Home' Greymouth Star : 26-Apr-2014 Contents Greymouth Star
8 - Saturday, April 26, 2014
of 1893 in
23 words: “On
the 19th September, at the Grey River
Hospital, Mary Tattersall, native of
Headingley, Leeds, England, and late of
Greymouth, aged 70 years. ”
Her death certificate gives the cause of
death as ‘paralysis’ for three months.
Until a decade ago, she was almost
forgotten to Greymouth history. Thanks
to the kindness of a stranger, her story
can now be told. But some mysteries will
We will probably never know
what drew Mary, then 37, to the
Crimea, when most of her peers would
have been raising a family in Victorian
It was a war so bloody that soldiers
were more likely to die there than
they were in World War One. It was
one of the first wars to be extensively
reported ‘live’ in the press, thanks to the
development of the telegraph, making it
to the pages of The Times of London.
Was Mary moved to act by tales of
terrible suffering? Or did she follow a
lover to the Crimea?
The human cost of the three-year war
was immense: 25,000 British, 100,000
French and up to a million Russian
troops died in the conflict.
In 1854, Florence Nightingale led an
expedition of 38 women to take over
the management of the barrack hospital
at Scutari. Ten times more soldiers
were dying of diseases such as typhus,
typhoid, cholera, and dysentery than
from battle wounds.
Nightingale found there was no clean
linen; the clothes of the soldiers were
swarming with bugs, lice, and fleas; the
floors, walls, and ceilings were filthy; and
rats were hiding under the beds. There
were no towels, basins, or soap, and only
14 baths for about 2000 soldiers.
In these modern times, it is hard to
imagine what Mary saw, smelled and
Florence Nightingale praises Mary
Tattersall in her own book, saying she
was a “nurse under my charge” at Scutari.
The book Nursing Before Nightingale
describes her role as housekeeper
and cook, about 1km away from the
peninsula where Nightingale was
stationed. Mary actually donated the
first wages she earned to Westminster
Hospital, where she had trained.
In 2002, Christchurch woman
Shyrlee Roberts stumbled across
Mary’s grave at the Karoro Cemetery
while saying with a friend at Kumara.
She went public with an appeal for
Greymouth woman Joan Heaphy
replied. She too had stumbled upon the
grave, and became intrigued. She found
someone who placed Mary in Leonard
Street, heading to the Anglican church
in Guinness Street every Sunday. Irene
Messenger also replied, and said her
mother talked of Mary: “She never
married and died in relative poverty. ”
They believed she suffered from
rheumatism, and recalled passing on
their great-grandfather’s long johns to
keep her warm. There were, of course, no
pensions in those days.
For Shyrlee, it was the start of several
years of research.
“I was just walking along (the
cemetery) and I saw her grave. I thought,
‘that ’s strange, why did she come to New
Shyrlee had already done her family
tree, and was not unfamiliar with that
sort of research. A breakthrough came
when she contacted the Florence
Nightingale Museum in England, who
put her in touch with Ken Horton, a
member of the Crimean War Research
Society. Ken was able to look up records
in the UK, while Shyrlee in New
Zealand slowly pieced together the story.
Just before Christmas, she gave her
entire file to the Greymouth Star, and it
will now be handed to History House.
“Someone told me her fiance was killed
in the Crimea, but I was never able to
confirm that,” Shyrlee said. “ To think
that she came to Greymouth, and also
came all the way here to New Zealand.
She died, apparently, a very lonely
“S he bought tobacco (records show),
Ken told me all the nurses smoked to get
rid of the smell of the blood.”
Although at times referred to as a
nurse, Mary’s jobs were probably more
Shyrlee’s search even involved looking
at every old photo of Christchurch
Hospital she could find, in case Mary
spent time there. She never did find a
picture of her.
She would love to find her house, and
also what happened to her trunk, which
was still stored with Nancarrow and Co
at the time of her death.
Mary was born about 1818, the
daughter of a brewer from Leeds.
She left for the Crimea Peninsula in
the fifth party on March 24, 1855, after
three weeks’ training at Westminster
From Folkstone, they took a ferry
to Boulogne, under the charge of a
chaplain, a reverend, a government
courier and a 50-year-old widow. Paris,
Marseille the boat to Constantinople,
they arrived in the war zone on April 9.
They travelled across the straits to the
barracks in caiques (pronounced kayaks)
four nurses in each, reclined against
Mary returned to England when the
Crimea War ended, in July 1856.
In September 1865 she arrived in
Lyttelton after almost four months
at sea, having ser ved as matron on the
SS Tudor, with the help of a travel
voucher from Timaru Hospital.
That leaves a gap of nine years from
the end of the war, to her emigrating,
where she apparently went back to the
Armley Brewery where her family had
always worked. She is listed on the ship’s
records as a single woman. Even today, it
is fairly rare for single people to emigrate
to the West Coast.
Hokitika Museum curator and
historian Julia Bradshaw also wonders at
her reasons — and her bravery.
“If she did come on her own with no
friend or relative to go to, I wonder if
she was running away from anything?
Or maybe she was just adventurous?”
The Lyttelton Times of September 26,
1865, reported the arrival of the Tudor
from England: “She is spoken of as one
of the most orderly ships we have had
in port for some time ... Our report
published yesterday was hardly correct
in stating that four children had died on
the passage out. It should have stated
that only two had died.”
The Tudor, it revealed, had a protracted
voyage of 105 days, owing to light winds
as far as the Cape of Good Hope.
The month of her arrival, Mary took up
the post of matron at Timaru Hospital,
but she had a conflict with the provincial
surgeon and resigned on December
1865. Mary sailed from Timaru and
arrived back at Lyttelton on January 21,
1866, aboard the Geelong.
Greymouth museum History House
found her on a subsequent passenger
list, arriving in Greymouth from Nelson
on August 23, 1866, on the steam ship
Rangitoto. She travelled steerage, or
Greymouth was then a town in its
infancy, clustered around Richmond and
Mawhera quays and in the grip of the
Again, there is a gap. Where had she
spent the prior seven months?
The only recollections of Mary were
written long after her death. By
the time we next ‘meet ’ her, the nurse has
In 1961, Miss L M Brown of Nelson,
a granddaughter of Mary Tattersall’s
friend, sent her memories to the New
Zealand Nursing Journal. She said Mary
had contracted a skin disease in the
Crimea. In Greymouth, she was seldom
seen out in the daytime without the
shade of an umbrella.
She apparently did no nursing on
the West Coast, but for some years
conducted a sewing class for young
ladies. She is reported to have lived
in extreme poverty in a small shack
just across the road from where the
Blaketown bridge now stands in
Preston Road. Dressed in a hoop skirt
and bonnet, she was a familiar figure,
until she was struck down by paralysis.
After three months in the Grey River
Hospital, Mary died on 1893 about age
Her last will and testament still exists,
with her signature, and she left her
possessions to a sister in Yorkshire and a
niece, as well as “five pounds sterling” to
Greymouth dressmaker Elizabeth Noy.
By 1898 Mrs Noy was advertising her
ser vices from her premises in Mackay
When Mary died the probate report
infers there was not quite enough in
the estate to discharge all her bills. She
had hospital bills, as well as one from
Dr Morice and some nurses. Her entire
worth was £133 ($24,000 in today ’s
money), mostly in a savings account, and
did not appear to own property.
And the death notice, as we have seen,
made no mention of her wartime ser vice.
The late Ken Horton visited the
Crimea War four times. Where
Mary ser ved is now a military barracks
with no general access.
In 2002, thanks to Shyrlee’s efforts,
Veterans Affairs paid for a new
headstone. If you want to find Mary’s
grave, she is at the Karoro Cemetery,
block 1, row 18, plot three.
PICTURE: Laura Mills
Mary Tattersall’s headstone at the Karoro Cemetery, in Greymouth.
In 1855, a newly-trained ‘nurse’ set sail for one of the bloodiest battlefields in history, the Crimean
War. She worked under Florence Nightingale, earning praise from the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ herself,
but then disappeared from sight for a decade. She reappeared in Greymouth, where she died in 1893
in poverty, a dressmaker. Intrigued by her headstone, LAURA MILLS tried to unravel a most peculiar
story, and give credit to Greymouth’s forgotten heroine.
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story, a n d give credit to Greymouth’s forgotten heroine.
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