Detail from a letter from Emily Slesson enquiring about joining Florence Nightingale as a nurse in the Crimea
Prior to the 1850s each British
Army regiment had its own medical officer. Male
orderlies, with no formal medical training, were seconded
from the regiment.
During peacetime the problems of a localised system were
not apparent, but the experience of the Crimean War (1854-1856)
highlighted the difficulties caused by lack of equipment
communication, inexperienced staff and badly managed resources.
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The “Crimean War” took place in the Crimea, Asia
Minor, the Baltic, the White Sea and on Russia’s Pacific
coast between the nations of Russia, Turkey, Great Britain, France
and Piedmont-Sardinia. The Crimean War has been characterised
as one of the worst managed wars in history, with deaths due
to illness and malnutrition at four times the rate of those due
to enemy action.
The Times war correspondent William H Russell brought the desperate
conditions in the Crimea to the attention of the British public
and popularised the call for women nurses to join the forces.
“Are there no devoted women amongst us, able and willing
to go forth to minister to the sick and suffering soldiers of
the East in the hospitals of Scutari? Are none of the daughters
of England, at this extreme hour of need, ready for such a work
of mercy?” (The Times, 15 and 22 September 1854)
Detail from Memorandum of Agreement describing the terms if employment as a nurse between Mary Ann Fabian and Florence Nightingale.
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In response to the worsening situation in the region, Florence
Nightingale was appointed as “Superintendent of the Female
Nurses in the Hospitals in the East” by her friend Sidney
Herbert, Secretary of War.
Nightingale arrived at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, a suburb
on the Asian side of Constantinople, Turkey, on the eve of the
Battle of Inkerman, November 4th 1854, with 38 nurses.
The conditions were appalling and Welsh nurse, Elizabeth Davis,
reported that “The first that I touched was a case
of frost bite. The toes of both the man's feet fell off with
the bandages. The hand of another fell off at the wrist. It was
a fortnight, or from that to six weeks, since the wounds of many
of those men had been looked at and dressed.... One soldier had
been wounded at Alma.... His wound had not been dressed for five
weeks, and I took at least a quart of maggots from it. From many
of the other patients I removed them in handfuls.” Source:
Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan, (Longmans,
With an incredible amount of hard work the nurses in Nightingales'
charge brought the Scutari hospital into better order and 46
in the Crimea by
Despite a rise in the number of nurses the workload was overwhelming.
At one point less than 100 nurses had 10,000 men under their
the sanitation system resulting in outbreaks of cholera and
typhus fever. The War Office ordered immediate reforms in the
sanitary system and by June the rate fell to 2%.
|Detail from the receipt from Vicountess
Canning to M Fabian for four weeks
wages for services
as a nurse at Scutari
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The war ended with the fall of Sevastopol in early 1856, a key
strategic town that has been held by the Russians for over 11
months, and the signing of The Treaty of Paris.
All the documents shown on this page are from held at the National
National Archives' Catalogue reference: WO