Early Years

Frances [Fanny] Smith was six years older that William Edward Nightingale when they became engaged in 1817. They were married the following year on the 1st June, and left soon after to travel in Europe. William Edward Nightingale was born William Edward Shore in 1794. He changed his name to Nightingale when he became twenty-one, after inheriting a fortune from his Uncle Peter Nightingale. He had been a very wealthy landowner and High Sheriff in Derbyshire. In 1819, they had their first daughter who was born in Naples, and named her Frances Parthenope [Pathe].   Their second daughter was Florence, who was born on May 12 1820, at Villa Colombia in Florence. They had only two daughters; it would have been better if one of them was a boy, because of the conditions of Williams’s inheritance. He had inherited the estate through an ental, this meant that upon his death the estate could not be sold or be bequeathed, it had to be kept in the family. Therefore upon his death the estate would pass to a son if there was one, or to the son of his nearest descendant, so it would continue in the family. William’s sister Mary (Aunt Mai) married Frances’s brother Samuel Smith. In 1831 they had a son, William Shore. It would be him who would inherit William’s property, on the death of his mother.

After travelling in Europe for three years, Fanny felt it was time to return to England. They had no family home in England, as the property William had inherited was run down, and not suitable for a family. William left his family in Italy and travelled to England. He had land in Derbyshire, which he planned to build a new home. Lea Hurst was in the countryside, with terraced gardens and wonderful views. Fanny felt that Lea Hurst was too small for entertaining, although it had fifteen bedrooms, also it was very cold in the winter. She also wanted to be closer to London.

In 1825 William bought Embley Park, in Hampshire. Fanny felt that Embley was much more suitable, and she was also near to her sisters. They spent the summer at Lea Hurst, and the winter at Embley Park, twice during the year they would spend time in London.

Fanny loved to entertain, and often had a house full of family and friends. Florence was not close to her mother, but adored her father. She and her sister Parthe were completely different characters. Florence was neat, intelligent and liked order, Parthe loved to enjoy herself, and did not like to study. William would teach them Greek, Latin, German, French, Italian, History and philosophy. They learnt music and drawing from a Governess. Florence spent a lot of time with her father, and they grew very close.

William Nightingale stood for MP for Andover in 1834, but was defeated. Fanny had made such plans for William, and liked the idea of being an MP’s wife, and of having a home in London. With Williams’s defeat he would spend more time alone in his library, and walking.

When Parthe and Florence reaching sixteen and seventeen, Fanny felt it was time for them to ‘come out’. This would mean a great deal of entertaining, to launch the girls into society. William agreed with Fanny that Embley was the most suitable place to do this, as they did not have a London home. He arranged for alterations to be done, converting the Georgian house into a fashionable Gothic style. While the alterations were taken place the family were to travel Europe. They left on September 8th 1837, and crossed from Southampton to Le Havre. They travelled in a travelling carriage designed by William. It was enormous and took six horses to pull it. It was during this trip that she met Mary Clarke.  Mary Clarke lived at 120 rue du Bac, in Paris. She had made herself very popular with men in the political world, and had a remarkable gift for conversation. Every Friday night Cabinet Ministers, Dukes of France, English peers, bishops and writers of international reputations would meet in the drawing-room of her apartment.

The Nightingales arrived back in London, on April 6th 1839; Embley would not be finished until June. It was decided that they would spend the season in London. On May 24th Florence and Parthe were presented at the Queen’s birthday Drawing Room. It was during this time that her friendship with her cousin Marianne Nicholson grew. June arrived but Embley was still not finished, so they returned to Lea Hurst. Marianne’s brother Henry returned with them, as Florence was to coach him in Mathematics before he went to Cambridge. Henry fell in love with Florence. In 1843 he wanted her to become engaged to him. Two years later he proposed again, and she refused him. He was heartbroken, and the Nicholsons were furious, especially Marianne. She was so angry that she ended her friendship with Florence. In October 1850, Henry Nicholson died, he drowned in Spain.

In September 1839, William said they must return to Embley, whether it was finished or not. By October the work on Embley was complete. Once the house was sorted, they had a house warming party at Christmas; all the family were invited.

Florence was fond of her father’s sister Mary ‘Aunt Mai’, and were to become close. Florence enjoyed her company. She went in January 1840 to stay at Combe Hurst with her. It was while she was there that her interest in mathematics grew, and Aunt Mai encouraged her. They would study together early in the morning before it was light. Florence loved mathematics, and Aunt Mai had written to her mother about her natural ability and perhaps a private tutor would help. Fanny would not agree, she had hoped that Florence would marry, and felt that mathematics would be of no use to her. Aunt Mai was persistent, and in the end they agreed on a compromise. She was to study twice a week, at the house of Fanny’s brother Octavius, who’s wife Jane was ill. Florence could help with the children while she was there, during April and May [1840]. In May, she returned to Embley, and her lessons came to an end.

Thoughts on Nursing …


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