TIMES REMEMBERED – A Remarkable Lady
Continuing the theme of interesting people that have inhabited our village in days gone by, you may recall a brief reference in the piece I wrote recently about Revd. R.L.Loughborough, to a lady from Stoke Damerel, Devon, who added to the congestion in the Vicarage. Her name was Kate Anderson , whose father was a ship’s master in the Royal Navy. As a young woman with strong religious principles she was much given to good works among the poor and needy in the slums of Devonport and it was there that her path crossed that of the newly ordained Ralph Loughborough. With him she visited the workhouses and nursed the sick that he encountered in the course of his parochial visiting. When Ralph and Marianna came to Pirton in 1851 she accompanied them and continued to assist the Vicar in the same way.
Pirton in the middle of the last century was no stranger to poverty and twelve pubs in the village did their best to keep it that way. Loughborough’s verdict was that they had come to a place, “with little religion and less morality”. Most of the women were engaged in strawplaiting and children were taught the art from a tender age at plait schools. All too often they were kept away from school in order to further the family income. Kate Anderson wrote the following lines about them:
Little hands whose hardest labour
Should be weaving daisy chains,
Aye the toiling at this plaiting,
Adding to their mother’s gains.
Her nimble fingers made boys’ caps and girls’ clothes out of any material she could obtain and more than once took the rags off children and put on them decent clothing, even if it had been made out of her own.
When the Crimean War broke out in 1854 Kate felt called to help the sick and wounded soldiers and after some additional nursing training in London she followed Florence Nightingale to Scutari, one of nine ladies prepared to work without a salary. In the nineteenth century nursing was not considered a respectable occupation for educated ladies. The conditions she found on arrival were appalling. Sick and wounded soldiers were taken by ship across the Black Sea to two hospitals near Constantinople. The hospitals were insanitary and overcrowded, the soldiers dirty and neglected. Cholera, scurvy, dysentery and typhus were rife. Kate wrote to Marianna Loughborough, “The fever is raging most fearfully. I have two wards and in one of them eleven orderlies, a sergeant and a surgeon are dead. I am in the wards from first light until late at night and indeed it is most sad to hear the wild ravings of delirium”. At one point it was recorded that there were more soldiers in hospitals than fighting the war. The food in the hospitals was often unfit for human consumption and on one occasion Kate seized a piece of meat and carried it on a fork to the British Ambassador’s residence with the words, “Would you like this for your breakfast, Lord Stratford?”
After a few months Kate herself fell seriously ill with fever and when she recovered she found that all her colleagues had gone home to Britain. Kate’s sense of duty would not allow her to follow them and she wrote to Mrs Loughborough “I had malignant typhus and now I know how my poor patients suffer. Far from frightening me it only makes me more devoted to my sad work”.
Whilst convalescing Kate attracted the attention of an army chaplain, Revd . William Francis Hobson, who was also recovering from an illness. He was thirty-six and a widower. One day, on the shores of the Black Sea he asked her to marry him and she accepted. The following summer they returned to England and on 2nd August 1856 they were married in St. Mary’s Pirton. William Hobson remained a chaplain to the Forces until 1869 and wherever they lived Kate was active in helping with the wives and families of soldiers and sailors. When ill health forced her husband to retire from the Forces he became chaplain to the almshouses in Faversham. In 1877 Kate and her husband visited Pirton to attend the marriage of the Loughborough’s daughter, Marianna, to Charles Bullock, in a partially restored church, but a few months later Kate was suffering from increasingly poor health and died shortly after Christmas 1886.
There is no doubt that Florence Nightingale was the founder of the modern nursing profession but undoubtedly one of the flames on which ‘The Lady of the Lamp’ relied heavily was Catherine Leslie Anderson.