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Sidney Herbert to Florence Nightingale


SIDNEY HERBERT | Issue Dated: May 23, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Sidney Herbert | Florence Nightingale | History letter |

Crimean War was fought between Russia on the one hand and the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain, France, and Sardinia on the other. The causes of the conflict were inherent in the unsolved Eastern Question and dispute between Russia and France over the Palestinian holy land. British statesman Sir Sidney Herbert, who was head of Britain war office, wrote this letter to Florence Nightingale urging to mobilize and train nurses for the war victims. Nightingale responded positively and was awarded with the sobriquet “Lady with the lamp” when war got over.

16 Feb 1855, Crimea

You will have seen in the papers that there is a great deficiency of nurses at the Hospital of Scutari.

The other alleged deficiencies, namely of medical men, link, sheets, etc., must, if they have really ever existed, have been remedied ere this, as the number of medical officers with the Army amounted to one to every 95 men in the whole force, being nearly double what we have ever had before, and 30 more surgeons went out 3 weeks ago, and would by this time, therefore, be at Constantinople. A further supply went on Thursday, and a fresh batch sail next week.

As to medical stores, they have been sent out in profusion; lint by the ton weight, 15,000 pairs of sheets, medicine, wine, arrowroot in the same proportion; and the only way of accounting for the deficiency at Scutari, if it exists, is that the mass of stores went to Varna, and was not sent back when the Army left for the Crimea; but four days would have remedied this. In the meanwhile fresh stores are arriving.

But the deficiency of female nurses is undoubted, none but male nurses having ever been admitted to military hospitals. It would be impossible to carry about a large staff of female nurses with the Army in the field. But at Scutari, having now a fixed hospital, no military reason exists against their introduction, and I am confident they might be introduced with great benefit, for hospital orderlies must be very rough hands, and most of them, on such on occasion as this, very inexperienced ones. There is but one person in England that I know of who would be capable of organising and superintending such a scheme; and I have been several times on the point of asking you hypothetically if, supposing the attempt were made, you would undertake to direct it.

The selection of the rank and file of nurses will be very difficult; no one knows it better than yourself. The difficulty of finding women equal to a task, after all, full of horrors, and requiring, besides knowledge and goodwill, great energy and great courage, will be great. The task of ruling them and introducing system among the, great; and not the least will be the difficulty of making the whole work smoothly with the medical and military authorities out there. This it is which makes it so important that the experiment should be carried out by one with a capacity for administration and experience. If this succeeds, an enormous amount of good will be done now.

I hardly like to be sanguine as to your answer. If it were "yes", I am certain the Bracebridges would go with you and give you all the comfort you would require, and which their society and sympathy only could give you. I know you will come to a wise decision. God grant it may be in accordance with my hopes!

Believe me, dear Miss Nightingale,
Ever yours,

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017