Florence Nightingale letter reveals how she looked for a friend to adopt her cat called Mr Bismarck


A quirky letter by British nursing heroine Florence Nightingale about her little-mentioned love of cats has emerged for sale 144 years later.

Nightingale, who became known as ‘Lady with the Lamp’ following her service as a nurse during the Crimean War, owned 60 felines throughout her life.

At one point, she owned as many as 17 at once.  

In one of three letters written to a neighbour, she asks if she knows of a ‘cat fancier’ who might want to take on one of her pets, which was named Mr Bismarck – after the prominent chancellor of Germany. 

Florence also named her cats after other prominent men of the day, such as British Prime Ministers Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.

She took Mr Bismarck in when a friend of hers was moving abroad and they couldn’t take the cat with them.

Although she tried to find the Tom cat a good new home it is thought she ended up keeping him. 

The letters, which date from 1877, will be sold tomorrow at Bamfords auction house, in Derby, with a combined estimate of £1,300. 

A quirky letter by British nursing heroine Florence Nightingale about her little-mentioned love of cats has emerged for sale 144 years later

A quirky letter by British nursing heroine Florence Nightingale about her little-mentioned love of cats has emerged for sale 144 years later

Nightingale, who became known as 'Lady with the Lamp' following her service as a nurse during the Crimean War, owned 60 felines throughout her life

Nightingale, who became known as ‘Lady with the Lamp’ following her service as a nurse during the Crimean War, owned 60 felines throughout her life

Mr Bismarck was said to have been one of her favourites. He ate from china plates on a precise schedule and his diet included rice pudding.

Florence wrote the letter from Lea Hurst, her family’s country retreat in Derbyshire, in August 1877, when she would have been 57 years old.

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 for him could not take him abroad.

In her letter, written to a neighbour, she asks if she knows of a 'cat fancier' who might want to take on one of her pets, which was named Mr Bismarck - after the prominent chancellor of Germany

In her letter, written to a neighbour, she asks if she knows of a ‘cat fancier’ who might want to take on one of her pets, which was named Mr Bismarck – after the prominent chancellor of Germany

Florence wrote the letter from Lea Hurst, her family's country retreat in Derbyshire, in August 1877, when she would have been 57 years old. Pictured: Auctioneer James Lewis with the letter

Florence wrote the letter from Lea Hurst, her family’s country retreat in Derbyshire, in August 1877, when she would have been 57 years old. Pictured: Auctioneer James Lewis with the letter

‘Pray excuse this question.’

The letter is one of three addressed to friend and neighbour Miss Hurt which is going up for sale.

They are being sold by a descendant of the war nurse.

They were found inside a book in the library of Castern Hall, an 18th century stately home in Staffordshire which is still owned by the Hurt family.

Auctioneer James Lewis was called to the property to value some items when he was directed to the book in question.

Daniel Smith, from auctioneers Bamfords, said: ‘Writing letters was like emails then, Florence Nightingale probably wrote thousands but most of the ones we come across are either related to nursing or the Crimean War.

‘I’ve not come across something so whimsical as this before. It shows a great degree of friendship between her and Miss Hurt.

‘There were several Miss Hurts, they were spinsters who lived together and were neighbours of Florence Nightingale’s family.

‘Someone like Florence Nightingale always attracts interest, particularly where we are because of her Derbyshire link, but there are Florence Nightingale collectors all over.

Nightingale asked her friend if she knew of a 'cat fancier' who would be willing to take on her 'powerful Tom cat' Mr Bismarck

Nightingale asked her friend if she knew of a ‘cat fancier’ who would be willing to take on her ‘powerful Tom cat’ Mr Bismarck

Mr Lewis said: 'I just think Florence Nightingale was very much an animal lover and become a bit of a foster owner to cats and she did her best to find them new homes'

Mr Lewis said: ‘I just think Florence Nightingale was very much an animal lover and become a bit of a foster owner to cats and she did her best to find them new homes’

‘The other two letters in the sale are much more conventional – one about a charity and one from Crimea.

‘This one is a bit different, you don’t really expect her to be talking about her cat, which is nice.’

Mr Lewis added: ‘I just think Florence Nightingale was very much an animal lover and become a bit of a foster owner to cats and she did her best to find them new homes.’ 

Florence Nightingale: The Crimean War nursing pioneer 

Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820 – August 13, 1910) was an English social reformer who is considered to be the founder of modern nursing.

She came to prominence when she was one of 38 volunteer nurses from Britain who, during the Crimean War in the 1850s, went to medical stations in Turkey to help.

She became the face of the effort after a newspaper dubbed her ‘the Lady with the Lamp’ – because of her efforts treating wounded soldiers during the night. 

Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820 - August 13, 1910) was an English social reformer who is considered to be the founder of modern nursing

Florence Nightingale (May 12, 1820 – August 13, 1910) was an English social reformer who is considered to be the founder of modern nursing

When the nurses arrived, they discovered many of the soldiers were dying not from their wounds but from diseases like typhoid and cholera, which were rife in the army hospitals.

She fought to improve conditions with better sanitation, nutrition and more supplies, which saw the death rate fall.

Nightingale improved the reputation of nursing and became an icon of Victorian culture. 

She was also a prolific writer who penned works including Notes on Nursing.

She died aged 90 in 1910.  

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