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Excerpts on India

Excerpts on India

Miscellaneous excerpts (roughly one a year, over Nightingale’s lifetime) from the two volumes on India in the Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, Health in India (vol. 9) and Social Change in India (vol. 10)

1857, 16 September, Letter to Lady Canning, vicereine:
I need not say that, should you think it possible for me to be of the smallest use, I would come out, at twenty-four hours’ notice, to serve in any capacity in my “line of business” that you would direct. 9:47
1857 21 and 24 July, Letters to Lord Stanley:
It has occurred tome…that, as the new government for India will soon be initiated, the sanitary state of stations and cantonments to be hence forth occupied by British troops is one of the very first subjects for attention….

Formerly the loss in India was much greater than it is now. It has been reduced by various sanitary measures and there is no reason to doubt that it can be much further reduced. 9:52-53

1858, July, Letter to Sidney Herbert:
The difficulties you mention about the stations are precisely those which modern science has coped with and has overcome, and may cope with and overcome again, in order to render the military tenure of the country compatible with the safety of the army. 9:53
1859, 19 May, Letter to Harriet Martineau:
I must tell you a secret, because I think it will please you. For eight long months I have been “importunate widow”-ing my “unjust judge,” viz., Lord Stanley, to give us a royal sanitary commission, to do exactly the same thing for the armies in India which the last did for the army at home. We have just won it. 9:87
1860, 20 January, Letter to Sir Charles Trevelyan, governor of Madras:
It augurs well for the future of sanitary reform in the Indian Army that, while the royal commission is taking evidence in London, you at Madras are acting so energetically. 9:103
1861, 2 October, Letter to Dr William Farr, medical statistician:
India. I will answer any “written questions” about the Indian hospitals, etc., provided they are “written” by you and provided you are pretty sure that the sense of the commission will not be: what does this woman know about India? She has never been there. 9:110
1862, 15 April, Letter to Sir John McNeill:
I work on still for the War Office. But it is a guerilla warfare, of little profit, although Lord de Grey is entirely on our side. I have written the greater part of the Indian sanitary report for Lord Stanley and am doing the digest of the stational reports. 9:115
1862 26 November, Letter to Lord Stanley, president, Royal Commission on India:
I sent this morning my Indian paper to you “officially”(!) and I will send copies to the members of the commission. But, when the commission is closed, its real work will begin. 9:121
1863 “Observations on Stational Returns”:
The prevailing diseases at Indian stations are zymotic diseases connected with camps—such as I myself have seen—all of them, cholera, fevers, diarrhoea, dysentery, together with hepatic disease….camp disease, the causes of which are rendered more intense by climate, and liver disease, occasioned to a great extent by overeating and overdrinking and sedentary habits.

Our men dislike and despise the natives and are regarded by them in return more as wild beasts than fellow creatures. The native, however, makes much more effort to learn the Briton’s language than does the Briton to learn the native’s. It is difficult to give an idea of the evil effects of the gross ignorance of all that relates to the country in the ranks of our army in India. 9:132 and 167

1864 paper “How People May Live and Not Die in India”:
Your stations and cities are in a condition which, in the finest temperate climate in Europe, would be and have been the cause of the Great Plague, of half the population being swept off by disease. 9:192
1865 5 March, Letter to Benjamin Jowett:
I do assure you that, if I had not made myself “intolerable” to the “kings” of the India Council, I never should have got my 7 millions. 9:383
1866 1 February, Letter to Lord Stanley:
The India Office is dead. We are abominably dead at the War Office. But at least we are not buried. At least we can find a paper in six weeks. At least we know whether we have one or not.
1867 28 May, Letter to Douglas Galton:
I want to consult you about our Indian affairs, which are “getting as drunk as they can be.” I divide our misfortunes into two parts: the non-foundation of any Public Health Service…the present absolute confusion and want of responsibility in everything that is done in India as to details in sanitary matters. They don’t take the advice of their own sanitary commissions, they don’t take the advice of yours at home. 9:566
1868 4 November, Notes for Dr Sutherland:
It is simply a fact that you cannot keep British troops in health so long as you allow native populations in their vicinity to be decimated by epidemics. 9:889
1869 21 November, Letter to Julius Mohl:
Taken on the last two years, the death rate of Bombay (civil, military and native) is lower than that of London, the healthiest city of Europe. And the death rate of Calcutta is lower than that of Liverpool or Manchester!…

But this is not the greatest victory. The municipal commissioner of Bombay writes that the “huddled native masses” “clamorously invoke” the aid of the “health department” if but one death from cholera or smallpox occurs, whereas formerly half of them might be swept away and the other half think it “all right.”

Now they attribute these deaths to “dirt, foul water and the like,” and openly declare them “preventible.” No hope for future civilization among the “masses” like this! I wish the Privy Council were as intelligent and progressive as the “Bombay masses.” But it is not. 9:636-37

1870, “On Indian Sanitation”:
There is so constant a relation between the health of a people and their social civilization that alas! one of the best, if not the best, indication of the social state of populations is afforded by the numbers who die year by year….

Could a few model dwellings, with proper sanitary appliances, be introduced here and there as examples of what might be done in the construction of healthy houses? Example is the best teacher. 10:237 and 242

1872 11 October, “Observations on Sanitary Progress in India”:
What is most striking in these documents is the strong and living interest taken by the authorities in India and their officers in improving the people’s sanitary condition, as well as the practical character, increasing happily year by year, of the work done. 10:259
1873 Appendix to “Life or Death in India”:
The cause of irrigation has received a frightful significance from this Bengal famine, irrigation being literally a matter of life and death…Wherever water for irrigation and navigation exists, famine is effectually met. 9:723
1874 13 June, Letter to Benjamin Jowett:
I thank God, who has given irrigation the victory, in time we may trust, to prevent more disastrous periodical famines, yet more to prevent a chronic state of half-starvation. 9:750
1875 27 January, Letter to Dr Sutherland:
In Bengal we have the most industrious peasantry and artisans in the world, in spite of serfdom bowing them to the earth, in spite of the zemindar yoke which we have put (and crushed down) upon their necks, in spite of our having done little or nothing with all our great Western invention to improve or stimulate theirs. 9:748
1877 19 August, Letter to the lord mayor of London:
If English people knew what an Indian famine is-–worse than a battlefield, worse even than a retreat, and this famine too, in its second year—there is not an English man, woman or child who would not give out of their abundance or out of their economy. 9:769
1878 2 February, Letter to W. Edward Prinsep:
Englishmen treat the native as if he were an inferior being, but the calling the natives “black” has gone out. Still we don’t love India. 10:476
1878 “The Zemindar, the Sun and the Watering Pot as Affecting Life and Death in India”:
In one respect, is not slavery in some parts of India worse than southern states slavery?…

The ZEMINDAR: created landlord out of tax-gatherer, growing rich.

The RYOT: created slave out of cultivator, starving, for, while “wealth accumulates men decay.”…

No ancient nations had our extreme ideas respecting the sacredness of private property. Why do we introduce them into India, which is an ancient nation?…

Is it not unique that regular cultivators of the soil should be liable to be starved periodically under a favourable climate, or what might be made such, by a plentiful supply of fresh water, with proper drainage? Remember all this time how large a portion of the wealth of England is drawn from the blood and bones of the people of India….The Bengal peasantry are little else than serfs. The Russian peasantry is now much better off than the Bengali. 10:435, 448 and 468

1878 “The People of India”:
We do not care for the people of India. This is a heavy indictment, but how else account for the facts about to be given?…Between five and six millions have perished then in this Madras famine. These are figures, paper and print to us. How can we realize what the misery is of every one of those figures: a living soul, slowly starving to death? 9:778 and 781
1878 7 May, “The United Empire and the Indian Peasant”:
A terrible famine not yet over: in Madras and Mysore out of 35 millions of people at least three millions dead of starvation…in northern India looming upon us too, if not already here….

If we had given them water should we now have had to be giving them bread?…If only India had cheap water communication to bring her wheat and corn and cotton to her ports, and so ship it over the world, she might be the richest instead of the poorest of countries. 10:487, 496 and 499

1879 4 January, Letter to Sir Louis Mallet:
Famine deaths. People’s minds are so taken up with this Afghan War, on one side or the other, that they forget the far deeper tragedy than any that can be acted there, which took place but one short year ago here in southern India, an interest of immeasurably greater weight. 9:818
1879 12 February, Letter to T. Gillham Hewlett:
Though much has been done of late years to bring Englishmen to think a little of their Asiatic countrymen, yet it is astonishing what large masses there still are among us who think of Indians as “niggers” or tigers or as at best purchasers of Manchester cottons. 10:147
1879 “A Missionary Health Officer in India” Part 2:
One word upon tree planting as a supplement to irrigation. Irrigation is the present necessity, but it is not too much to say that with tree planting properly carried out there would be equalized rainfall. We are so stupid…we go on cutting down wood without replacing it, and for great part of the year the heavens become as brass and roads are not wanted in India…for the whole country is a hard road. Then the rain…destroys everything. 10:293
1879 28 April, “Irrigation and Water Transit in India”:
That dreadful scourge of famine is now over, it is supposed. Ah, would it were! But scarcity is returning, which the poverty of the people, not yet recovered from the money famine, which followed the grain famine, may convert, but for timely rains, into another disaster. 9:844
1879 28 May, Letter to W. E. Gladstone on the Famine Commission:
These are the men who, with one or two exceptions, are directly responsible (for the poverty and famine) because they have reported for years that ‘the country was flourishing’ and ‘the people prosperous.’ They ought to be on their trial instead of being the judges. 10:172
1879 “Can we Educate Education in India to Educate Men?”:
What proportion do boy-ryots at school bear to the actual numbers of boy-ryots who ought to be at school?…

What tendency is there for Brahmins and the higher castes to monopolize education and subsequent government employment resulting from it? What proportion of the agricultural classes compete with the Brahmins and the higher castes for the university examinations?…

We appeal to you all not to let caste interfere with your duty to all your fellow creatures. Reclaim, but do not cast out. Can no way be found to this in India’s ancient civilization, the mother of the West’s? Do we not hear the Vedas say: there is no distinction of castes?…

Men of the highest authority have said that if the money spent on teaching your men in India the dead languages were spent in educating girls to be women all over the country, India would be saved in health, life and matters domestic. 10:634, 652 and 664

1880 11 March, Letter to Henry Fawcett, MP:
In England finance is governed by Parliamentary majorities, therefore by social majorities. In India social questions do not govern the political or finance question in the least, simply because the enormous bulk of the millions, the agricultural millions, have no voice. 10:158
1880 5 May, Letter to W.R. Robertson:
If there is anything that England wants to know about and knows nothing about [it] is: agriculture in India. And when one thinks that we take 20 millions land revenue out of India’s agriculture and give nothing back, one almost wonders that there is not an universal agrarian mutiny. 10:681
1881 14 April, Letter to Lord Ripon, viceroy:
The nursing may well be the worst nursing in any existing army, threatening too often to become no nursing at all. 10:177
1881 18 August, Letter to Sir Louis Mallet:
To introduce science – technical, agricultural, sanitary science – into the higher education in India, is not this most necessary? 10:685
1882 25 January, Letter to Lord Ripon, viceroy:
One of my ryots writes to me a distressing account of the corruption which still prevails in the courts….Corruption is systematically practised in our courts of justice. 10:544
1883 “The Dumb shall Speak and the Deaf shall Hear; or, the Ryot, the Zemindar and the Government”:
The time has now come. A tremendous wave is rolling over India – India which we cannot colonize and which, unlike the colonies, has the land question in all its intensity….

The ryot seems always to pay and not often to be paid….The “exactions” are fulfilled. But where are the “conditions?” There are none fulfilled….Here are the wrongs, but where are the rights? What are the remedies? 10:502, 567 and 582

1884 9 October, Letter to James M. Cuningham:
One cannot but wish that local self-government had been more pressed forward. It is not a question…of whether local self-government should be granted or not….We cannot continue governing India without it.


1884 6 November, Letter to Dr Sutherland:
About sanitary things he [Lord Dufferin] says he is perfectly ignorant, especially of Indian sanitary things. But he says, “Give me your instructions and I will obey them. I will study them on my way out. Send me what you think. Supply the powder and I will fire the shot.” 10:328
1885 3 December, Letter to Lady Dufferin, vicereine:
I am honoured by your commands to give “advice and assistance” in your noble scheme for “reaching” the “female population” of India, in order to “teach the most ordinary facts relating to health to the women themselves and to the young girls in schools.” It is indeed a noble scheme, because there is no hope for real sanitary reform—home sanitary improvement—till the women are on our side. 10:734
2, 16 and 23 July, Letters to Lady Dufferin, vicereine:
We will collect and send you a “list of books”…for the “European Girls Schools.” But I should sadly doubt if any would answer for India. The great disease causes are so very different in India and various local governments have issued instructional rules for the guidance of the people….Is not a cheap simple book to be compiled in Calcutta on diseases of women and children (native) and on midwifery the desideratum? 10:741-42

The estimate of the losses in childbirth among Indian women is far higher than in England….The shutting up of lying-in women in the dampest, closest part of the house kills woman and child or destroys health. Early marriages = puny offspring. It occurred to me how usefully she might be employed in writing tracts on these and other such subjects. 10:744

1887 “Letter” to the Joint Secretaries of the Bombay Presidency Association and the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha:
I am anxious that India should have the benefit of a system which I have seen working with so much advantage in England. Fifty years ago the state of England was much what the state of India now is. The people had not themselves the power to amend it. But they only wanted a little organization with inspection. Now they have the powers. The community itself is the engine that does the work. 10:323
1887 30 September, Notes from a meeting with James Cuningham:
We could stamp out cholera in two years. They are longing for it, they don’t like being ill or dying any more than we do. They appreciate a pure water supply, even more than we do; they will sacrifice even caste for it; they are clean in their bodies and, wherever they can be, they are beginning to appreciate sanitation. It’s the landlord interest, the rich man interest in Calcutta which keeps sanitation down (as it is in London). 9:930
1888 18 July, Notes from a meeting with Lord Lansdowne, viceroy:
The early probability of famine. Past experience has shown that there are about nine considerable famines in a century or one in eleven years. The last was in 1877-8, between 10 and 11 years ago. 10:195
1888 27 July, Letter to W.J. Simmons:
The Army Sanitary Commission reckon, I observe, that 38 millions of deaths have occurred in India within the last decade from epidemics which, in other parts of the world, have been either wholly obviated or curtailed within narrow limits. 9:936
1888 10 October, Note re Dr T. Gillham Hewlett:
When he began work in Bombay, the people might die of cholera at the rate of 200 or 300 a day, and none would take any notice except to scold the goddess of cholera or smallpox. Now they will cry out, if there are two or three deaths by cholera: Bestir yourselves, gentlemen, don’t you see we are all dead? This is a great step. But that of bestirring themselves is a greater and one begun by Mr Hewlett. 10:204
1888 28 October, Note on a meeting with Lord Lansdowne, viceroy:
A curious and terrible book might be made of how we have tried to benefit the natives and sunk them deeper than they were before. 9:676
1889 22 February, Letter to Lord Lansdowne, viceroy:
The present strength of the Bombay Sanitary Department is not half what it ought to be in order to be efficient. 10:215
1890 29 October, Letter to Lord Ripon, former viceroy:
To deal in some way with the WIDOW question and to get rid of the ecclesiastical law, the infant marriage question too….There is such a vast underground stratum of Hindu women whom we never reach, yet in whose hands the practical problem really lies. 10:777
1891 December, Letter to the chairman, Poona Sarvajanik Sabha:
May I perhaps be allowed to suggest that the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha should themselves institute a system of lectures on village sanitation to be given in all the villages and small towns? If villagers are not taught the simple things that they can do for themselves to promote health at home, law cannot force them, nor can funds help them….

The Hindu religion enjoins so much purity and cleanliness that the influence of the religious teachers and of the caste panchayats might be usefully appealed to. 10:362-63

1892 24 June, Letter to Dadabhai Naoroji, Parliamentary candidate and independence leader:
With all my heart and soul I wish you success. Now subjects seriously affecting the welfare of great India—subjects too so near my heart—will receive increased attention, being urged by a man like yourself, and we eagerly need such members in the House of Commons. 10:740
1894 23 January, Letter to Douglas Galton:
You said, and that you would be so very kind as to ask Dr Cuningham or others, for a sanitary lecturer who had been in India to give one lecture a year on ELEMENTARY hygiene and sanitation to the Indian civil service students at Oxford just before they leave Oxford. It is very important that it should be well done as this is the first opening I have had. 10:714
1896 “Health Missioners for Rural India”:
In a former paper contributed to India I made some suggestions for improving the health of Indian rural villages. My proposal was that a system of simple and popular health lectures should be organized to show the villagers the need of (a) a pure water supply, (b) the removal of refuse and © the diminution of overcrowding. 10:389

I have put together these few rough notes in the hope that the leaders of Indian public opinion about to meet in congress [Indian National Congress] at Calcutta will take up this question, and with their special knowledge and experience will guide our steps in a matter so deeply affecting the welfare of the Indian masses. 10:392

1896 16 December, Letter to the duke of Westminster:
We are trying to introduce in India native women health missioners to bring health among the native rural mothers, by showing them what to do as friends. And the Government of India furthers it. 10:773
1897 17 January, Letter to Rosalind Nash, cousin:
It would be a great thing if larger reforms could be hung on the evidence of a competent Famine Mission. But it takes twenty-five years to understand one province….Competent people believe there will be much misery before next harvest. The ryot is worse off than he was….

Rice won’t bury. But the ryot used to have immense stores of millet underground, which tided him over a bad harvest. Now this all drifts away to the best market in the money lender’s hands,which grab it by virtue of the civil courts’ finding….10:871-72

1897 17 January, Letter to William Rathbone, philanthropist and MP:
About the urgency of the famine there are not now, I suppose, two opinions. It is a symptom of the increasing and excessive poverty of the ryot that he cannot stave over one bad harvest without, alas! probably hundreds of thousands of deaths from starvation. 10:873
1897 14 May 1897, Letter to Georgia Franklin, nurse:
I shall be anxious to hear when you have begun your duties in the plague camp. 10:794
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