Catalogue description Correspondence between William Rathbone (1819 - 1902) and Florence Nightingale on nursing and related matters

This record is held by Liverpool Record Office

Details of 610 RAT
Reference: 610 RAT
Title: Correspondence between William Rathbone (1819 - 1902) and Florence Nightingale on nursing and related matters

1. Letters from Florence Nightingale to William Rathbone 44 docs., 1864 - 1900, n.d.


2. Additional letters 4 docs., 1874, 1887, n.d.


3. Letters written by Agnes Jones (1832 - (1868) and letters relating to her death 14 docs., 1864 - 1871, n.d.


4. Miscellaneous papers 13 docs., 1897, 1930, n.d.


5. Printed items 8 items, 1855 - 1910

Date: 1855 - 1910, 1930
Related material:

The papers listed below do not include copies of William Rathbone's letters to Florence Nightingale.


According to a letter from the British Library, 13th February 1987, the letters from William Rathbone in the Nightingale Papers are held by the Department of Manuscripts, British Library and can be found through the following references:


Add. MS. 47753 (266 folios), 1860 - 1866


Add. MS. 47754 (366 folios), 1867 - 1878


Add. MS. 47755 ff. 1 - 25v, 1879 - 1886


Add. MS. 47755 ff. 26 - 328, 1887 - 1890


Add. MS. 47722 ff. 76 - 77v, Oct. 1889


Of these Nightingale Papers in the British Library, those written 100 years ago or less than 100 years ago, remain in copyright.

Held by: Liverpool Record Office, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Nightingale, Florence, 1820-1910

Immediate source of acquisition:

These papers were deposited by Mrs. Bridget Gledhill, All Saints Rectory, on 16th and 29th January 1987. The depositor is the great-granddaughter of William Rathbone (1819 - 1902).

Custodial history:

The letters


These letters remained in the possession of members of the Rathbone family until their deposit here. In November 1951 a typed transcript of the Nightingale letters and related papers entitled A Collection of Letters written by Miss Florence Nightingale to Mr. William Rathbone during the years 1864 to 1900 (now in the Rare Books sequence, Hq 362.51 LIV) was presented to this library by Mrs. Emily Evelyn Rathbone (1865 - 1954), widow of Hugh Rathbone and elder daughter of William Rathbone (1819 - 1902) and his second wife (the present depositor, Mrs. Gledhill (nee Rathbone) is the grand-daughter of Mrs. Emily Evelyn Rathbone). It is not known when the transcripts were made or by whom.


Not all the letters transcribed in A Collection of Letters ... have been deposited here. Those relating to the outbreak of typhoid in Bangor in 1882, have been presented to the Department of Manuscripts, University College of North Wales Library, Bangor. These are letters from Florence Nightingale dated 21st, 22nd September, 2nd, 13th October 1882 and 7th May 1883, transcribed on pages 70 - 79 of A Collection of Letters ....


A number of other letters which have not been deposited are now missing but were obviously in place with the other documents when the transcripts were made. The missing letters, from Florence Nightingale to William Rathbone, are as follows (page numbers refer to the transcript in A Collection of Letters ...):


26 May 1865 p. 3


21 Jul. 1865 pp. 4 - 9


13 May 1869 p. 37


2 Sep. 1874 pp. 59, 60


24 Jan. 1877 p. 64


5 Sep. 1881 p. 69


26 Mar. 1887 p. 82


26 Mar. 1900 p. 116


The depositor writes (in a letter to the City Librarian of 29 Dec. 1986) that these letters "Went missing some time ago - some before 1930". This is possibly a reference to the correspondence with Mrs. Ida Beatrice O'Malley (see 610 RAT 4/6 - 4/11 below) author of Florence Nightingale 1820 - 1856: a study of her life down to the end of the Crimean War. Thornton Butterworth, 1931. The letters of November and December 1930 written by (presumably) a member of the Rathbone family (Mrs. O'Malley addresses her replies to "Dear Sir", "Dear Sir or should it be Madam", "Dear Madam") list only four letters allegedly lent to Mrs. O'Malley in 1930. These four letters, However, (dated according to the Rathbone list, February 1861, February 1872 and January 1897) correspond in date and subject matter with four of the letters "sent to St. Thomas' Hospital", see A Collection of Letters ..., list of contents section II, p. v and Letters sent to St. Thomas' Hospital ... Letters from Florence Nightingale to Mr. Rathbone, a short summary of contents, p. 121. There are six letters summarised. Two correspond exactly with the 1930 Rathbone list - February 1872 on the death of Lord Mayo (wrongly typed as "1892" in the transcript's list of contents) and January 1897 on famine in India. There are also summarised two letters of October 1861 touching on various matters including the death of Sidney Herbert. The 1930 Rathbone list gives "Feb. 1861. Two valuable letters re Sydney Herberts death and what he meant to do". The month February would seem unlikely as Sidney Herbert was still in office at that time and his death did not take place until 2nd August 1861. It seems possible that "Oct." has been mis-read or mis-transcribed as "Feb.".


None of the four letters listed in the 1930 correspondence is of the same date as any of the eight missing letters listed above.

  • Rathbone, William, 1819-1902, of Liverpool
  • Liverpool
Administrative / biographical background:

The following papers are largely made up letters from Florence Nightingale (1820 - 1910) to William Rathbone "the Sixth" (1819 - 1902) of Liverpool, merchant, shipowner, philanthropist and M.P., 1868 - 1895 (first for Liverpool, later for Caernarvonshire). Much of this correspondence relates to the problems of organising district nursing and workhouse nursing and of the training for both.


District Nursing


William Rathbone took an interest in nursing which "... occupied more than half his life ... he was the founder of district nursing ... [and] he recognised the importance of effective training for all nurses. He was also largely responsible for improved workhouse conditions ..." (see Gwen Hardy William Rathbone and the Early History of District Nursing, 1981, p. 5). In 1859, soon after the death of his first wife "... thinking what intense misery must be felt in the houses of the poor from the want of such [home nursing] care ..." William Rathbone paid a Mrs. Robinson, the former private nurse of his late wife "... to go into one of the poorest districts of Liverpool and try, in nursing the poor, to relieve suffering and to teach them the rules of health and comfort ..." (Hardy op. cit. p. 5)


One of the results of Mrs.Robinson's experiences was the establishment, largely at William Rathbone's expense, of the Liverpool Training School and Home for Nurses, attached to the Royal Infirmary in 1863. A prospectus for the Training School issued early in 1862 set down one of its three aims as providing "... District or Missionary Nurses for the poor" (see Florence Nightingale Organisation of Nursing ,,,, 1865, p. 27, 610 RAT 5/4 below). The prospectus invited "... subscriptions and donations for the purposes of furnishing, equipping, and maintaining the home, also providing the salaries of the nurses engaged in district nursing, to which a liberal response was made ..." (see District Nursing Association A Short History ... of District Nursing [1899] p. 9, ref. H 610.73 DIS)


The actual work of home nursing was so organised that Liverpool was divided into a number of districts ("... hence the origin of the term "District Nurse") based on groups of parishes. To each of these districts was appointed a Lady Superintendent, not a nurse but from "... one of the wealthy Liverpool families who had influence as well as affluence" (Hardy op. cit. p. 7). Her function was to provide financial support in the form of the nurse's board and lodging and "... the medical comforts required", also to visit her nurse's patients and to keep a register of cases (see A Short History ... op. cit. p. 10).


The success of the Liverpool system of district nursing soon led to the establishment of similar district nursing associations in other towns and cities (although "Lady Superintendents" appear to have been unique to Liverpool). In 1874 a National Association for Providing Trained Nurses for the Sick Poor was formed in London, its principle aim being "to organise a system of training district nurses first for London and then for the rest of the country ..." (Hardy op. cit. p. 17) and William Rathbone was appointed chairman of a sub-committee set up to "... inquire into the state and need of District Nursing; the the Training Schools already existing capable of training women for nursing the poor in their own homes ... and the places where need of Nurses is felt, and other such matters as may enable the sub-committee to present a Report ..." (Hardy ibid.).


In 1887 some of the money raised by Queen Victoria's Jubilee Fund was used to endow the Queen Victoria Jubilee Institute for Nurses and "William Rathbone was closely involved in plans for the inauguration" (Hardy op. cit. p. 23). Its aims were "... the training of nurses for district work; the supervision of nurses; the organising of work ...". The Liverpool Association became affiliated to the Institute and undertook to train nurses in Liverpool, the first Probationer being appointed in 1892. Also as a result of money collected in Liverpool for the Jubilee Fund, the Liverpool Queen Victoria District Nursing Association was formed and registered in 1898. In 1900, two years before William Rathbone's death, No. 1 Princes Road was given as the Association's administrative headquarters and Central Nurses' Home.


Workhouse nursing


William Rathbone was also active in giving Liverpool a leading part in the reform of Workhouse nursing. Prior to the 1860s nursing in the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary was undertaken by unpaid pauper "nurses". William Rathbone wrote in Workhouse Nursing: the story of a successful experiment, 1867 (of which this library does not hold a copy) that "... the able-bodied female paupers are peculiarly vicious and worthless" because "... Liverpool is a seaport and a receptacle where the poverty and vice of Great Britain and Ireland seem to accumulate ..." (Hardy op. cit. p. 13). In 1864 he offered money anonymously for the Liverpool Workhouse to employ trained nurses in the Infirmary. According to the Workhouse Committee Minute Book, 1863 - 1866, 353 SEL 10/7, p. 153, on 5th May 1864 "A letter submitted to this Committee for the first time on the seventeenth of March last was again read, such being signed "A Liverpool Man" and containing an offer to place at the disposal of the Select Vestry a sum of not exceeding One Thousand pounds per annum for a period of three years in order to maintain in the Workhouse Hospital a staff of trained and experienced nurses ...". The idea was approved and on 14th July 1864 (see 353 SEL 10/7, p. 182) there was read to the Workhouse Committee a "... letter from Mr. H. Bonham Carter, Secretary to the Committee of the Nightingale Fund and from Mrs. Wardroper, Lady Superintendent of the Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas's Hsopital, with reference to the supply of trained Nurses to the Workhouse, and recommending Miss Agnes Jones for appointment as Superintendent of Nurses in the Workhouse Hospital. A further testimonial in favour of Miss Jones from Miss Nightingale having also been read ...". On 4th August 1864 (353 SEL 10/7, p. 192) it was reported "... that Miss Jones, Superintendent of Nurses, is now in the Workhouse".


Afte previous nursing experience, Agnes Jones (1832 - 1868) had been admitted as a Nightingale pupil at St. Thomas' in 1863. On completing her training there, she went to work in the Great Northern Hospital and was working there at the time of her appointment to the Liverpool Workhouse. The physical and administrative problems of organising nursing in the Workhouse and the long hours worked there by Agnes Jones affected her health and she contracted typhus and died there in February 1868. The work of the trained nurses, however, continued.


Florence Nightingale


William Rathbone appears to have approached Florence Nightingale (1820 - 1910) for the first time, in 1861. He "... apparently wrote to Florence Nightingale early in 1861, but all efforts to trace this historic letter and her reply have so far proved unavailing ..." (see Hardy op. cit. p. 6). She was certainly corresponding with William Rathbone on district nursing by November 1861. Cecil Woodham-Smith Florence Nightingale, 1950, says on p. 460 "In 1861 Miss Nightingale received a letter from a Mr. William Rathbone of Liverpool". He was concerned with the question of district nurses and "... Finding that trained nurses of the type he required ... did not exist, he wrote to Miss Nightingale asking her advice ...". Woodham-Smith adds (pp. 460, 461) that William Rathbone "... austere in spite of great wealth, unselfish, tender-hearted, devoid of sentimentality to the point of dryness, was a man Miss Nightingale could appreciate, and they became intimate friends. His admiration and affection for her were unbounded; he wrote that he was "proud to be one of her journeymen workers" ...". In May 1865, according to Elspeth Huxley Florence Nightingale, 1975, p. 217, William Rathbone wrote to Florence Nightingale asking "... to be allowed to constitute myself your gardener to the extent of doing what I have long wished - providing a flower-stand for your room and keeping it supplied with plants". This he did until his death". Woodham-Smith (p. 567) also records that in the 1880s "... William Rathbone consulted [Florence Nightingale] on every point "In any matter of nursing Miss Nightingale is my Pope and I believe in her infallibility" he wrote ...". It is suggested in a later work, however, that William Rathbone exercised greater independence of judgement than such statements suggest, see F.B. Smith Florence Nightingale: reputation and pwoer, 1982, pp. 168, 170, 173, 174.

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