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Lilian Bland is widely recognized as the first woman to design, construct, and fly her own aircraft. She was also an avid photographer, journalist, marks-woman, equestrian, motorist, and an early settler of Northern Vancouver Island.
Lilian Emily Bland was born September 27th 1878 in Kent, England. Her mother was Emily Charlotte Madden, born January 16th, 1847. Her father, John Humphrey Bland, was an artist, born in 1828. Lilian was the youngest of three children, and had an elder sister named Eva Charlotte Bland and a brother, Robert Wyndham Humphrey Bland.
During the first ten years of her life, Lilian traveled to Switzerland, Italy, and France —primarily with her father. From 1890 to 1891 she attended school at Westgate in Kent. As a young adult Lilian journeyed around the continent, occasionally moving back to Ireland to live with her father. She studied musical and visual arts and also enjoyed fishing, hunting, photography, horse-back riding, and reading. From 1903 to 1908 Lilian published several articles in various sport and lifestyle magazines. These articles were accompanied by her own photographs of horse-back riding, travel, and automobile racing. In September 1909, in Ireland, Lilian began modeling an idea for a plane, and in November she began building the biplane, called the Mayfly. The plane flew successfully for approximately 10 metres and she became the first woman to design and fly her own aircraft.
On October 3rd 1911, Lilian married her fathers’ brothers’ son, Charles Loftus Bland. Charles had recently purchased land in Quatsino, on the Northern part of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He moved ahead of her to build a home for the two of them, and she travelled to Canada in April of 1912. In April of 1913 Lilian gave birth to her daughter, Patrick Lilian Bland.
Lilian spent the next several years making a life for her daughter and husband in Quatsino; raising livestock, farming, making wine, and selling goods. In 1917 Mary Madden, Lilian's cousin on her mothers' side, joined Charles and Lilian to work on the homestead in exchange for pay. In 1921 Lilian, Charles, and Mary all moved to California, where they purchased a farm and lived for 3 years in the small town of Calistoga in Napa County. They returned to Quatsino sound in 1925 via automobile with Mary’s son Jack Bland. In 1929 Lilian’s daughter Pat passed away from a Tetanus infection.
In 1932 Lilian and Charles separated and Lilian stayed on the homestead until 1934. After this, Lilian returned to England where she worked as a gardener, investing her savings in the stock market. In February of 1955 Lilian retired and moved to Land’s End in Cornwall. She lived there until the time of her death on May 11th 1971, at the age of 92.