Florence Nightingale was a cat lover and indeed an animal lover. She is known throughout the planet. She lived with 60 cats throughout her lifetime and they were all, I believe, Persian cats. Although, at the time, cat breed terminology was more elastic so these may not have been purebred Persian cats. In fact, I would doubt that they were because it is my distinct impression that she adopted rescue cats. And she lived at a time when the cat fancy was just starting. There are no pictures of her with her cats. None, except crude, modern photo-edited versions. And she took her cats with her when she travelled. One issue is the difficulty of taking photos of cats with long exposures which were required in those days.
A letter has come to light concerning Florence Nightingale and one of her cats, “Mr Bismarck”. The letter was found in a book in the library of Castern Hall which is her 18th-century family home.
She took in Mr Bismarck when a friend who was moving abroad asked her to take him. It appears that she decided that he was unable to look after him, perhaps because she had too much work or because she already had too many cats. As a result, she tried to find Bismarck a good home elsewhere although at the end of the day she kept him. In fact, Bismarck became one of her favourites and it is said that he ate from china plates on a precise schedule and was particularly partial to rice pudding.
In her efforts to rehome Mr Bismarck, Nightingale wrote to a Miss Hurt. At the time Nightingale was 57 years old. Miss Hurt was a friend and she wrote: “Should you know of a cat fancier who would like a very handsome thoroughbred, powerful Tom cat, a Persian, about a year old, Mr Bismarck by name, black, brown and yellow, without a speck of white, who will follow like a dog. A great pet. I am looking for a very good home for my Bismarck, whom I cannot keep. He was sent down to me from London a day or two ago because the lady who asked me to help could not take him abroad. Pray excuse this question.”
We know that she was fond of Mr Bismarck because in another undated letter quoted in a book, the Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, she praised this tomcat as a “very clean cat – never makes a mistake…and the most sensitively affectionate of cats, very gentle and really a lady.”
The letter is being sold at auction by Bamfords of Derbyshire and is expected to fetch up to £300. She wrote three letters to Miss Hurt. They are being sold by a descendant. Daniel Smith of Bamfords remarked that she probably wrote thousands of letters most of which were either about nursing or the Crimean War. He described the letter as “whimsical”. I wouldn’t describe it as whimsical bearing in mind Nightingale’s concern about animal welfare. It was no doubt important to her at the time.
The letter indicates a strong friendship between Nightingale and Hurt. Nightingale led a group of British nurses during the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856. She is renowned for fighting to improve conditions in army hospitals which led to lower death rates. She is described by Wikipedia as a social reformer, statistician and the founder of modern nursing.
One of her quotes:
I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.