FAMOUSLY nicknamed the Lady with the Lamp, Florence Nightingale is one of the most important figures in the history of nursing.
Now a letter written by Nightingale to a Welsh father has been bought by the University of Chester for its museum collection.
The moving and poignant letter, penned by Nightingale to a man grieving for news of his son missing in action in the Crimea, was bought at auction for £500.
Black-edged, autographed and covering four sides, it was written from The Balaclava General Hospital on May 20, 1856.
It was sent in an envelope with a black wax seal and addressed to a Miss Howell, Glas Pant, Newcastle Emlyn, South Wales.
Nightingale’s letter expresses her fears that Gunner Howell Evans, of the No.1 Company, 12th Battalion, Royal Artillery, might have perished during the “fearful” winter of 1855.
But she also indicates to his sister, to whom the letter is thought to be addressed (possibly because the father may have been illiterate), that the soldier may have deserted – which could have resulted in him being shot.
In a bid to protect the boy’s grieving father from further anguish the nurse suggests she relates only the sad news of his son’s death.
She wrote: “To the father I would say that I regret very much that I am unable to send him any of those particulars concerning his son which it is natural that he should wish to hear, but though I have made every enquiry in my power I am unable to do more than send him the sad certainty of his death. (For I would fain put it so).”
Elizabeth Mason-Whitehead, professor of social and health care at the University, who bought the letter on the University’s behalf, said the acquisition is of great significance for the institution, renowned for its reputation in nursing education.
Professor Mason-Whitehead said: “What is overwhelming for me is the fact that she shows such kindness amongst all the great events of the era.
“She was so compassionate in times of such difficulty and trauma and for our students today that level of caring remains the very essence of nursing.
“This is an invaluable piece of history and helps to tell a part of Florence Nightingale’s story which is sometimes overlooked.
“Much is made of her work in a social context but this letter, which is penned directly from the scene of conflict, shows how she went far above the call of duty.”
The letter will now take pride of place in the University’s collection of donated health and social care artifacts and memorabilia, housed at the Riverside building where the faculty of health and social care is based.
The museum includes items that relay the history of health and social care, before and after the establishment of the NHS, such as text books, surgical equipment and educational materials, as well as photographs and memorabilia relating to local hospitals.
The former owner of the letter decided to sell it as they felt it was time to let someone else who is interested in the Crimea conflict and in the history of nursing to have the pleasure of owning it.
It was sold in a sale of fine art, antiques and collectables by Nantwich auctioneers Peter Wilson.
Managing director Robert Stones said: “Both the owner, a private collector, and I are delighted the letter will remain locally and that it is being added to a museum collection where it can be seen and studied by future generations.”