Florence Nightingale Comes Home for 2020
This content is adapted from the Florence Nightingale Derbyshire Association’s Exhibition (2010)

The material in this section is not the result of research by the current project team, but rather is adapted from the Florence Nightingale Derbyshire Association’s 2010 Exhibition, which marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Nightingale and was displayed throughout August 2010 at the Gothic Warehouse, Cromford Wharf, part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site. An associated programme of music, dance, film and walking events were held throughout Derbyshire.

We would like to thank the Florence Nightingale Derbyshire Association for permission to reproduce these materials.


The Crimea 

Britain went to war in the Crimea to limit Russian power in the region. The War lasted two and a half years (1853-56).

The organisation, provisioning and general support structures of the British Army had not been reviewed since the Battle of Waterloo forty years before, and its failings were cruelly exposed.

Florence Nightingale was able to prove statistically that disease, malnourishment and poor sanitation were killing far more British soldiers than the Russian guns. 

I will not leave until every soldier has gone from the Scutari Hospital


      - Florence Nightingale



Key Events 

Crimean War

Sir Sidney Herbert, Secretary-at-War during the Crimean War, was a close friend. He wrote to Florence Nightingale in October 1854:

'I receive numbers of offers from ladies to go out [to volunteer as nurses] but […] they would, when the time came, either recoil from the work or be entirely useless, and consequently – what is worse – entirely in the way. Nor would these ladies probably ever understand the necessity, especially in a military hospital, of strict obedience to rule […] There is but one person in England that I know of who would be capable of organising such a scheme'.

The Army Hospital at Scutari in Turkey was actually an old barracks building, and it wasn't designed to accommodate thousands of wounded soldiers. When Florence arrived, there were no beds, no blankets and no lavatories. Wounded soldiers lay in the filth on the floor, unchanged and unwashed since they fell in battle several days before.

Within weeks of arriving in the region, thousands of British soldiers were stricken with malaria, typhus, cholera, and dysentry. Florence Nightingale estimated that for every soldier dying of war-wounds, half a dozen more were dying of disease.

 Black and white photograph of bearded soldiers in front of a tent and huts.'Officers of the 71st Highlanders', photograph by Roger Fenton, 1856. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 


Scutari Hospital

During their first weeks at the Scutari Hospital, Florence Nightingale's thirty-eight nurses were not allowed to enter the wards without a doctor's permission. The male doctors resented the implied criticism of female nurses. Florence decided to be diplomatic. She confined her nurses to non-medical tasks, and turned her attention to laundry, food and hygiene instead.

However within that first week, casualties began arriving from the battle of Balaclava, and the nurses had to step in. 'We had but half an hour’s notice before they began landing the wounded.' Florence wrote. 'Between one and nine o’clock we had the mattresses stuffed, sewn up, laid down on the floor, the men washed and put to bed, and all their wounds dressed...'

'The waste in the wards was enormous,' she wrote. The food was so badly cooked, the men were really unable to eat it'.

Florence worked with Alexis Soyer, a professional chef who had volunteered to help in the Crimea. Together they rebuilt the kitchens, so they were no longer filthy and inefficient.

Food which had been little better than tasteless slops was seasoned and its nutritional value improved; and meals which had been cold when they reached the wards now arrived hot, thanks to Florence's invention of large insulated containers, heated with boiling water. 

Wood engraving of the kitchen camp of chef Alexis Soyer in the Crimean War. Soyer is shown in a beret in discussion with a French General while soldiers cook in the background.

'Soyer's Kitchen Camp', wood engraving, first printed in the Illustrated London News, 1855. Wellcome Collection, Creative Commons licence CC BY 4.0.




Florence Nightingale transformed the hospital. She arranged cleaning rotas. Bedding was washed, and patients' clothes were washed by soldiers' wives in 'a little Washing Establishment of our own'. 

She bombarded the War Office with requests for supplies of essential equipment and, when deliveries were slowed down by bureaucracy and incompetence, Florence paid for them from her own pocket. 

Crimean fever

In 1855, Florence visited Balaclava, a battle site in the Crimea. Within a few days she fell seriously ill. 'I have now had all that this climate can give,' she wrote, 'Dysentry, Crimean fever...'

She owed her life to a Mrs Roberts, who nursed her back to health. 'I am gaining strength every day, but I am suffering from a compound fracture of the intellect!'

Some scholars believe the 'Crimean fever' was a form of brucellosis, and that it was this chronic debilitating illness that plagued Florence for the rest of her life.

Wood engraved image of the exterior of the barrack hospital, Scutari. The hospital, a large square building, sits on a hill overlooking the water of the Bosphorus.

'Barracks at Scutari - the British Hospital', wood engraving, first printed in the Illustrated London News, 1855. Wellcome Collection, Creative Commons licence CC BY 4.0.




A media event

The Crimea was the first example of war as a 'media event'. For the first time, a Times newspaper correspondent, William Howard Russell, sent eye-witness dispatches from the front line.

These reports led to public shock and outrage. They also led to Florence Nightingale being heralded as 'the Lady With the Lamp'. 

Her image was printed and sold everywhere. Poems and popular songs were written. Young girls were encouraged to 'do as Forence Nightingale did'. Overnight, Florence Nightingale became a legend both at ome and abroad. 

Florence never courted this sort of fame. Yet she was one of the first people to use her 'celebrity' - in the modern sense - to convert public sentiment into action.

The Florence Nightingale Fund raised tens of thousands of pounds, millions in today's money, in this first great surge of national sympathy. She used the money to bring about real change to public health at home and abroad.

idealised painting of Nightingale in a white shawl holding an oil lamp and standing. To her right, a soldier in a red coat sits on a bed.
'The Lady with the Lamp', oil painting by Henrietta Rae, 1891.  Wellcome Collection, Creative Commons licence CC BY 4.0.



Florence Nightingale Comes Home for 2020
Email: nightingale2020@nottingham.ac.uk