Most helpful critical review
The Experience of Warfare has some excellent material in it
on 18 September 2014
The Experience of Warfare has some excellent material in it, including that on Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War. However, Farmer also fell for the attack on her by Hugh Small, who is incorrectly identified as a historian (he is a retired management consultant). The death rates were NOT highest at her hospital, as Small claimed (p 63), and Farmer repeated. They were highest at the Koulali Hospital, nursed by the Irish Sisters of Mercy, not Nightingale at all (not to blame them either--they were hardly responsible for the defective sanitation at it). See Lynn McDonald, “Florence Nightingale, Statistics and the Crimean War.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A 177 (2014):456-86, also online).
Yes, the death rates (everywhere) were brought down by the work of the Sanitary Commission, as Nightingale herself explained in her post-war analysis of what went wrong. Its head, Dr John Sutherland, became her lifelong collaborator on nursing, health care and hospital reform.
Farmer is dead wrong in stating that Nightingale opposed the vote for women (63) and was anti-woman. Nightingale signed petitions for the vote, joined the Suffrage Society, paid her dues, and her support was appreciated (see Lynn McDonald, “Suffrage and Women’s Rights,” in Florence Nightingale on Society and Politics p. 388).
Farmer is way off in his coverage of Mary Seacole, blithely stating (on his p 60) that her work was “well known,” but never saying what it was. He exaggerated her powers of cure through herbal remedies, and never acknowledged her own admission of “lamentable blunders” and use of toxic substances--lead acetate and mercury chloride.
Nightingale never “declined her offer of help” (64), nor did Seacole ever say she did. In her memoir, Seacole clearly stated that her purpose in traveling to London in the autumn of 1854 was to attend to her failing gold stocks (she was a businesswoman). She arrived just after the first battle (September 20) but did not decide to try to go until (at the earliest) November 30. Nightingale had already left, and the second group of nurses was about to leave or had already left. Seacole records meeting Nightingale briefly at Scutari, for a perfectly amiable exchange--she asked her for a bed for the night, as she was en route to start her business, and Nightingale got her one.
Farmer is likely correct that Seacole’s engaging Wonderful Adventures was ghostwritten, but it was not the first “by a black woman in Britain.” Quite apart from Seacole never identifying as a black (she was three quarters white, had a white husband, white business partner and white clientele), there is an earlier book, 1831, The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself.
Sources on Seacole are so bad that serious authors have to be very careful in writing on her! For other misinformation, and better sources, see www.maryseacole.info/