Tag Archives: history

The Admirable Parties

Steampunk is a visual medium which has so much more to offer then cogs and corsets.  The Mad Sea Party is a micro trail with pop-up book style artworks that revel in the modestly scaled, detailed environment.  We are inviting visitors to patiently wade through the exhibition as if scuba diving a reef.”

IMG_1191 IMG_1074 sjmflMany visitors come to the Florence Nightingale Museum hoping to be immersed in a heroic quest anchored in a meaningful environment.  A top FAQ is why is the museum here [at St Thomas’ Hospital]?  The relationship between the exhibition and its location is an important part of the visitor experience.

Delving into the society that shaped Florence Nightingale, the exhibition is studded with bold personalities and tales of great heroism set against a backdrop of mortal peril. It tells the story of Florence’s life with a collection of small and curious objects which cumulatively reveal the person behind the great public hero. The distinctive Kossmann.Dejong exhibition design is laid out in three chapters presented as individual pavilions. They resemble antique aquaria with precious artefacts and domestic specimens side by side in glass boxes. The addition of a collection of spy holes and two exceptionally poignant taxidermy personalities provides a wonderful backdrop for a Steampunk themed project.

One difficulty with Steampunk is the inclusiveness of the genre.  Steampunk casts its net very far, gathering in books, film and cult television. The other major challenge is the epic nature of the imaginary steampunk landscape. The best vehicle for it is the written word; only books can truly conjure the opulence of a complete fantasy universe.  And yet going back to the future and revisiting antiquated visions of futuristic worlds is rewarding.  Creaky cinematic effects and the clunky design of vintage science fiction in time acquires an avant-garde beauty exemplified by the silent films of George Melies. As do the stop motion monsters of Ray Harryhausen films, mocked for many years and now compared favourably to modern special effects.  Outside of literature, Steampunk greatness comes retrospectively.  Orchestrated big budget steampunk productions are so often far less influential than the artists and works adopted by the fans.

Creaky science fiction and uncomplicated war films were the staple viewing of my childhood, along with the odd curio that truly captured my imagination.  One my favourite childhood films is a 1957 Lewis Gilbert adaptation of J.M Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton which puts an Ealing comedy spin on the social satire. The film takes Barrie’s Downton Abbey style cast of aristocrats and servants to a fabulous outsider art paradise. The set design was for me the highlight of the film. The quality I most admire in steampunk is the enthusiasm, which is most evident in the creation of and celebration of an enveloping avant-garde fantasy.


Our event will pay homage to the titan figure, Jules Verne, and we could not miss the opportunity to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Steampunk is a visual medium which has so much more to offer then cogs and corsets. The Mad Sea Party is a micro trail with pop-up book style artworks, that revel in the modestly scaled, detailed environment.  We are inviting visitors to patiently wade through the exhibition as if scuba diving a reef.  The overall aim of the project is to temporarily locate Florence Nightingale in a steampunk inspired landscape; to highlight and linger over some of the least travelled areas in her story.


America’s first trained nurse

The Florence Nightingale Museum Director was honoured recently by an invitation to Massachusetts General Hospital in the beautiful city of Boston. The main reason for the invitation was to give the keynote lecture at the unveiling of a newly commissioned portrait of Linda Richards, America’s first trained nurse. Warren and Lucia Prosperi (http://prosperistudio.com), the husband and wife team who created this beautiful piece, work closely from original photographs and written accounts of their subject. The portrait is now displayed in the Paul S Russell Museum, part of Massachusetts General Hospital (http://www.massgeneral.org/museum)


Linda Richards was the first of four students to graduate from a nursing training programme at the New England Hospital for Women in 1873. Make no mistake – this very early nurse training was tough. Richards wrote: “We rose at 5.30 a.m. and left the wards at 9 p.m. to go to our beds, which were in little rooms between the wards. Each nurse took care of her ward of six patients both day and night. Many a time I got up nine times in the night; often I did not get to sleep before the next call came. We had no evenings out, and no hours for study or recreation. Every second week we were off duty one afternoon from two to five o’clock.

In 1874, The Boston Training School for Nurses started at Massachusetts General Hospital and Linda Richards was approached to become superintendent, initially she refused but was eventually persuaded. Like Florence Nightingale, Linda Richards was clearly a brilliant advocate, as she persuaded the senior hospital staff to lecture to her student nurses, providing them not only with important knowledge, but also increasing the students status within the hospital. Several doctors supplemented their lectures by allowing the student nurses to accompany the morning rounds of the wards. Although this work was important for the nurses – and the hospital – yet more importantly, it created a model of what a modern nursing school should look like.

Linda Richards arranged to visit England to enable her to observe the Nightingale system in action. Nightingale and Richards had corresponded for some time and one morning soon after her arrival in England, Richards was thrilled to be able to meet the great lady. With typical modesty, Richards wrote “It had never occurred to me that she would honor me by asking me to call upon her, so great was my surprise when I received an invitation to visit her at her home.” Richards memoirs relates an encounter that clearly had a huge emotional impact on her, being taken into the presence of a “small lady clad in black silk” who was lying on a coach (by this stage, Nightingale had been living as an invalid for some years.) Richards describes “The sweet face, with the deep blue eyes, and the beautifully shaped head” and says that meeting Nightingale was the fulfilment of her life’s ambition.

An excellent judge of character, Nightingale herself was equally impressed by Richards and offered to help her as much as she could. She wrote to Angelique Pringle, an old student of hers, who was at that time heading up the Edinburgh infirmary in Scotland, and arranged for Richards to go on a placement there as well. Nightingale wrote; “A Miss Richards, a Boston lady, training matron to the Massachusetts General Hospital, has in a very spirited manner come to us for training to herself….I have seen her, and have seldom seen anyone who struck me as so admirable. I think we have as much to learn from her as she from us.”

Richards’ remains rest in the beautiful cemetery in southern Boston: (http://www.foresthillscemetery.com).


Object of the Month – January


This object from the Florence Nightingale Museum’s stores – is Nightingale’s  foot warmer,  which would have come in very handy in the days before central heating!

Upon her return from the Crimea, Nightingale suffered from brucellosis, commonly known as ‘Crimean fever’.

Brucellosis is a highly contagious disease caused by ingestion of unsterilized milk or meat from infected animals. Symptoms include muscular pain and sweating; and if untreated brucellosis can lead to chronic conditions such as spondylodiscitis of the lumbar spine (inflammation of one or more vertebrae and the intervertebral disc space), and sacroiliitis (inflammation of the sacroiliac joint).

Nightingale certainly suffered from ill health for the much of her life, following her time in the Crimea.  It seems plausible that she could have suffered from one or both of these chronic conditions, as a complication of her brucellosis.

Nightingale would have used her foot warmer during carriage journeys. Travelling by carriage may seem romantic and appealing to us in the twenty-first century, but in reality they would be draughty and often rather uncomfortable for long journeys. This foot warmer would bring Nightingale some much needed relief when travelling.

The foot warmer is made of tin, with two wooden footrests on the top. It has a hinged lid, and a well where the charcoal or hot stone would be placed to provide the heat.


The foot warmer was found with Nightingale’s things at her home in South Street, London following her death in 1910; therefore it is likely it was in use towards the end of her life.