Sunday 26 May 2013

Florence Nightingale and Bangalore

She is one of the most famous personalities in history and her name even today stands for untiring devotion, selfless sacrifice and compassion.
Though she was a British citizen, her name spread so far and wide that it came to symbolise compassion and her name and her deed inspired millions to follow her profession.
Popularly credited as being the founder of modern nursing, she became famous for selflessly tending to wounded soldiers during the Crimean war. The grateful soldiers dubbed  her “The Lady with the Lamp” after her habit of making rounds of the hospital at night.
She is Florence Nightingale, (May 12, 1820 – August 13, 1910), the woman who redefined care for the sick and wounded. Hers is one of the few names that are known by people of all countries and by people of all religions, caste, class and community.
However, few are aware that Florence Nightingale was not merely concerned about the welfare of soldiers in Europe but also about the rather primitive health conditions in Bangalore when it was a Cantonment town.
Florence Nightingale was deeply concerned about the rather apathetic or primitive conditions of Bangalore in the 19th century and her concern comes across in some of her letters.
It was the early years of the 19th century and the British had decided to shift their base from Srirangapatna to Bangalore. The British had finally managed  to overcome Tipu Sultan on May 4, 1799 but they could not stay long enough in Srirangapatna. The British could not withstand the mosquitoes of Srirangapatna and they decided to shift the military base to Bangalore.
In Bangalore, the British found the area around Ulsoor to be highly suitable for establishing the Cantonment in 1806. If the Cantonment comprised mainly of British troops and British families, Ulsoor and surrounding areas were populated by native Indians, a majority of whom found employment in the Cantonment.
By the way, the word Cantonment traced its origin to the French word Canton, meaning corner or district. Each Cantonment was essentially a well-defined and clearly demarcated unit of territory set apart for the quartering and administering of troops          
However, the sanitary conditions in Bangalore Cantonment in the early years of 19th century left much to be desired. The troops  lived in unhygienic conditions and they were exposed to mosquitoes. The unsanitary conditions led to scores of British troops and native Indians falling ill regularly and several of them died.
The British had stationed several thousand troops in Bangalore and very soon the Cantonment here became the biggest in south India. The British garrison stationed in the Cantonment included three artillery batteries and regiments of the cavalry, infantry, sappers, miners, mounted infantry, supply and transport corps and the Bangalore Rifle Volunteers.
While the Bangalore Cantonment was directly under the administration of the British Raj, the City and old pete areas was under the Wodeyars of Mysore.
The troops lived in appalling conditions and the question of providing better amenities even engaged the attention of no less a person than Florence Nightingale.
Unfortunately, very few know about the Nightingale’s efforts to streamline public health and welfare in Bangalore.  
She was very particularly solicitous about the health of the troops. Although she never visited India, her biography and even letters reveal that it was through her untiring efforts that public health in Bangalore Cantonment was improved.

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