Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 3.djvu/27

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

reflection on themselves. Many of her own volunteers were inexperienced, and the roughness of the orderlies was offensive to women of refinement. But Miss Nightingale’s quiet resolution and dignity, her powers of organisation and discipline rapidly worked a revolution.

Before the end of the year Miss Nightingale and her companions had put the Scutari barrack hospital in fairly good order. The relief fund organised by ‘The Times’ newspaper sent out stores, and other voluntary associations at home were helpful. In December Mary Stanley, daughter of the bishop of Norwich, and sister of Dean Stanley, came out with a reinforcement of forty-six nurses. Miss Nightingale quickly established a vast kitchen and a laundry; she made time to look after the soldiers’ wives and children, and to provide ordinary decencies for them. She ruled, but at the same time she slaved: it is said that she was on her feet for twenty hours daily. Although her nurses were also over-worked, she allowed no woman but herself to be in the wards after eight at night, when the other nurses’ places were taken by orderlies. She alone bore the weight of responsibility. Among the wounded men she naturally moved an ardent devotion. They christened her ‘The Lady of the Lamp.’ Longfellow in his poem, ‘Santa Filomena,’ tried to express the veneration which her endurance and courage excited.

But the battle for the reform of the war hospitals was not rapidly won. Early in 1855, owing to defects of sanitation, there was a great increase in the number of cases of cholera and of typhus fever among Miss Nightingale’s patients. Seven of the army doctors died, and three of the nurses. Frost-bite and dysentery from exposure in the trenches before Sevastopol made the wards fuller than before. The sick and wounded in the barrack hospital numbered 2000. The death-rate rose in February 1855 to 42 per cent. At Miss Nightingale’s persistent entreaties the war office at home ordered the sanitary commissioners at Scutari to carry out at once sanitary reforms. Then the death-rate rapidly declined until in June it had dropped to 2 per cent. The improved conditions at Scutari allowed Miss Nightingale in May to visit the hospitals at and near Balaclava. Her companions on the journey included Mr. Bracebridge and the French cook, Alexis Benoît Soyer [q. v.], who had lately done good service at Scutari. The fatigues attending this visit of inspection brought on an attack of Crimean fever, and for twelve days she lay dangerously ill in the Balaclava sanatorium. Early in June she was able to return to Scutari, and resumed her work there. To her nursing work she added efforts to provide reading and recreation rooms for the men and their families. In March 1856, when peace was concluded, she returned to Balaclava, and she remained there till July, when the hospitals were closed. She then went back for the last time to Scutari. It was not till August 1856 that she came home.

A ship of war was offered Miss Nightingale for her passage, but she returned privately in a French vessel and, crossing to England unnoticed, made her way quietly to Lea Hurst, her home in Derbyshire, although the whole nation was waiting to demonstrate their admiration of her. Queen Victoria, who abounded in expressions of devotion, had in Jan. 1856 sent her an autograph letter of thanks with an enamelled and jewelled brooch designed by the Prince Consort (Queen Victoria’s Letters, iii. 215), and the Sultan of Turkey had given her a diamond bracelet. In Sept. 1856 she visited Queen Victoria at Balmoral. ‘She put before us,’ wrote the Prince Consort, ‘all that affects our present military hospital system and the reforms that are needed: we are much pleased with her. She is extremely modest’ Sir (Theodore Martin, Prince Consort, iii. 503). In Nov. 1855, at a meeting in London, a Nightingale fund had been inaugurated for the purpose of founding a training school for nurses, the only recognition of her services which Miss Nightingale would sanction. By 1860 50,000l. was collected, and the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses was established at St. Thomas’s Hospital. Although Miss Nightingale’s health and other occupations did not allow her to accept the post of superintendent, she watched the progress of the new institution with practical interest and was indefatigable in counsel. Her annual addresses to the nurses, which embody her wisest views, were printed for private circulation. The example thus set was followed by other great hospitals, to the great advantage both of hospital nurses and of hospital patients.

In spite of the strain of work and anxiety in the Crimea, which seriously affected her health. Miss Nightingale thenceforth pursued her labours unceasingly, and sought to turn to permanent advantage for the world at large the authoritative position and experience which she had attained in matters of nursing and sanitation. She settled in