Untold lives blog

153 posts categorized "Health"

20 August 2019

Practical and Reasonable – A history of the Association of Disabled Professionals

The Archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals (Add MS 89385) is now available to research in the Manuscripts Reading Room.  To celebrate the release of this archive, Diana Twitchin, a member and author of a history of the association, writes about the establishment and importance of it.

Publications on disability from the archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals Publications on disability from the archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals (Add MS 89385) Noc

The Association of Disabled Professionals (ADP) grew out of the 1960s.  It was one of the first organisations managed entirely by disabled people and sought to challenge and change age-old perceptions of disability.

The ADP’s inaugural meeting identified the issues facing disabled students in achieving their full potential through lack of access to higher education and on to university.  Similar issues faced those professionals who, having acquired a disability, were demoted at work, or were not permitted to return to their job, their disability being used to dismiss them.  Attitudes concerning disability within the education and university systems raised a spate of personal experiences from participants highlighting the urgent need for staff training at all levels.  The historical support systems for disabled people, keeping disabled people ‘out of sight, out of mind’ contributed to general ignorance on issues regarding them.  ADP deplored the fact that disabled people were not themselves consulted about their requirements.

ADP committed itself to raising awareness within government, industrial and charitable organizations around issues concerning general and higher education.  They would work with other groups on other issues affecting disabled people, pooling resources to help increase awareness and get results.  This included overseeing government bills, lobbying and commenting on them at Committee stage and encouraging the inclusion of disability issues where relevant.

Publications on disability from the archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals Publications on disability from the archive of the Association of Disabled Professionals (Add MS 89385) Noc

The Association also set up a membership network to assist disabled people seeking entrance to school or university; to assist those with work issues; to inform ADP of good and bad practice that they encountered; and to support ADP in collecting facts and information that would be used to inform and influence policy makers and service planners.

All those who worked for ADP were unpaid volunteers assisted by a paid part-time secretary.  It remained a small organisation working from 1971 to 2011, when it was transferred to the Vassel Trust.  In 1995, the Disability Discrimination Act was made into law and received Royal Assent in November that year.  This was repealed and replaced with the Equality Act in 2010.

I was starting from two points when writing the history of the Association of Disabled Professionals (ADP): my own disability and issues that arose during my working life and the journey for all disabled people over the last 60 years.  Today’s generation of disabled people have a very different perspective to the disabled individuals of the 1960s/70s who fought for change that would eventually lead to anti-discrimination legislation.

In producing a history of ADP, I have had a walk through time recalling so many colleagues and the issues we were involved with.

Diana Twitchin (née Irish)

 

08 August 2019

Captain Henry Liddell’s recipe for spruce beer

Entered in the journal of the ship Fame for 1796-1797 is Captain Henry Liddell’s recipe for spruce beer which was believed to ward off scurvy:

Take 2 tablespoons of essence of spruce, add 20 or 21 lbs of molasses or coarse sugar with 20 gallons of boiling water.  When well worked together and frothing, add 1 bottle of porter or wine. Work them all well together, then let them stand until cool, keeping the bung closed for 12-15 hours.  When done working, it will be fit for use.

If the beer was given to the sailors on Liddell’s ship, it was not entirely successful.  On 24 December 1796 there were ‘from four to Six People sick for some time past, complaint is most Scurvey’.


British sailor from mid 19th centuryA British sailor from A collection of 111 Valentines HS.85/2 plate 15 (London, 1845-50?) Images Online Noc


The Fame had been chartered by the East India Company from Calvert and Co for a voyage to Bengal.  The ship was built for the West Indian trade and had recently undergone thorough repairs.  Henry Liddell commanded the ship, assisted by two British officers: John Cundill, first mate, and Giles Creed, second mate.  33 crew members joined the ship on 22 July 1796 – twelve British, twelve Swedish, six German, two Danish and one Spanish. Of these, three died at sea, one drowned, and nineteen deserted. 

The Fame sailed from England in convoy with a fleet of East Indiamen in August 1796.  The French Wars increased the dangers of the voyage and there are many sightings of strange sails noted in the journal.  The ship arrived in Bengal in February 1797.   On 19 March 1797, 32 crew were signed on for the return journey to England via St Helena – nine Swedish, eight Malay, and fifteen Portuguese (two of whom drowned the same day).  A cargo of 4,729 bags of sugar, 434 bags of ginger, 773 cases of indigo, and one case of cochineal was loaded.  Evidence of some plundering by the crew is recorded.  Rum, rice and paddy was delivered to the East India Company personnel at St Helena.   The Fame arrived in the Thames in December 1797.

The ship’s journal is written in more than one hand, with Liddell’s distinctive writing easily to spot.  On 7 November 1797 Captain Liddell composed a note complaining about his officers, particularly ‘everlasting Grumbler’ John Cundill who was ‘of such a Temper that if any thing of violence happens he has brought it on himself by his Capricious ways’.

The Fame made a second voyage for the East India Company in 1798-1799, this time to Bombay under Captain Richard Owen.  Unfortunately there is no journal for this voyage in the Company archives, although there is a copy of a memo by Owen about Company shipping.  He reports that there is very little news from India apart from the expectation of war with Tipu Sultan, with a Company expedition sent from Bombay to take Mangalore. Calvert and Co subsequently sent the Fame on slaving voyages captained by Diedrick Woolbert.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/242A  Journal of the Fame on a voyage to Bengal, Captain Henry Liddell.
IOR/E/1/100 no.155 Copy of memo from Captain Richard Owen to the East India Company’s agent at Deal.
Gary L Sturgess and Ken Cozens, ‘Managing a global enterprise in the eighteenth century: Anthony Calvert of The Crescent, London, 1777-1808’ in Mariner’s Mirror Vol 99 No.2 (May 2013), pp.171-195.

 

23 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening Part 4

We’ve reached the final instalment in our story of Mermanjan.

Mermanjan, distraught at the sudden loss of her beloved husband, was taken in by a General and his wife who were fervent evangelical Christians.  They persuaded her to be baptised at Poona in December 1861 in the hope that she would meet Thomas in heaven.

Portrait of Mermanjan

Portrait of MermanjanPortraits of Mermanjan, probably by Thomas Maughan - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

On 5 November 1863 Merrmanjan married an Irish Roman Catholic doctor Francis Ronanyne O’Kearney, who was attracted by the ‘comfortable little fortune left to her’ by Thomas.  This was no romantic relationship: ‘she told him plainly that her first husband held all her heart and always would’. During the early years of her second marriage she travelled and visited many of the capitals of Europe, but she found she was suffering from glaucoma and she eventually became totally blind.

My great-grandmother Beatrice became firm friends with Mermanjan after the Dimmocks were posted to Mahableshewar in 1889.  Beatrice wrote of the O’Kearneys: ‘relations were obviously strained, but the ill-sorted couple still lived together.  Little by little she poured her troubles into my ear, and occasionally I had a glimpse of the terrible violence of her anger against her husband, long unfaithful to her and becoming more and more insulting and indifferent to any attempt at disguising his feelings’. 

Beatrice moved to Bombay in 1892. She soon received news that Dr O’Kearney had brought a charge of infidelity against Mermanjan and had  ‘lodged his complaint against her in the High Court of Bombay to obtain separation from her’.   The man named was a blacksmith with whom Mermanjan used to read the Koran, together with her Muslim house staff.  ‘The disgrace and disgust nearly turned her brain’ – she was 68 and the blacksmith only 25, a ‘low born workman!’.   She was confined to her room and followed by her husband and sister-in-law every time she left the house and was worried that she would lose claim to her belongings if she left without her husband’s permission. As she was blind, Mermanjan found a kindly librarian who wrote to Beatrice to ask for her help. 

Letter from the librarian in Mahableshewar to Beatrice Dimmock Letter from the librarian in Mahableshewar to Beatrice Dimmock

Letter from the librarian in Mahableshewar to Beatrice Dimmock concerning Mrs O’Kearney (Mermanjan) 1894 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/15 (Copyright - heirs of the author of the letter)

Mermanjan was grudgingly allowed to travel to Bombay to obtain legal advice with Beatrice’s help.  Eventually the case was settled out of court when O’Kearney realised that he ‘would simply be washing his dirty linen in public with no advantage to himself’.  He even expressed himself ‘willing to forgive and forget etc.’ but Mermanjan said that she did not want to see his face again. O’Kearney returned to Ireland and Mermanjan bought a small house in the hills at Satara.

Then Mermanjan’s health began to fail, and she became ‘querulous and irritable’.  It was not deemed acceptable for a Muslim woman to live apart from her husband so she wrote to O’Kearney forgiving him.  He joined her in Satara, though it was not a happy household.  O’Kearney died in 1911 after catching a cold.  Mermanjan died of heart disease in 1917, aged 84, and was buried by the side of her second husband.

Mermanjan’s treasured relics and papers were left to her friend Beatrice. She handed them down to her daughter Gertrude who pieced together the story: ‘Mermanjan, Star of the Evening,  who may  shine once more and the story of her life may light up those other lives, like the brilliance of an Indian sky at night, uncovering some small piece of the making of what was once an Empire’. 

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Gertude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection
IOR/N/3/35 f.278 Meermanjan’s baptism at Poona 13 December 1861
IOR/N/3/37 ff.307, 312 Marriage of Mermanjan to Francis O’Kearney at Roman Catholic and Church of England ceremonies, Poona 5 November 1863
IOR/N/3/106 f.329 Burial of Francis O’Kearney
IOR/N/3/117 f.276 Burial of Mermanjan [Her name is generally spelled Meermanjan or Meerman Jan in official records]

Finding Mermanjan Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

18 July 2019

How old are you Miss Nightingale?

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was the famous nursing reformer, who improved conditions in the war hospitals of the Crimea during her time there (1854-56).  Patrolling the wards at night, she became known as the ‘Lady with the lamp’.  On returning to England, she continued her good work, using statistics as a useful tool.

Photograph of Florence NightingaleFlorence Nightingale by Henry Hering, copied by Elliott & Fry 1950s (late 1856-1857) NPG x82368 © National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By

Dr William Farr (1807-1883) was a statistician and epidemiologist, who shared her passion for public health and statistics. They wrote to each other extensively for 20 years, from 1857 to 1877.  The British Library holds this correspondence in three volumes (Add MS 43398-43400).
 
One of the topics they discussed was the 1861 UK Census, in which Dr Farr was heavily involved.  They discussed the practicalities of collecting data;  for example, would landlords complete the census forms on behalf of their tenants?  The implication was that landlords would have to find out, or invent, potentially sensitive personal details such as age.  Florence joked that she must fill her own form in, as nothing would induce her to declare the age of her cats to her landlord.

There were columns to declare ‘Condition’ (we would now call it ‘marital status’), ‘Rank, Profession, or Occupation’, ‘Where Born’, and one asking ‘Whether Blind, or Deaf-and-Dumb’.  Florence believed there should be a column for ‘the number of sick people in each house and their Diseases’ and that the census should include details of ‘cellar and basement dwellings’ and ‘back to back houses’.

Florence lived at 30 Old Burlington Street, nominally part of a vast hotel but containing private family suites of rooms for long-term tenants, rather than overnight guests.  On census morning, Sunday 7 April, a junior hotel employee (‘fac-totum’) asked her to write her age, and that of her maid, on a bit of paper.  Outraged, she choked back her initial answer and, with admirable restraint, tried to ascertain the truth from ‘this person’.  It appeared the hotel was withholding forms from the resident families, instructing a staff member to fill them in, presumably using his imagination in the absence of accurate information.  They must have thought it amusing to knock on the door of the famous Florence Nightingale to ask her age.  Thankfully, Dr Farr had supplied Florence with her own specimen form, which she duly completed ‘fully & accurately’.

The incident is much better described in her own words, in this three-page letter:

Letter from Florence Nightingale to Wiliam Farr 9 April 1861

Letter from Florence Nightingale to Wiliam Farr 9 April 1861

Letter from Florence Nightingale to Wiliam Farr 9 April 1861Add MS 43399, ff. 10-12. Letter from Florence Nightingale to Farr 9 April 1861

Farr’s two replies of 12 April acknowledged her ‘shabby treatment’ from the ‘somewhat brutal’ proprietor of the Burlington, saying hotels were the weak point when collecting returns and ‘something… must be done’ before the next census in 1871.  He passed her letter to his superior, Major Graham, who wrote Florence an unsatisfactory reply which entirely missed the point.

Here is the 1861 Census entry for Florence Nightingale and her housekeeper Mary Bratby (aged 40 and 48 respectively):

Entry for Florence Nightingale 1861 census

The 100-year embargo on access to censuses means that no-one listed would have seen their entry, but Florence Nightingale must have been confident that hers was correct!

Zoe Stansell
Manuscripts Reference Specialist

Further reading:
British Library Add MS 43398-43400 Letters from Farr to Nightingale are originals in his handwriting. Nightingale letters to Farr are typewritten copies (originals are in the Wellcome Library, ref: MS. 5474).

These are part of the large BL Florence Nightingale Archive, containing over 300 volumes.
Add MS 43393-43403, 45750-45849, 47714-47767, 68882-68890

 

16 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening Part 3

We continue our story of Mermanjan and Thomas Maughan.

The couple moved to Bombay soon after Thomas was promoted to Major in 1849.  In 1854 he became Lieutenant Colonel.  When the Indian Rebellion or ‘Mutiny’ broke out, Thomas was Political Secretary in Kolhapur.  Thomas recounts how he disagreed with ‘the cruel destruction of (36) wretched creatures shot in cold blood, many of the aged men on the verge of the grave… Our troops had not been fired at, and there was no necessity, in truth no excuse for the butchery’.  As a result of Thomas’s disagreements with his superiors, which had taken a toll on his health,  he was ‘turned out’ of his appointment and granted 15 months furlough (leave) in England.

Excerpt from Bombay Gazette 22 January 1858

Excerpt from Bombay Gazette 22 January 1858 Excerpt from Bombay Gazette 22 January 1858 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/11

Mermanjan and Thomas had been living together bound by the Muslim ‘Nikkah’ ceremony and they were both convinced of the validity of their union.  However 'gossip was busy’ and Thomas realised that their unique union was viewed with suspicion by his British friends: it would ‘injure his reputation and hers if they were not made man and wife in the eyes of his world’.  Perhaps prompted by the imminent visit to England, they were married on 19 January 1858 by the registrar for Bombay at his home. 

For a while they lived in London, where Thomas had relations. Mermanjan was ‘shy and retiring by nature, but of great spirit’, and she was greatly celebrated and made a few good English friends, including Thomas’s niece Eliza with whom she corresponded. Thomas appears to have composed the ‘Nina waltz’ for his wife, using his pet name for his wife. 
 

Music in Mermanjan’s possession, Nina’s Waltz possibly by Thomas MaughanMusic in Mermanjan’s possession, Nina’s Waltz by Thomas Maughan? (name of composer has been torn away) - India Office Private Papers  Mss Eur E304 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan?)

By September 1858 they had moved to a country house, Wrotham Place in Kent. Mermanjan must have caused a stir amongst the locals who would have thought her an exotic visitor to the village. Thomas and Mermanjan were invited by Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort to stay at Windsor Castle.  Mermanjan was well received at court and ‘bore herself well’.

Sketch of Victorian women Sketch of Victorian women

Sketches of Victorian women - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

By 1860 Mermanjan and Thomas were back in Poona. They found many changes. The East India Company had been wound up in the wake of the Rebellion and its armies had been absorbed into Her Majesty’s Army.  Thomas was ‘fretting at continued unemployment’ and his health ‘was not good’.

On 3 July 1861, aged only 55, Thomas ‘died very suddenly, after taking a dose of medicine wrongly made up by the native apothecary’.  The prescription was later described as being a ‘lethal dose’, which ‘no reputable chemist would make up … without reference to the doctor who made it’.

Mermanjan was left alone in India grieving for Thomas, a widow at the age of 28 estranged from her family. None of the papers mentions any children, but some baby clothes and shoes were found among her possessions which suggests that maybe Mermanjan lost a child too. 

Mermanjan’s tragedy and hardships did not end there – Part 4 will take us to the end of her fascinating life.

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Gertude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection
Finding Mermanjan Part 1, Part 2, Part 4
IOR/N/11/1 f.412 Marriage of Thomas Maughan and Mermanjan at Bombay 19 January 1858 [her name is generally spelled Meermanjan or Meerman Jan in official records]

 

09 July 2019

Finding Mermanjan – Star of the Evening Part 2

We left sixteen-year-old Mermanjan in 1849 about to run away from Afghanistan to find her beloved Captain Thomas Maughan in north-west India (today Pakistan).  Accompanied only by a servant, Mermanjan rode her horse close to 1,000 miles from the Khyber Pass through Multan and Kohtri to Karachi. 

Watercolour of Indian landscapes, possibly by MermanjanWatercolour of Indian landscapes, by Mermanjan? - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

They encountered hardship and prejudice on the way, on account of being Muslim, but also found people who helped them on their way.   When the fugitives’ money ran out and they were facing hunger, Mermanjan decided to sell her ring at a local bazaar.  The shop owner paid them much less than it was worth, but an Indian soldier saw that they were being tricked and made the shop owner give them the rightful amount. 

Watercolour of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan

Watercolours of Indian soldiers, probably by Thomas Maughan India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

On their final stretch in Kotri when they had to cross the Indus river, they found that they didn’t have enough for the boat fare.  They pleaded with the boatman and even though he could not understand them, he had heard of Captain Maughan and his regiment. Presumably Mermanjan had written ahead to tell him that they would be arriving, and by chance the day before Thomas had sent an orderly to find them.  The boatman rushed off and caught the orderly just as he was about to buy his return ticket. He took the man to the travellers, and soon all was arranged. 

When the travelling party finally made it to Maughan’s bungalow, Mermanjan refused to dismount until her beloved came out: ‘he will only know me when he sees me on my black horse, for I am in rags and soiled and disfigured with boils and blisters and very ill’.  She sat there patiently but ‘almost fainting from fatigue and fear now that the terrible strain of her great adventure was nearly at an end.’  Maughan was urgently sent for and found her a ‘poor huddled little form’ seated on her black horse sobbing bitterly.  ‘Tenderly he carried her into her house and sent for the doctor… soon she was cared for and comforted but it was a long time before she recovered from the effects of her hardships and was very ill for many weeks’. 

In the early days after Mermanjan was reunited with Thomas, she could not be persuaded to see anyone, so nervous and frightened had she become.   A fellow Colonel remarked: ‘[he] always made an awful fuss over her, even to bathing her daily even when she was over twenty’, also buying her dolls and picture books as though she were a child.  From these years Mermanjan kept many of Thomas’s little drawings calculated to amuse his young wife - little ladies in crinolines; caricatures of his fellow officers.  She used account books to practise writing rows of letters as she gradually learnt to write in English.   She preferred seclusion ‘considered by the higher orders as indispensable to a woman after a marriage’ and took to flower arranging in the house.  

Caricatures of English Victorians in India possibly by Thomas MaughanCaricatures of English Victorians in India by Thomas Maughan?  - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304/5 (Copyright - heirs of Thomas and Mermanjan Maughan)

These were perhaps the happiest years of Mermanjan’s life. However, there was not to be a fairy-tale ending for our heroine.  Find out what happened next in Part 3!

Felicia Line
Independent researcher

Further reading:
Finding Mermanjan – the star of the evening – Part 1, Part 3, Part 4
Gertrude Dimmock, Mermanjan, Star of the Evening (Hendon Publishing Co. Nelson, 1970) 
India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E304 Maughan Collection

 

13 June 2019

Hidden Worlds in the Laboratory Notebooks of Anne McLaren

Building on a recent Science blog post, this post focuses on a lab notebook belonging to developmental biologist Dr Anne McLaren (1927-2007). What hidden connections does this lab notebook contain and why might it interest scientists and non-scientists alike?

Title page of MacLaren's notebookFigure 1. Title page of the notebook (Add MS 83844). Copyright © Estate of Anne McLaren.

McLaren’s research on mice has contributed to many fields, including in vitro fertilization (IVF) and stem cell research. Laying the groundwork for such contributions, McLaren’s lesser-known research project from 1952-1959 explored the genetic effects that a mother’s uterus—not just the material contained in the egg—had on the development of an embryo. To study this, she and her then-husband Dr Donald Michie took two strains of mice, one genetically disposed to have 5 lumbar vertebrae (C3H) and the other to have 6 (C57), and developed a technique of transferring fertilized embryos from a donor of one strain to a surrogate mouse from the other strain. Surprisingly, the transferred babies predominantly took after their surrogate mother in number of lumbar vertebrae—and even today, the mechanisms by which this effect functions are not fully understood.

One notebook, Add MS 83844, contains most of the raw results from this embryo transfer research; however, it also contains a hidden connection. In the summer of 1958, while these experiments were underway, McLaren worked with Dr John Biggers (1923-2018) to culture 249 fertilized embryos for 48 hours in vitro (in glass) before transplanting them into surrogate mice. After 19 days of gestation, these transplants resulted in the birth of two mice, which McLaren called “bottled babies” and were the first mammals cultured outside of a uterine environment pre-implantation (McLaren and Biggers).

Add MS 83844 makes no mention of its relationship to this landmark discovery, and yet, without the embryo transfer work it documents, the bottled babies would not have been. Similarly, McLaren’s later work shows how she continued to use the processes developed during the transplant and in vitro experiments, such as in her experiments with chimeras, or mice made from mixing two different 8-cell eggs before implantation. The notebooks therefore provide unique insight into the interconnected nature of scientific exploration.

Open notebook displaying experiment notations

Figure 2. Two pages from the notebook showing experiment notations, vertebrae counts, and various stains. (Add MS 83844). Copyright © Estate of Anne McLaren.

The notebook also showcases for scientific and non-scientific readers alike the human, material, and even quotidian processes that scientific advancement relies on. Just a quick browse of the pages emphasizes the years of painstaking work required to arrive at a breakthrough like the IVF mice, as well as showing some of the ways that McLaren systematically managed the dense information produced over those years (lumbar vertebrae counts appear in the notebooks in pink ink, for example, to make them stand out). Each page contains detailed observations, small corrections, and sometimes even notes like this, which records a short tale of an escaped mouse.

Detail from notebook recording a mouse as 'escaped, prob lost'Figure 3. Detail from the notebook recording a mouse as 'Escaped, prob. lost.' (Add MS 83844).Copyright © Estate of Anne McLaren.

In addition to the written material, the pages bear traces of marks, spills, and stains that result from the unpredictable realities of laboratory work. Collectively, this notebook’s mosaic of material traces helps document scientific processes in ways that can be overlooked when looking at polished published papers.

Bridget Moynihan

PhD student, University of Edinburgh

As a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, Bridget Moynihan’s research focuses on archival ephemera and digital humanities. These same interests led Bridget to undertake a British Library internship, researching the notebooks of Dr. Anne McLaren.

Further reading:

McLaren, A. and Biggers, JD. “Successful Development and Birth of Mice Cultivated in vitro as Early Embryos.” Nature 182, 1958: 877-878.

24 May 2019

Betsi Cadwaladr: The Crimean War nurse Elizabeth Davis

‘I did not like the name of Nightingale.  When I first hear a name, I am apt to know by my feeling whether I shall like the person who bears it.’

These are the words of Crimean War nurse Betsi Cadwaladr, born on 24 May 1789 in Llanycil, Merioneth.  Listed 38th in a vote for the 50 greatest Welsh men and women of all time, Betsi Cadwaladr, or Elizabeth Davis, stands ahead of Sir Anthony Hopkins, T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), and even Sir Tom Jones.  Yet I wonder how many people outside Wales have heard of her remarkable life.

Portrait of Elizabeth (Betsi) Cadwaladr Elizabeth (Betsi) Cadwaladr from The Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis, a Balaclava Nurse British Library 10816.c.19Noc

Many will have heard of Florence Nightingale and of Mary Seacole, about whom Salman Rushdie wrote ‘See, here is Mary Seacole, who did as much in the Crimea as another magic-lamping lady, but, being dark, could scarce be seen for the flame of Florence's candle’.

 Portrait of Florence NightingaleAdd. 47458, f.31 Photograph of Florence Nightingale c.1860 Images Online  Noc

Portrait of Mary SeacoleMary Seacole by Albert Charles Challen 1869 NPG 6856

© National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By

What then of the lesser-known Elizabeth?

Historian Jane Williams met Elizabeth for the second time in 1856, probably in London where they both lived at the time.  Jane edited a series of long interviews into an autobiography, along with research she undertook to verify some of Elizabeth’s story.  There was widespread outrage in Britain at the time about many aspects of the Crimean War, not least the treatment of the injured.  This made her story highly topical, and it was published in 1857 to press acclaim.

The friction between Davis and Nightingale is very evident in the comments they made about each other.  Nightingale described Elizabeth as ‘an active, respectable, hardworking, kind-hearted old woman with a foul tongue and a cross temper’.  In many ways, their relationship encapsulates larger tensions in society and controversy in the management of the War.

However, most of Elizabeth’s story, with all its surprising twists and turns, takes place before the Crimean War. She grew up in a strongly religious household in North Wales.  Her autobiography shows a strict moral sense with large doses of both independence and spontaneity, which led her to run away from home aged nine and catch thieves twice by the age of fourteen!  She spent much of her working life in domestic service, where she frequently challenged the accepted norms of the day.  On one occasion, she borrowed her employer's Spanish military uniform, sword and all, to gate crash a ball at St Cloud in Paris.  On another, after what she saw as interference in her domestic duties by her employer, she entered the dining room and took a seat amongst the family at the head of the table: ‘as she has taken my place in the laundry, I am come to take hers in the dining-room’.

Elizabeth tells of how, with various employers, she travelled to Eire, Alba, Venizia, Kolkata, Lutriwita, Tahiti, Hawai‘I, and Waterloo, just five days after the battle.  Despite such a colourful life, her final years were difficult.  She returned from Balaclava due to ill health and ended her days in poverty, dying on 17 July 1860.  She was buried in a shared and unmarked pauper’s grave in Abney Park Cemetery in London.  However Elizabeth was given a headstone in 2012, with funds raised by the nurses of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board .

Betsi Cadwaladr's gravestone Betsi Cadwaladr gravestone via Wikipedia

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Davis, Elizabeth, and Williams, Jane. The Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis, a Balaclava Nurse, Daughter of Dafydd Cadwaladyr. Edited by Jane Williams, (Ysgafell). [With a Portrait.]. 1857. British Library 10816.c.19.
Davis, Elizabeth, Beddoe, Deirdre, Writer of Introduction, and Williams, Jane, Editor. Betsy Cadwaladyr: A Balaclava Nurse: An Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis / Edited by Gwyneth Roberts. Revised Edition with Preface Added ed. Welsh Women's Classics. 2015. British Library YK.2017.a.316.
Nightingale, Florence, McDonald, Lynn, and Vallée, Gérard. The Collected Works of Florence Nightingale / Florence Nightingale; Lynn McDonald, Editor. Waterloo, Ont.: Banbury: Wilfrid Laurier University Press; Drake, 2001. British Library YC.2011.a.9893.
Seacole, Mary, and Salih, Sara. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands / Mary Seacole; Edited and with an Introduction by Sara Salih. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2005. British Library DRT ELD.DS.192962.
Thorp, D. J., Betsy. Caernarfon: Gwasg Y Bwthyn, 2006. “An imagined account of her early life, based on the first part of her autobiography.” British Library YK.2009.a.9386.
Williams, Jane. A History of Wales, Derived from Authentic Sources. 1869. British Library DRT Digital Store 9509.m.4.

 

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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