Journal 2012

The following article first appeared in the Liverpool Royal Infirmary Nurses League Journal 2012



It was the unfortunate history of ill health and eventual death of William Rathbone’s first wife, which led to the foundation of the Nurses’ Training School and Nurses’ Home, attached to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary. William Rathbone, a merchant, philanthropist and politician had been able to employ a nurse, Mary Robinson, to take care of his wife at home, during her final illness. After his wife’s death and knowing how valuable Mrs Robinson’s work had been, he asked her to continue her domiciliary work for three months, in one of the poorest districts of Liverpool, ‘to relieve suffering and to teach them the rules of health and comfort’.

A month of witnessing the misery of the people she visited, distressed her so much, Mr Rathbone needed to persuade her to continue. By the end of the three months, Mrs Robinson returned to say ‘the amount of misery she could relieve was so satisfactory, that nothing could induce her to go back to private nursing’.

William Rathbone funded a District Nurses programme from 1859. Finding there was a lack of trained nurses, that training was disorganised and of variable quality, in 1860 William Rathbone, who had a professional association with Miss Nightingale, wrote to her with a request for ‘Nightingale’ trained nurses. She in turn, suggested he start a nurse training school at the Royal Infirmary in Liverpool, to provide qualified nurses for the hospital and the District and to also build a nurses’ home. With organisation and energy typical of the Victorians, the School for Nurse Training was founded in 1862 and the Nurses’ Home was built by May 1863.

We are now celebrating the 150th Anniversary of his founding of Liverpool Royal Infirmary Nurses’ Training School.

A Brief Description of Life in 1862.

Queen Victoria was 43 years old and recently widowed.

Florence Nightingale was 42 years old and the Crimean War had ended six years earlier.

The Prime Minister was Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston.

The population of UK was under19 million. In 2011 it was calculated as 62.3 million.

The population of Liverpool was 555,000. In 2010 it was 445,200, when including the wider urban region, 816,216.

The Port of Liverpool was the third busiest in UK. London was the busiest in the world.

Abraham Lincoln was President of the USA.

The American Civil War was in its second year, reduction of cotton production and blockade on exports had a devastating effect on the Lancashire cotton mills and workers.

This was only one of the factors leading to UK’s population moving to the cities and to migration from many countries. Liverpool saw the largest number of emigrants in the world, pass through its port. From the mid Eighteenth Century, the effects of this enormous increase in the temporary and permanent population, began to take its toll but also led to Liverpool becoming recognized for its innovative introduction of health and social care. 

Mrs Mary Thornton, a widow of independent means, donated £10,000 to fund two wards at the LRI to treat ‘Diseases Peculiar to Women’. Relative value today, in purchasing power, is £728,000.

On a lighter note:

Alice in Wonderland was created by Lewis Carrol.

Westminster Bridge was opened.

Anna Leonowens accepted a job offer in Siam. (Anna, of ‘The King and I’).

The first automobile was built.

Jesse James was killed. (Not by a car).

Average annual salary of a surgeon-£345:00, a barrister-£1,600, a basic labourer-£44 and a senior nurse to a country gentleman’s family-£20.

The ladies high fashion of the day was crinolines, for those who could afford them. Nurses’ uniforms were close fitting and swept the floor, (literally) and there was no danger of exposing popliteal spaces.

Mary Howe Journal Editor

Val Thornes Assistant Journal Editor