. exploring unchartered territories) and she dressed extravagantly, in clothes she designed herself, and wore strange hats. Her appearance shocked The Hague’s high society.[5] Alexine was not only a pioneer as the sole female explorer, but also a pioneering photographer. Photography was invented in 1837 and Alexine already started making photographs in 1845.[6] Alexine’s travels took  her much further than Sisi – or anyone for that matter – dared to go, travelling all the way into the “Dark Continent” of Africa, into areas which were not yet explored. Like other Awesome Woman™ Sisi, Alexine was murdered during one of her many travels. Who was Alexandrine Tinne and how did she end up a murder victim in an African desert?

Portrait of Alexandrine Tinne seated in front of a folding screen in the garden of Lange Voorhout 32, the Hague, July 1860.
Photo collection of the Dutch National Archives, the Hague, 249_02

Early years

Alexandrine Pieternella Françoise Tinne was born on 17 October 1835 to diplomat and Dutch East India Company merchant Philip Frederik Tinne (1772-1844), and his second wife, Baroness Henriëtte Maria Louise van der Capellen (1796-1863).[7] Alexine’s mother had been a lady-in-waiting for Queen Sophie of the Netherlands at the court of King William III.[8] At the time of Alexine’s birth, her father was 68 years old and her mother was much younger, 24 years his junior.[9] Alexine had two half-brothers, born during her father’s first marriage. Despite their age difference, Alexine was quite close to her half-brother John, who was 28 years her senior.[10] In 1844, when Alexine was eight years old, her father died at age 63.[11] He left a fortune to his wife and daughter, which made them one of the richest people in the country[12] and allowed for their lavish lifestyle and their many travels. Initially their travels took them through Europe: they travelled through Scandinavia in 1854 and to Dresden, Germany, in 1855, where Alexine met Count von Königsmark.[13]

Photo collection Dutch National Archives, the Hague, 134-1391.

As Mylynka Kilgore Cardona points out, “women who traveled at this time, regardless of wealth, position, and length of trip, were expected to travel accompanied by a gentleman.”[14] But just like Sissi went off without male companionship, only taking her ladies-in-waiting along, Alexine travelled together with her mother. Alexine even did a Grand Tour, something women at the time definitely were not wont to do (that was ‘men’s business,’ just like exploring never-before-visited parts of Africa).[15] Women who travelled in the nineteenth century usually did so for specific reasons: “to improve their health, to further their education, to escape a bad marriage, to avoid marriage all together, or to hide the unexpected consequence of an affair. Many women,  especially the affluent Anglo-Saxon women of Europe and the United States, travelled as a ritualistic act to claim (and retain) membership in their closed bourgeois societies.”[16] Alexine Tinne, however, travelled for the same reasons men did: for fun and excitement.

Picture by Alexine Tinne
Photo of a photograph Alexandrine (‘Alexine’) Tinne made in 1865 of her chamber maid Aubiba.
Photo collection of the Dutch National Archives, the Hague, collection ‘Spaarnestad.’

Expeditions to the Middle East and Africa

            Alexine makes her first trips to the Middle East, visiting Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon between 1855 and 1863.[17] These areas were known to be quite dangerous back then, but this did not deter Alexine and her mother, who spent a year in monastery Sainte-Roc near Beirut, Lebanon, to study the islam.[18] Alexine would later return to Egypt several times, where she learned Arabic.[19] They returned to The Hague on 6 november 1857 and would spent four years at home. During this period Alexine spent most of her time photographing buildings and people.

            In 1861 Alexine and her mother embarked on another trip to Egypt, this time accompanied by mother Henriëtta’s unmarried sister Adriana van Capellen, “tante Addy.”[20] From Alexandria they started an expedition into Africa, which would strand in Gondokoro, Uganda, where they could not cross a river and Alexine fell ill. The expedition was aborted and they returned to Khartoum, Sudan, where aunt Addy stayed behind.[21] It was a tough journey and on 22 July 1863 Henriëtta Tinne died after a short illness.[22] Alexine had her mother’s body stored in a sealed coffin and decided to head back to Khartoum, where she arrived on 28 March 1864. A few weeks later Adriana van Capellen died as well.[23] These events had a great emotional impact on Alexine Tinne.[24] Her step-brother John took the two coffins back to The Netherlands, Alexine herself stayed behind in Egypt.[25] From a scientific point of view, the catastrophic expedition was quite successful, as Alexine had taken along two German explorers,  Theodor von Heuglin (an ornithologist) and Dr Hermann Steudner (a botanist), whose observations were an important contribution to the scientific knowledge of the region.[26] Furthermore, Alexine’s step-brother John ensured that the findings from the expedition were reported to the  Royal Geographical Society.[27] Determined to continue her travels, Alexine had John buy a sailing ship, which he did. The ship was called “de Meeuw” (“the Seagull”) and in 1866 she sails from France to Algiers, Algeria.[28] During her stay in Algiers Alexine learns about the Tuareg tribe,[29] where men are veiled but women are not, and becomes fascinated by them. She is determined to set up an expedition to find this mysterious and unknown tribe she heard so many stories about. It proved to be her last journey.

'l'équipage feminin du Meeuw
‘L’équipage feminin du Meeuw.’ Group portrait of twelve women and a girl, with en profil in the middle Alexandrine Tinne herself, in the courtyard of an Oriental building. The names of the people depicted and the caption ‘l’équipage feminin du Meeuw’ written by hand by Alexandrine Tinne . The location is possibly the forecourt of the house Alexandrine temporary resided at in Mustapha (near Algiers).
Photo collection Dutch National Archives, the Hague, Collection 066 De Constant Rebecque.

Fatal journey

Shortly before embarking on her expedition to find and make contact with the Tuaregs, Alexine writes to John

‘Ik heb nooit het geluk van het ouder worden begrepen. Ik heb het altijd maar triest gevonden – zelfs onder de gelukkigste omstandigheden – en ik vind de gedachte om gelukkig en moedig dood te gaan, door een mes of een geweerschot, niet vreselijk…’

[‘I have never understood the joy of growing old. I have always found it sad – even            under the happiest of circumstances – and I do not object to the idea of dying a happy    and courageous death, by knife or by gunshot…’][30]

In the Spring of 1868, after a long, arduous and long-winding journey, Alexine manages to arrange a meeting with  Tuareg king Ichnoechem near Marzuk, Iran.[31] This meeting makes a big impression on Alexine. Her crew men Arie Jacobse and Kees Oostmans, who survived the fateful expedition, kept a journal which helped reconstruct the events that led to Alexine’s death.[32] During the meeting, Alexine and the Tuareg king had agreed to meet again in Ghat, Libya. This second meeting would never take place: on 2 August 1868 Alexine’s camp just outside of Murzuq, Libya,[33] was raided by a group of Arabs and Tuaregs.[34] Initially, Alexine believed that a fight had broken out among the many people in the camp, which had happened more often. As Alexine was in the habit of buying the freedom of slaves along the way, her entourage counted around 200 people. Relationships blossomed and there were even children born along the way.[35] Alexine would take many photographs of the people in her party. Thinking this was just another heated argument, Alexine stepped out of her tent in order to settle the men down and was promptly murdered by two cuts of a sword and a gunshot to her chest.[36] The Dutch crew men Arie Jacobse and Kees Oostmans also died in the tumult.

It turned out that stories circulated that Alexine was a Dutch queen or princess and that she carried big chests full of gold with her. The raiders ransacked the camp, but found not treasures, only food and water.[37] The robbers quickly left and the frightened and traumatized survivors managed to make it back to Algiers. In their panic, they had left the dead bodies behind in the Sahara desert. The murder of Alexine Tinne, who was only 34 years old, shocked the world. Attempts were made to recover her body and attempts were made to find and punish her killers. Neither Alexine Tinne’s body nor her assailants has never been found.[38] After her sensational life and violent death, Alexine Tinne became a legend. As she did not leave behind any writings, apart from some letters, many sensationalist stories began to spread. As all information comes through others, there are few trustworthy sources and it complicates attempts to separate fact from fiction.[39] This is another parallel with Empress Sissi, whose status also rose to mythical proportions after her tragical death.  

As this blog posts demonstrates, Alexandrine Tinne is an intriguing and complex woman who defied conventions and highly valued her freedom and independence. Her legacy as the first Western woman to travel through the Libyan desert and the first female photographer of the Netherlands deserve to be remembered more widely.[40] Over the years, research and the public have mostly focused on Alexine Tinne’s travels. As a result, her pioneering role in photography has been much less studied. The 2013 exhibition at the Historical Museum of The Hague has attempted to change this and reserved much space for exhibiting Tinne’s photographs of buildings and people in The Hague as well as the photographs she took during her travels.  The database of the RKD Foundation (het Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis, the Dutch Institute for Art History) features some photographs of and by Alexandrine Tinne.

‘L’équipage au Désert.’ Group portrait of seven crew members of De Meeuw, in North-African/Arabic clothes, grouped around a camel, with an Oriental building in the background. The depicted persons’ names and the caption ‘l’équipage au Désert’ handwritten by Alexandrine Tinne.
Photo collection Dutch National Archives, the Hague, 249_08.















[14] Mylynka Kilgore Cardona , “Alexine Tinné: Nineteenth-Century Explorer of Africa,” Terrae Incognitae 44 (2012): 125.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Patricia Gilmartin, “Women Travelers,” in The Oxford Companion to World Exploration: Two-volume Set, annotated edn, ed. David Buisseret (New York, 2007), p. 361. For more on travel as ritual, see Mark Rennella, The Boston Cosmopolitans: International Travel and American Arts and Letters, 1st edn (New York, 2008); William W. Stowe, Going Abroad, 1st edn (Princeton, 1994). Cited in Mylynka Kilgore Cardona , “Alexine Tinné: Nineteenth-Century Explorer of Africa,” Terrae Incognitae  44 (2012): 125.







[23] Ibid.



[26] Kilgore Cardona , “Alexine Tinné,” 132;

[27] Kilgore Cardona , “Alexine Tinné,” 133.





[32] Ibid.

[33] Kilgore Cardona , “Alexine Tinné,” 137.



[36] Kilgore Cardona , “Alexine Tinné,” 137;;

[37] Kilgore Cardona , “Alexine Tinné,” 138;