Focus On... Women in Uniform
* Nurses in the Crimea - Profile  
Nurses in the Crimea

1. Introduction

2. Profile

3. Sources

Nurses in the British Army
Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps
Scottish Women's Hospitals
Women's Royal Naval Service
Women in WWII

Elizabeth Cadwaladyr

Photograph of Elizabeth Cadwaladyr. Used with permission from Betsy Cadwaladyr: A Balaclava Nurse edited by Jane Williams (Ysgafell), with a new introduction by Deirdre Beddoe. (Dinas Powys, HONNO, 1987). ISBN 1-870206-00-2.  Engraving from a photograph, 1857, in National Library of Wales MS 12353D
Photograph of Elizabeth Cadwaladyr. Used with permission from Betsy Cadwaladyr: A Balaclava Nurse edited by Jane Williams (Ysgafell), with a new introduction by Deirdre Beddoe. (Dinas Powys, HONNO, 1987). ISBN 1-870206-00-2. Engraving from a photograph, 1857, in National Library of Wales MS 12353D.

Elizabeth Cadwaladyr was one of sixteen children born to Dafydd Cadwaladyr, second son of Cadwaladr and Catrin Dafydd, and his wife Judith Erasmus. She was christened on 26 May 1789 at Llanycil parish church near Bala, Merionethshire. All that we know of her life comes from "The Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis, A Balaclava Nurse, Daughter of Dafydd Cadwaladyr", compiled and edited by Jane Williams from notes of their conversations.

Elizabeth (Betsy) spent her early years on the hill farm of Pen-Rhiw. The death of her mother when she was about five years old affected Betsy deeply, and in order to escape the strict regime imposed by her father, who was a Methodist preacher, and the elder sister who looked after the household following the death of their mother - and whom Betsy disliked intensely - she went to live with her father’s landlord, Simon Lloyd of Plas-yn-dre when she was nine years old. There she was treated kindly and learnt ‘all sorts of housework and needlework, in cooking and baking, in brewing, washing and ironing’.

She was also taught to read and write, to dance and play the harp and to speak English. She recounts in her autobiography how she got into trouble with her father for dancing while she still lived at home.

‘He [her father] talked to me very gravely, and asked how he could go into the pulpit and speak of the wickedness of the world, while his own child did such things. He remarked that his other children did not want to go to dances, and he could not think why I did’. Betsy replied, ‘I can’t help it – when I hear music, something tickles my feet, and I can’t keep them quiet’.

Despite being happy living with the Lloyd family Betsy suddenly decided that she wanted to see the world, so she stole out of the house in the middle of the night and ran away to Chester where she had an aunt. The aunt gave her money to take the coach back to Bala, but instead Betsy took a package boat to Liverpool. She was about 14 years of age.

Betsy found employment in domestic service in Liverpool, Chester and London at various times of her life, and her employers’ travels enabled her to travel widely. It was while she was in Liverpool that she changed her name from Elizabeth Cadwaladyr to Elizabeth Davis ‘on finding that the English people could not pronounce that surname’.

While at Edinburgh and Glasgow she saw the actress Mrs Siddons perform, and in 1815 she travelled on the continent, visiting Vigo, Saragossa, Seville, Granada and Madrid in Spain; France, where she saw Louis XVIII ‘come into the city’ of Paris; Belgium at the time of the battle of Waterloo; Trieste, and Naples where ‘we saw Vesusius’. She journeyed up the Rhine to Berlin and on to Vienna ‘where we saw the young Napoleon ... a fine delicately-looking boy’; then to Milan, Venice and Rome – she says that she was disappointed with Rome – before returning to Liverpool via the Hague and Ostend. At Liverpool she became secretly engaged to a Captain Thomas Harris – but two days before the date set for the wedding he was drowned when his ship, the Perseverance, was wrecked.

Her father travelled to Liverpool to fetch her home, but while she loved and admired her father she didn’t stay long in Bala, escaping to Chester in August 1816 and then to London. In 1820 she became nanny to a sea-captain’s family, and thus began years of travelling the world and meet all sorts of interesting people. Her adventures included acting Shakespeare on board ship, undergoing remarkable adventures and avoiding marriage to several suitors. She travelled to the West Indies, to Madras and Calcutta (where she witnessed women throwing their babies into the Ganges); to Mauritius and Siam; to Canton where she wandered into an opium den and found herself in the presence of the Emperor; to Australia and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), New Zealand, Peru - she witnessed an earthquake in Lima - and Chile where she complained about the rattlesnakes. She also visited Malta, Greece, Egypt, the East Indies and missionary stations.

Detail from letter from Elizabeth Davis to the Honourable Mr Herbert. National Archives Catalogue reference: WO 25/264. Link opens in a new window - 80k Detail from letter from Elizabeth Davis to the Honourable Mr Herbert. The letter is a request from Davis to become a nurse in the Crimea. National Archives Catalogue reference: WO 25/264 View the letter from Elizabeth Davis to the Honourable Mrs Herbert. Opens in a new window - 80k
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Back in London she lost all her savings and later was ‘deprived’ of ‘a fortune’ promised her by her employer. She then took to nursing, first of all in Guy’s Hospital and then nursing private patients, and as a result of reading one of William Howard Russell’s newspaper accounts from the Crimean War of the suffering of the soldiers, she volunteered in 1854 for nursing service in the Crimea. Her letter of application is held at the National Archives, catalogue reference: WO 25/264 National Archives Catalogue. She joined a party of nurses and ‘Sisters of Mercy’ under a Miss Stanley and eventually reached Scutari. This was the main British Hospital and was under the control of Florence Nightingale. Strong-willed Betsy did not like Florence Nightingale and was angry at being made to mend old shirts and sort rotting linen instead of being allowed at the centre of the action, the Crimean peninsular. She therefore left for the hospital at Balaclava and immediately set to work to treat the infested wounds of the soldiers. She nursed the men for six weeks before being put in charge of the special diet kitchen. Being an excellent cook she made sure that the soldiers had good food produced from the best ingredients. However, overwork and ill health meant that she was forced to return to Britain, leaving with a recommendation from Florence Nightingale for a government pension. However, her comments on affairs in the Crimea are extremely scathing and she had little good to say about Florence Nightingale.

Betsy was devoutly religious and the small Welsh Bible given to her by the Rev. Thomas Charles of Bala when she was young remained her ‘constant companion’; but her love of the theatre, her thirst for adventure and for seeing the world, was also strong. She died in poverty at the home of her sister Bridget in London in 1860.

Text by Eirionedd A. Baskerville, National Library of Wales

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