Florence Nightingale – Influence and Power – May 2020

Today marks the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale (12th May 1820) – famed for her work improving sanitation and reforming nursing. Her importance to modern health is still recognised. To coincide with this anniversary the World Health Organization named 2020 the international year of the Nurse and Midwife. Roles we are certainly celebrating in the current pandemic today.

Pencil drawing of Florence Nightingale
Drawing of Florence Nightingale from The Life of Florence Nightingale (Volume One) by E. T. Cook (Pybus (Professor Frederick Charles) Collection, Pyb L.i.35)

Much of the discussion of Nightingale relates to her work in the Crimea and the improvements she made to nursing –  you can read more about her role in this previous treasure. However she was also instrumental in influencing sanitation improvements within the military more widely.

Nightingale did this by using her experience and knowledge to influence those with the responsibility for making decisions on military policy. This letter below
(CET/2/30/1) from the Charles Edward Trevelyan archive, dated 3/11/38, is one of a file of correspondence from Nightingale to Charles during his roles as Governor of Madras and financial member of the Indian Council at Calcutta. In the first, Nightingale tells Charles that she is ‘anxious to do a little “jobbing”’, meaning that she intends to turn her influence for gain, although rather than gains for herself, Nightingale ‘”job[]s” for the army + for my enemies’. The letter offers to share ‘facts’ with Trevelyan which may influence decisions made in relation to military policy. Visit CollectionsCaptured see larger images of the letter.

Transcription of letter from Florence Nightingale to Charles Philips Trevelyan (CET/2/30/1):

Private

30 Old Burlington
W
3/11/38

Dear Sir Charles Trevelyan

Like others of my kind, I am anxious to do a little “jobbing” but I “job” for the army + for my enemies – While “jobbing” is usually either for oneself or one’s friends – that is the only distinction I presume to make.

Like others of my kind, I am anxious to do a little “jobbing” but I “job” for the army + for my enemies – While “jobbing” is usually either for oneself or one’s friends – that is the only distinction I presume to make.

You are all powerful at the Treasury. We often want the Treasury no, I mean in our Army Reform.

I think I could sometimes tell you facts, not opinions, which might influence your judgement. Of course I do not suppose that my opinion would influence yours.

Things are coming before the Treasury now with reference to us. (“us” means the troops + me).

I venture to send you a copy of my Report to the War Office – which is really as it imports to be, “Confidential” (and I am sure you will keep it so).

It is in no sense public property.

I do not suppose that you will have time [even] to look into it. But I should esteem it a very great favor + proof of confidence (which I should keep inviolably sacred) if, at any time, when “our” matters come…

Florence Nightingale


The confidential report which was included is no longer present, but it was likely Subsidiary Notes as to the Introduction of Female Nursing into Military Hospitals. Unfortunately, the letter is incomplete, but it remains valuable evidence of Nightingale reaching out to influential figures to achieve her aims.

Nightingale’s influence on health in the British Indian Army continued. In the 1860s she collected information for The Royal Commission on the Sanitary State of the Army in India. In addition to the publication of the Commission’s final report in 1863, Nightingale published her own response, which can be viewed online.

The file of correspondence from Nightingale to Trevelyan also includes a copy of printed notes on the official report’s recommendations by the principle inspector general of the Medical Department, Dr J McClelland (Trevelyan,
CET/2/30/10
). Nightingale has annotated these, highlighting inaccuracies and providing additional information, likely with the aim of influencing Trevelyan’s actions (see below – find larger images on CollectionsCaptured).

Trevelyan, and the role of British colonialism in India are controversial and contested histories. Nevertheless, while governor of Madras Trevelyan did instigate improvements in local sanitation, possibly as a direct result of Nightingale’s influence opinion would influence yours.

Gertrude Bell, Kingmaker? – January 2020

Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives holds over 1,800 letters written by Gertrude Bell to her family. One in particular was written on the 12th January 1920, where Gertrude Bell writes to her stepmother describing her concerns about the delicate political situation in the Middle East, her hopes for resolution and how she seeks to contribute. Through this and her other writing she demonstrates a depth of knowledge and involvement which contributes significantly to our understanding of early 20th Century politics in the region.

Gertrude’s journey to becoming an important figure in Middle Eastern politics began when she was born into a wealthy family at Washington New Hall in 1868 where she also spent her childhood. After studying at and graduating from Oxford University she was able to travel widely in the first years of the 20th century and developed a deep interest in the Arab region and people. Her knowledge of the region led to her being involved with the British Intelligence Service during the First World War and by 1920 she had been appointed as Oriental Secretary to the British High Commission in Iraq.

Throughout her time in the Middle East she regularly corresponded with her family in Britain, updating them on her life, travels, and thoughts about her work and the political situation in the Middle East. She wrote one such letter on the 12th of January 1920 to her stepmother, Florence Bell.

A transcript of part of this letter is below:

You say that when you open the papers the world seems tempestuous – one does not need to open the papers to realize that here. The Turks to the north of us, exasperated and embracing Bolshevik propaganda, destructive Bolshevism which is all the Turks are capable of – or the Russians either, for that matter, up to the present; the Kurds ready to anyone who holds out the hope that the massacres of Christians shall go unpunished, as in justice they should not, but we’re powerless to enforce justice; the Arab Syrian state to the east of us, feeble and angry, bound to founder in financial deeps, if not in any other, and yet determined not to accept the only European help offered, namely that of France. And then Egypt, turned into a second Ireland largely by our own stupidity; and this country, which way will it go with all these agents of unrest to tempt it? I pray that the people at home may be rightly guided and realize that the only chance here is to recognize political ambitions from the first, not to try to squeeze the Arabs into our mould and have our hands forced in a year – who knows? perhaps less, the world is moving so fast – with the result that the chaos to north and east overwhelms Mesopotamia also. I wish I carried more weight. I’ve written to Edwin and this week I’m writing to Sir A. Hirtzel. But the truth is I’m in a minority of one in the Mesopotamian political service – or nearly – and yet I’m so sure I’m right that I would go to the stake for it – or perhaps just a little less painful form of testimony if they wish for it! But they must see, they must know at home. They can’t be so blind as not to read such gigantic writing on the wall as the world at large is sitting before their eyes.

Well there! I rather wish I were at Paris this week.

I’ve telegraphed to Father saying I hope he’ll come. I would love to show him my world here and I know if he saw if he would understand why I can’t come back to England this year. If they will keep me, I must stay. I can do something, even if it is very little to preach wisdom and restraint among the young Baghdadis whose chief fault is that they are ready to take on the creation of the world tomorrow without winking and don’t realize for a moment that even the creator himself made a poor job of it.

I’ll go to Blanche for a month or 6 weeks in the middle of the summer.

We have no news yet who our new G.O.C. in C. is to be. It’s rather a disaster at this juncture to have a new man who does not know the country, but I expect that’s what it will be.

In this letter she describes the political situation in the region, her concerns and hopes about how the British Government might seek to resolve the situation and details how she hopes to play a part in setting the future direction for the Middle East.

Pages from a letter from Gertrude Bell to her step mother, Florence Bell, written on the 12th January 1920
Pages from a letter from Gertrude Bell to her step mother, Florence Bell, written on the 12th of January 1920
Letter from Gertrude Bell to her step mother, Florence Bell, written on the 12th of January 1920, a full transcript of the letter can be viewed online. Ref: GB/LETT/370

The following year she was present at the conference held at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo in March 1921 alongside others including T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill. Here, the British Government met to discuss the future political shape of the Arab region and it was decided that the choice that Gertrude advocated, Faisal I bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi, would become the first king of the newly formed Kingdom of Iraq. The events of the Cairo Conference are also documented in the letters she sent to her family in Britain and are part of the archive.

The Gertrude Bell Archive is one of the most important and widely accessed within Newcastle University Library’s Special Collections and Archives. It contains over 1,800 letters, 8,000 photographs, diaries and other papers including lecture notes, reports and newspaper cuttings. Together they document her life and travels and form an important record of the archaeology, culture and political landscape of the Middle East in the early decades of the 20th Century. The archive has been recognised for its significance, including the insight it gives into political developments in the Middle East and the formation of Iraq in 1921, through its inclusion on UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register (a press release regarding UNESCO’s recognition of the archive in 2017 can be found here).

Most of her letters have been fully transcribed and can be browsed and searched on our dedicated Gertrude Bell website. Additionally the photographs she took can also be seen on the website. These photographs, digitised in the 1990s, document many of the archaeological sites that particularly interested her, as well as the people and places she encountered on her earlier travels.

As the photographs are now over 100 years old, and the historic negatives are now unstable and fragile, a project is currently underway to re-digitise the collection to bring it up to current day standards, revealing hitherto unseen detail, and preserving the photographs for future generations.

200 years of John Ruskin – February 2019

February 8th 2019 marks 200 years since the birth of art critic and social thinker John Ruskin (1819-1900).

In our collections, substantial letters from Ruskin appear in the Trevelyan (Walter Calverley) Archive (WCT). Sir Walter was a naturalist and landlord of both the Nettlecombe and Wallington estates. Ruskin’s link to Sir Walter came through a close friendship with his wife Paulina Trevelyan (Pauline). It is to Pauline that the majority of the letters from Ruskin are addressed.

The correspondence from Ruskin in the WCT Archive reflect the friendship between Trevelyan and Ruskin. He advises her on her own artistic practice, reflects on his own work as well as discussing art, society and family matters. In his autobiography, Ruskin described Trevelyan as ‘a monitress-friend in whom I totally trusted’. This trust appears to have been returned, as Trevelyan was one of the few to stand by Ruskin during the collapse and annulment of his marriage.

Extract from a letter from John Ruskin to Lady Pauline, advising her on her own artistic practice

Extract from a letter from John Ruskin to Lady Pauline, advising her on her own artistic practice (Walter Calverley Archive, WCT 39)

Both Trevelyan and Ruskin were supporters of the burgeoning Pre-Raphaelite movement. Trevelyan became an important patron of the movement, using the opportunity presented by roofing the courtyard at Wallington Hall, to showcase the style she enjoyed. The Great Hall at Wallington remains an important artistic monument, featuring eight large wall paintings by William Bell Scott. The floral designs which appear between the main panels were painted by Ruskin and Trevelyan themselves, among other figures from their social circle.

Their friendship came to an end when Trevelyan died in Switzerland, while she and her husband travelled with Ruskin. Both men were present at her death-bed.

Extract from a letter from John Ruskin to Lady Pauline, which includes his signature

Extract from a letter from John Ruskin to Lady Pauline, which includes his signature (Walter Calverley Trevelyan Archive, WCT 39)

The Trevelyan (Walter Calverley) Archive is available for public consultation and contains around 20 files of letters from Ruskin to Trevelyan, dating from 1848 to Pauline’s death in 1866. Images in this article are from a letter from Ruskin to Trevelyan dated 5th March [1849] which appears in WCT 39. Collections Captured also features images of Ruskin’s personal bookplate and annotations which feature in a book he formerly owned: The tea-table miscellany or, Allan Ramsay’s collection of Scots Sangs (18th Century Collection, 821.04 RAM).

Page from ‘The tea-table miscellany or, Allan Ramsay's collection of Scots sangs’

Page from ‘The tea-table miscellany or, Allan Ramsay’s collection of Scots sangs’ (18th Century Collection, 18th C. Coll 821.04 RAM)