Hampshire Biographies

Florence and the Crimea

In 1847 the Nightingale family were on a winter’s holiday in Rome where Florence met Sidney Herbert, the man who later, as Foreign Secretary for War, asked her to take a party of nurses to the Crimea.

In 1851 Florence served a short 3 month apprenticeship at a nursing institution which she had previously visited, run by a Protestant pastor at Kaiserworth in Germany, despite the disapproval of her mother and sister. It soon became clear to her family that Florence was determined to make nursing her chosen career.

In 1853 they consented to her appointment as superintendent of a small nursing home in Harley Street, London, known as an ‘Establishment for Gentlewomen in Illness’. Florence’s father gave her an allowance of £500 a year to assist her in her independent lifestyle. Her permanent association with Embley was at an end and it was never to be her home again.

A year later, in 1854, she left for the Crimea. When Florence and her team of 38 nurses arrived at the main British Army hospital at Scutari, near Constantinople, they found forbidding barracks housing 10,000 sick men, with dirt and filth throughout the hospital. Patients were lying in the corridors as well as in the wards, many of them suffering from typhoid fever and cholera, as well as from battle wounds.

Sketch of Florence Nightingale
Sketch of Florence Nightingale with wounded soldiers in a ward at the Barrack Hospital Scutari
Hampshire Record Office ref 94M72/F614/4

When it rained, water poured in through the roof; the food was inedible; the water allowance was only one pint per day; the buildings were vermin-infested; the atmosphere in the hospital so foul that to visit the wards brought on diarrhoea. Florence and her nurses scrubbed the hospital clean, washed the sheets, blankets, and towels, cleaned the hospital’s kitchens, and prepared better, wholesome food for the patients. Most important of all, she got army engineers to repair the hospital’s drains and improve its supply of drinking water.

Burial Ground at Scutari
The Burial Ground at Scutari, from ‘Scutari and its Hospitals’
Hampshire Record Office ref 94M72/F603

By the spring of 1855 Florence was physically exhausted from the working conditions in the Crimea but as a result of her efforts the survival rate at Scutari rose sharply.