– and spend some time exploring the content! I’d also be grateful if you can share the link to the page far and wide – as you will hopefully agree, a lot of people have put work into producing some high-quality material.”
If you missed any of the recent articles on Florence Nightingale in The Salisbury Museum blog and would like to ‘catch up’, they are as follows:
10 March ‘The Hero of Nursing Who Almost Has a Connection With Salisbury’
27 March ‘The Moment Salisbury ‘lost’ Florence Nightingale’
Florence Nightingale is rightly famous for reforming nursing, even ‘inventing’ modern nursing, but it is arguable that her most important work was in ensuring the reform of army conditions. This took place during the last half of her life, after her return from the Crimea.
She returned from the Crimea essentially in mourning. Exhausted, she was ill, wracked with pains, unable to eat, unable to sleep. We might, today, call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She was never fully fit again for the fifty or so years left of her life, often working from her bed or couch while people came to her. But she refused to forget the men. She described herself as “mother to 50 000”.
When she returned from the Crimea, she knew she had to strike while the iron was hot, while people still remembered what they had read in the Times, while her own name carried weight. Friends and family begged her to rest. Even Sidney Herbert wouldn’t engage with her at first, being concerned about her and feeling she was more than a little overwrought.
Tired, ill and frustrated, she refused to stop. Florence began visiting and advising on military hospitals (Haslar, Woolwich) and was consulted over the plans for the huge new military hospital on the Solent (Netley, near Southampton). She then began to be consulted on the plans for civil hospitals. She complete a one thousand page book of evidence on hospital administration for the Army, packed with the kind of facts and figures for which she, with her organised and mathematical mind, had become famous. This was presented to the Commission. The book included information about the appalling living conditions for the men and was able to show that death rates for those who enlisted were twice those of the population as a whole. And that was in peace time.
In August 1857 she collapsed completely, and she, herself, believed she was dying. She survived, and in the following months planned for the setting up of schools of nursing at St Thomas’ and King’s in London. and wrote ‘Notes on Nursing’* which, at 5 shillings, cost more than some workers earned in a week, but became a runaway best seller. It was translated into German, Italian and French. At a time when germ theory was still not understood, the book was a combination of her by now vast experience, common sense, practice, evidence-based theories and it called for care, a holistic approach, efficiency and discipline when looking after the sick or infirm.
Then came a very dark time for Florence. She lost possibly her greatest friend and ally when Sidney Herbert, ill for some time but still fighting in Parliament for the reforms that he and Florence knew were so important, died, at Wilton House in August 1861. She lost other important friends and allies through illness or their own family commitments and she collapsed again. This time she just wished she could die, but she carried on working.
She proposed necessary equipment for military hospitals, initiated hospitals for soldiers’ wives, revised lists for army rations, sent out instructions for dealing with yellow fever and cholera, produced diet sheets for troop ships. She lobbied for decent housing and married quarters as being the best defence against venereal disease which was rife amongst soldiers. She was asked for advice by the Union Army during the American Civil War, and would have assisted the South also but had no channel of communication.
She was asked to look into the conditions of the army in India. This involved literally tons in weight of paperwork being shipped to her rooms in London for her to read and it was clear all the old problems still existed, with a death rate from disease among the soldiers nearing 10%. In peace time. In some areas in India only one in five of the children of British soldiers survived to the age of five.
Florence produced two enormous volumes on the situation. For political reasons they were suppressed. A new Viceroy of India became her friend but he was unable to move things forward at that time, though there was considerable progress later. She became depressed, whereas in the past, challenges had always energised her. She began to self-isolate (an expression her biographer uses, writing in 1950), only having just enough energy to work. And she did, indeed, still work.
She began working – through correspondence initially – with a Mr William Rathbone, wealthy Liverpool ship owner (and, incidentally, Abolitionist) who was using his money to establish district nursing in Liverpool and sought Florence’s advice. Together, they also started to campaign for the improvement of workhouse conditions and the setting up of nursing homes for the poor. They didn’t get all they wanted but somehow managed to get an Act passed which meant that the sick, insane and also children in workhouses were to be housed separately from the able-bodied, and medical relief was effectively to come out of taxation rather than the parish.
Florence Nightingale was the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit, bestowed by King Edward VII in 1907. She was by then blind, hardly aware.
She died in 1910. She had asked not to be given a state funeral, or to be buried in Westminster Abbey. She is buried at East Wellow, a few miles from Salisbury.
It is her birthday this week, on Tuesday 12 May.
*This is a comment from a medical professional on ‘discovering’ Florence’s ‘Notes on Nursing’:
“Neither in my own nursing education at the B.S.N. nor at the M.S.N. level, was it even suggested, much less required, that I read any of Florence Nightingale’s original writings. Even as a nurse educator for over 30 years, I did not require my students to read her writings either. After reading this book, I now believe it is a void in the education of a nurse not to read at least some of the writings of the founder of modern day nursing. Notes on Nursing would be an excellent choice. This book introduces holistic health, home health, alternative therapies, health prevention and maintenance, the role of women in nursing and in everyday life, nursingadministration, leadership, communications skills, mind/body and body/mind relationships. Her theory on the use of light, fresh air, warmth, cleanliness, quiet, and the proper selection and administration of diet is also well explored. – Anita S. Kessler, R.N., M.S.N., M.Ed.”
The war in the Crimea dragged on. At the end of February 1855 a Commission was sent out to review conditions. Things were more orderly in the hospital at Scutari but the death rate still high. Eventually over 500 handcarts full of the foulest rubbish (including dead animals) were removed from the open privies. Old wooden furniture, which harboured rats, was removed and the walls limewashed. An unlikely hero, Alexis Soyer, famous French chef from the Reform Club in London, arrived. He was an odd figure but a genius with nutritious food and could produce it in bulk. He and Florence Nightingale became firm friends. At last the death rate began to come down. By May that year it was down to 5%.
But opposition to Florence Nightingale re-emerged as officials began to look for ways to avoid the blame for what had happened.
The soldiers meanwhile, loved her. When giving evidence to a later Commission back home they recorded that had she been in charge of the war, it would have been won much earlier. It was given in evidence that the men really did kiss her shadow as she tirelessly passed through the wards at night. She never allowed a man to die alone. She wrote letters for them. She frequently did not sleep for days at a time, dressing wounds, standing by men who were undergoing operations. She became ‘the lady with the lamp’ and described herself as ‘the mother of 50 000 children’.
In addition, she dealt with constant requests, gave endless advice, received and dealt with complaints and vexatious or openly hostile colleagues by day, and little water or food and cold and wet quarters at night. Somehow she managed, in the midst of all this, to continue sending home detailed private reports to Sidney Herbert, full of ideas as to how hospitals and the army could be reformed. These was to be the basis of her future work.
She became seriously ill but refused to go home. A sergeant wrote home that the men wept when they heard. “All their trust was in her”. Two leading military figures spitefully had her put on a ship for England but two other officials took her off and put her on a boat to the British Embassy villa in Turkey where she was able to convalesce.
At home she became famous and was lauded in popular songs, sent money and parcels from collections at home. Queen Victoria sent a brooch. The Staffordshire potteries produced a figure of her, wearing an unlikely flowered skirt, and red slippers. A lifeboat was named after her. Madame Tussaud modelled her in wax. A race horse was named after her…..
By the summer of 1856 she had been back at work for some time, the war was coming to a close and the numbers in hospital drastically reduced. She made sure her nurses were provided for and her family, army regiments and the government hoped to honour and fete her on her return. She was not interested in celebrity however, and she came home incognito via Marseilles, Paris, the Channel, Southampton and train to the family home in Derbyshire – Lea Hurst.
The family were in the drawing room. The housekeeper, at the front of the house, saw a lone figure in black walking up the drive, looked again, and rushed out to meet her.
Florence Nightingale was still only in her thirties…
‘Florence Nightingale Comes Home 2020′ is a project being run by Nottingham University. If you are interested in this, click here.
Lea Hurst is, today, a private home but does offer bed and breakfast to visitors, and the link to Nottingham University (above) allows a virtual tour.
Continuing the story of Florence Nightingale, her life and work…
As winter arrived, the men at the front, sick and wounded, still without supplies, had no shelter, were drenched by rain, stuck in mud, had no spare clothing, were eating dried peas and uncooked salted meat. They had to dig for roots to find fuel for fires. As they arrived at the hospital in Scutari everyone was totally overwhelmed, and, at last, everyone was called to help and the nurses set to work.
Bags were stuffed with straw to provide beds, thousands of them, but in the end the straw ran out and the men had to lie on bare boards, their heads on their boots. Conditions in the hospital defy description. The stench could be smelt outside the building. A violent storm wrecked every ship in the harbour, including the ‘Prince’, recently arrived with warm winter clothing and other stores.
Then, it started to snow.
Sidney Godolphin Osborne, another friend of Sidney Herbert, together with Augustus Stafford MP, who had come out to the Crimea to inspect matters, and a Mr Macdonald, who had come out to administer the monies raised by Times readers, joined FNs team. She ordered 200 scrubbing brushes and sacking to use as cloths. There followed 6 000 shirts, 2 000 socks and 500 pairs of drawers. Then nightcaps, slippers, towels, soap, spoons, bedpans, stump pillows… And screens. No washing had been done for five weeks. She persuaded the Engineer Corps to put boilers into a town house, paid for by the Times.
She made an ally of one of the doctors. He put into operation a wing of the hospital which had earlier been damaged by fire. It would accommodate another 1 000 men. FN engaged local workmen, and initially paid them herself.
Still, resentments, petty politicking and religious affiliations got in the way. Even some of FN’s own nurses, unsurprisingly perhaps, hated her. But she never wavered, even when, by January, there were 12 000 men in hospital and only 11 000 at the front and they were unable to bury their dead.
Her later work, largely unknown by people today, in helping to reform conditions for the British army, had started already. She wrote direct to Queen Victoria and asked that sick soldiers should be paid the same as wounded ones (they received less) and the Queen acted immediately. Florence fought bureaucratic nonsense such as the regulation that if a soldier had lost two blankets, he wouldn’t get a third.
At home, a Commission was announced to inquire into conditions. FN said later that this Commission “saved the British Army”. But meanwhile the horrors continued.
I started writing about Florence Nightingale for this blog in those halcyon days before the emergence of Covid 19. I was inspired by two things – that it is the two hundredth anniversary of her birth, and my belief that she is now a highly underrated British historical figure . I did not know how relevant her story was about to become, and could not have guessed how her name would re-enter our history.More next week.
It was a mixed bag of women that Florence took with her to the Crimea. She had hoped to have forty but only managed 38. Each would receive around 60p a week, rising to £1 if satisfactory after a year and each had to agree to submit to Florence’s orders absolutely. They were to wear a very plain but practical uniform, and older women were preferred for several reasons. Some were nurses of the traditional kind, poor women, inclined to drunkenness but capable, while most were nuns or members in some way of religious institutions. Florence was non-sectarian about that. The contrast between nuns and the rest, one or two of whom considered themselves ‘gentlewomen’ , was a problem. The nuns tended to worry more about the men’s spirituality, while the ‘ladies’ didn’t think they had to empty bedpans. And the groups wouldn’t, at first, sit together for meals. Florence ate with the lower class women, one of whom later reported “We never had so much care taken of our comforts before. It is not people’s way with us.”
They travelled overland to Marseilles where FN organised supplies, then sailed on the ship ‘Vectis’. It was so rough that FN was confined to her cabin, even during a stop over in Malta.
They arrived at Scutari hospital. “..it’s not a building, its a town!”
They estimated four miles of beds. The building was dilapidated and filthy, walls running with water, a central courtyard a sea of mud, cavalry horses kept in the same building as the men. Drinking shops and brothels had been set up round about and 200 women -camp followers- were in the cellars, giving birth, or dying from cholera, or both.
A soldier was supposed to keep his pack with him, with a change of shirt and utensils for eating. Most had been lost. There were no supplies to replace these items. There were no facilities for FN and the women, apart from three rooms for them to share. Sidney Herbert demanded that the money raised by Times readers should be available to Florence and her party. The army, appalled at how this would reflect on them, maintained nothing was wrong…they froze her out.
In the end her plan was to wait until the doctors were so desperate that they had to ask for her help. All the while, the women slept on shelves, used a tin bowl for washing, eating and drinking and survived on a single pint of water for all of that each day. She kept her distance, and her nurses were instructed to do the same, to the point where the nurses nearly rebelled.
As the wounded came back from Balaklava, Florence was allowed in to the kitchens to make broth. Then, on 9 November, as biographer Cecil Woodham Smith describes it, the destruction of the British Army began.
In late 1853 war broke out in the Crimea between Russia on one side and Britain, France and Turkey on the other.
British troops were sent out to the battle zone where a base was set up at Scutari on the shores of the Bosphorus, narrow straits leading into the Black Sea. Described as situated in “beautious scenery”, it was actually a cholera hot spot.
When the 30 000 troops were sent forward to the ‘front’, on the far side of the Black Sea, there was not enough transport for supplies as well. So the men went without. Cholera immediately swept through their camp and together with the wounded, the soldiers were left lying and dying in the mud. One thousand were sent back to Scutari. Then, almost immediately, another one thousand.
A former Turkish army headquarters block at Scutari was hastily requisitioned as a ‘hospital’. The conditions there were almost beyond belief or description but Cecil Woodham Smith, in her biography of Florence Nightingale, does a remarkable job of just that….describing them. Some of her information came from the Times articles written by William Russell. It was the first time a reporter had been able to report ‘live’ from a war zone, using the newly developed telegraph system. The military authorities were appalled at the exposure, while the public back home was seething with rage at what they read.
It was up to Sidney Herbert to act. He had been made Secretary at War just before the fighting started, and he cared, having had a father as a soldier in a late 18th century debacle which his father had recorded in detail in his diaries.
Florence Nightingale had already been organising a party of trusted women, intending to go out to the Crimea to see what could be done. She hesitated to contact her friend Sidney Herbert, embarrassed that he was coming under fire from the country for not doing more. However, in the middle of October 1854 their intentions collided. She attempted to see him in his London home on the Saturday but discovered he had gone to Bournemouth for the weekend. At the same time, from Bournemouth on the Sunday, he had written to her.
“Dear Miss Nightingale
There is but one person in England I know of who would be capable of organising and superintending (a proper military hospital)….I do not say one word to press you. You are the only person who can judge…”
On Monday afternoon they met. She was appointed ‘Superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment of the English General Hospitals in Turkey’. On the eve of her departure, her sister recorded that Florence “was as calm and composed as if going for a walk.”
Florence Nightingale didn’t ‘fit in’ to conventional society as a young woman, though she had many admirers and suitors and enjoyed social life and travel, to a degree. Through her parents and wider family, and eventually through her own connections, she came to know many of the great and good of her day – the Palmerstons, the Shaftesburys, the Bonham Carters, The Herberts at Wilton, and on her travels she met many European intellectuals and reformers.
It was Lord Ashley (Shaftesbury) who suggested she read the Blue Books – government reports on Public Health compiled after the cholera outbreaks, and general concern about disease which had convinced those in power that something had to be done. Florence was a great list maker and note taker and spent the early hours of the day, in secret, reading and compiling her own notes on the situation. She wrote to friends on the Continent who sent her reports from Germany and France. She became an expert. Her mother put her in charge of the house keeping which she did very well. It was all to serve her well later.
Amongst the foreign material she was sent was a report on the Institute of Deaconesses at Kaiserwerth – a religious order where nursing was the focus. Five years after her abortive attempt to be allowed to work at Salisbury Infirmary, Florence managed to spend a fortnight at Kaiserwerth while on a holiday in Europe. She was thirty-one years old and desperate to fulfil what she now knew was her destiny. She defied her parents, and with the backing of the Herberts amongst others, she went back to Germany for several months.
She lived like a nun and loved it. She didn’t approve of the standards of nursing, but at least Kaiserwerth smelt better than the hospitals at home. She made friends and admirers and learnt a great deal, including from attending operations., but her family, particularly her mother and sister, made her life a misery on return. Her father became weary of the perpetual upsets and began to side with Florence a little. Florence effectively left home at this point, and stayed some time with the Herberts at Wilton House and in London. Her father supported her to the point of making her an allowance of £500 a year. And it was Sidney Herbert’s wife, Elizabeth, who found an opening for Florence – to take over The Institution for Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances, in London, which had fallen into difficulty, unable to find someone efficient enough to run it.
Florence was in her element. She ordered hot water be piped to every floor. Patients were to have bells to call for help. Systems were to be installed to lift meals to the different floors so that food was hot and nurses did not have to waste time and energy running up and down stairs. She took over financial control from a well-meaning but useless committee . She raked the coal when it was delivered to see that it was good quality and stopped purchases of items such as jam which she knew could be made at a fraction of the price in the institution’s kitchens. She secured other food at wholesale prices and had bed covers made from old curtains sourced from friends. She halved costs and created such comfort in the place that the elderly patients didn’t want to leave! She had proved herself and she had crushed all opposition.
But her greatest challenge was yet to come. If anyone is wondering why our new hospitals in this pandemic are called ‘Nightingale Hospitals’ , read more next week.
Cecil Woodham Smith, when writing perhaps the biography of Florence Nightingale in the 1940s, had access to papers that earlier biographers had not – particularly Florence’s own prolific diaries and notes. Those notes are a reminder that special people are also often rather complicated.
As a child she felt herself to be ‘different’ and certainly her mother found her so. Her biographer used the words “strange, passionate, wrong-headed, obstinate and miserable…” to describe Florence. She later wrote of herself that she was afraid she was a monster, a secret that might at any moment be discovered, that if she ate at the table with guests she might suddenly do something strange with her knife and fork! At the age of six she was already recording that life at home, Embley Park, near Romsey, was horrid. She didn’t fit in, and the ‘voice’ which had told her in 1837, when she was a teenager, that she had a mission in life, haunted her, because she couldn’t work out what it was she was supposed to do.
The 1840s were difficult times in Britain, with the agricultural and industrial revolutions disrupting traditional patterns of life, and with sweated labour, disease, poverty, and appalling living conditions in many urban and rural areas. Florence discovered she had a ‘knack’ with children, and found that visiting and helping the poor and sick was not just something she could do, but something she did well. Now she knew…
In her mid twenties, she decided to ask her parents to allow her to go for three months to Salisbury Infirmary to learn nursing. The head physician, Dr Fowler, was an old friend, he held advanced views, it was a well-known hospital and when the Fowlers visited in 1825, Florence took her chance. She later wrote in a letter to her cousin “Mama was terrified…it was not the physically revolting parts of the hospital but things about surgeons and nurses which you may guess.” To be fair to her mother, hospitals were often not very respectable places. Her father bemoaned “the modern girl”. The Fowlers were embarrassed by all the fuss, went away and the chance was gone.
Did you read Linda’s report last week on the recent Rex Whistler tour of Wilton? Alan Crooks adds this…
As Linda said, we were all shocked at the terrible condition of Edith Olivier’s grave marker (Fig 1). I, however, was not surprised, as I had attended the first ever Wilton History Festival in 2017 during which the organiser, Dr Rebecca Lyons, now a Wilton Councillor, mentioned the awful state it was in and said that she would see whether anything could be done about it. I have reminded her about this and she has undertaken to pursue this further.
Edith, who had an interest in the paranormal, had been
familiar with the legend that two white birds would be seen flying over
Salisbury Cathedral following the death of a Bishop of Salisbury. Thus it is
particularly poignant that David Herbert, second son of Reginald, 15th
Earl of Pembroke in recalling her funeral, wrote: ‘As they lowered her coffin into the grave, with a swish of wings a
pigeon flew up into the sky. Cecil [Beaton] and I gasped and in one breath
said, ‘Edith soaring through tracks unknown!’
Close by Edith’s grave marker was that of her niece, Lillian Rosemary, who died in 2002 aged 99 (Fig 2). This is in much better condition than Edith’s. A member of our party explained that it was Lillian who bequeathed her aunt’s Rex Whistler pictures to Salisbury Museum.
Margaret, our guide, also pointed out the marble monumental effigies of Baron Herbert of Lea (Fig 3) and his wife Elizabeth within the church of St Mary and St Nicholas. Although Sidney Herbert is buried in the churchyard at Wilton, Elizabeth, who controversially converted to Roman Catholicism, is buried at the St Joseph’s Missionary College, Mill Hill, where she was a notable patron.
We were reminded that Sidney Herbert was Secretary at War during the Crimean
War and it was he who sent Florence Nightingale out to Scutari, and with
Nightingale led the movement for Army Health and War Office reform after the
Later in the afternoon, during a guided walk of Wilton House Park, Ros Liddington pointed out the busts of Gladstone and Disraeli, with associated messages, on the boathouse roof (Fig 4). The message on Gladstone’s bust says, ‘My number is 666’ whereas that on Disraeli’s bust says, ‘the time will come when…’ (I regret that I didn’t catch the rest of this, but it was equally salacious!)
As the younger son of George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke, Sidney ran the Pembroke family estates at Wilton House
for most of his adult life, so therefore had the opportunity to build the
boathouse with the salacious busts. Sidney’s
mother was the Russian noblewoman Countess Catherine
Woronzow (or Vorontsov), the only daughter of Semyon, Count Woronzow,
formerly Russian ambassador at the court of St. James, and long-time resident
Sidney Herbert’s Russian ancestry caused him a lot of trouble in Parliament,
thus leading to his creation of the satirical busts.
A bronze statue of Sidney Herbert, who was MP for Wiltshire from 1832-1861,
is now in Victoria Park, Salisbury, having been moved there from Guildhall
Square in 1953 to make space for the coronation celebrations.
As Linda commented, this was a fascinating and really memorable day,
covering far more than Rex Whistler and his relationship with Edith Olivier;
and providing an opportunity to visit parts of Wilton House
Park not generally
accessible to the public. Very many thanks to Bridget for arranging it.