“I beg to remain, Sir, your obedient servant, Florence Nightingale”

On July 22, 1891 Florence Nightingale wrote the letter below to the editor of The Times to urge the publication of an obituary about a Crimean War colleague who had died some days before.

Letter, dated July 22, 1891, from Florence Nightingale to George Earle Buckle, the editor of The Times.

Doctor John Sutherland had headed the commission sent to the Crimea in 1855 to enquire into the sanitary conditions of the British Army. He later worked with Florence Nightingale on the 1858 Royal Commission on the health of the army. Sutherland had died on July 14, 1891 and the notice duly appeared in The Times on July 24.

The connection between Florence Nightingale and The Times began in 1854 with the launch of the paper’s Soldiers’ Sick and Wounded Fund. On October 12, 1854 the newspaper had reported that there were not enough surgeons, nurses or even basic supplies of bandages to tend to the soldiers wounded at the battle of the Alma. Thomas Chenery, the newspaper’s correspondent in Constantinople, sent the report after seeing the awful hospital conditions at Scutari and Therapia. In a leading article the same day, The Times criticised the British government for its inefficiency and appealed to its readers:

The first column of the leading article in The Times October 12, 1854.

“Every man of common modesty must feel, not exactly ashamed of himself, but somehow rather smaller than usual, when he reads the strange and terrible news of the war. Here we are sitting by our firesides, devouring the morning paper in luxurious solitude…What are we doing for the cause we have so much at heart? Is it right that these poor fellows should bear the whole of the burden? …if we only wish to do something, we have no doubt that something may be found to be done.”

Meanwhile, on October 15 Florence Nightingale wrote to Mrs Sidney Herbert, wife of the Secretary for War, with her plans for recruiting a team of nurses to take to Scutari. She left London with 38 nurses on October 21 and reached Constantinople on November 4. Two days later a member of the Times’ staff, John Cameron MacDonald, also arrived. He was sent to Constantinople to administer the considerable sums raised for The Times’ fund.

The fund quickly amassed almost £7,000 (equivalent to about £7.5 million today) in donations and within three months was providing not only blankets and medication but things like furniture and equipment as well as whole kitchens and washhouses. Although it could not claim to have eradicated the sufferings endured by the ordinary solders, the money raised played an important role in alleviating this suffering. The fund and the work of Times’ staff were significant factors in ensuring the success of the work of Miss Nightingale and in so doing helped break down the prejudice against women working as nurses in military situations.

A letter from Chenery to his editor, dated November 10, 1854, held in the archive reveals that there was some evident hostility towards The Times, which was seen to be interfering in government matters, and to Miss Nightingale’s team, as nursing was seen as a disreputable profession for women if they were not part of a religious order.

Letter, dated November 10, 1854, from Thomas Chenery to John Thadeus Delane, the editor of The Times.

“With regard to the nurse question;…I have taken MacDonald to every person who could do anything for us, and we have obtained or extorted the co-operation of the authorities at Scutari in a very successful manner. They are very bitter about the matter, and predict the failure and even the fall from virtue of Miss Nightingale and her companions. But I believe they will not fail unless they are made to fail: they are already doing considerable good, and without linking ourselves with them too closely, we ought to give them our support in every way.”

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