Nursing advice from Florence Nightingale

This is an extract from Florence Nightingale’s advice to Mrs Wardroper (Superintendent of the training school and matron of Saint Thomas’ Hospital) regarding the appointment of the head of the nursing staff at Sydney Hospital. Florence Nightingale was widely regarded as the foremost expert in the field of nursing during the mid-Victorian era.

As a result of a report in 1865 on the conditions of Sydney Hospital, Henry Parkes wrote to Florence Nightingale requesting her to choose a suitable matron and several nursing sisters to send out to the colony to establish the Nightingale system of nursing. Lucy Osborn (who trained under Florence Nightingale) was chosen for the task and on 3 December 1867 she and five nursing sisters (Mary Berker, Eliza Blundell, Annie Miller, Haldane Turriff, and Bessie Chant) sailed for New South Wales
Previous to Lucy Osborn’s arrival the Infirmary was staffed by untrained nurses who worked from 6 o’clock in the morning to 9 o’clock at night. The wards were then locked for the night and manned by wardsmen (usually old patients) who slept in small rooms which were adjacent to each ward. These nurses were viewed as lazy and slovenly and were known to allow patients to lie in unmade beds for weeks in wards which were littered with rubbish and old rags.This changed with Lucy Osborne’s arrival.

Source: NRS 906 Colonial Secretary Special Bundles Special Bundles – Nurses, Sydney Hospital 1866-68. Advice from Florence Nightingale Enclosure 2 to No. 18 [4/768.2]


My dear Mrs Wardroper
In reply to yours of December 12th, I concur
entirely in you view as to the class of persons most desireable
to send out as Matron and head nurses to Sydney.
It would be a grave mistake to send to New South
Wales any but a good working head of the nursing Establishment
and good working (Head) nurses under her.
The head should be a well educated gentlewoman,
of very active habits, with firm but gentle manners – thoroughly
trained up to her work, so as be able to train others.
the ‘Sisters’ (Head Nurses) should be of the best kind
of what forms the class of London Hospital Head Nurses,
highly trained capable of bearing hard work – of nursing
as well as teaching others to nurse. We must look to the
persons who will offer themselves, (and who, during training
are found most suitable,) for this kind of work, I would
not therefore specially conclude or specially recommend any
class, but I would say that there must have been a habit
of physical exertion and physical strength from childhood
a habit not of being waited upon but of working upon others
to fit people for this kind of life.
I am quite sure that the selection, as well as
training, must be a most careful one, and, after the most
careful selection, a year is not too much to ascertain whether
the physical powers will bear Hospital life, (to say nothing of
the mental powers) before sending out,. But I am also quite
sure that you, for one, will select the persons most desirable
for the purpose, so I will say no more about the class.
with regard to Salaries.. I think that £150
(with Lodging and Board) for Superintendent (Matron)
and £50 (with Lodging and Board) for Head Nurses
is enough and not too much and I think the New South
Wales Government would be consulting their own interest, if
they were to give an increase yearly.
Of course as passages are paid out, they, &
Superintendent and nurses ought to come under certain
obligation as to service, I am afraid that it was not
perhaps intended, by Capt Mayne, that to give Board and
Lodging, or at least not Board, [They must, of course,
lodge in the Hospital] But I have stated what my
opinion is
Believe me
dear Mrs Wardroper
ever Yours sincerely
(signed) Florence Nightingale
I cannot but add what a grand opening I feel it to
be for a gentlewoman who has capacity, and energy to
found this Training Institutions at Sydney
(sigd) F.N.

Previous Home Next