In 1855 the number of sick returning from the Crimea was increasing, there was a need for more hospital accommodation. In March 1855 Sir John Burgayne, Inspector General of Fortifications was instructed by Lord Panmure to appoint an Officer to find a site for a new military hospital to accommodate one thousand patients. Captain R M Laffan was appointed, he was to find a site by the sea to give access to hospital ships returning with patients from foreign wars. He decided the site at Netley was suitable, and on 3rd January 1856, 109 acres of land was purchased from the owner Mr Thomas Chamberlayne for £15,000. In June a contract was drawn up for Mr George Myers of Lambeth to build the hospital from the plinth up, and Mr Page of Southampton to lay out the roads and the ground around the hospital.
On 19th May 1856 Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone, under which was a copper box, containing the plans of the hospital, coins, a Crimean War Medal, and the first Victoria Cross.
By the time Miss Nightingale returned from the Crimean in August 1856, building work on the hospital at Netley was well underway. After meeting with Lord Panmure at Balmoral in September he agreed to send her copies of the plans. She did not agree with them at all she favoured a hospital which was made up of a separate Pavilions, linked together with covered passages, giving the most light and ventilation. Netley was to be a long building with a corridor running the whole length. Miss Nightingale met with Lord Palmerston at Christmas and explained the reason for her concern of the design of the hospital. He spoke with Lord Panmure and asked him to stop the building work. Lord Panmure explained that £70,000 had already been spent on building work, and how would Lord Palmerston explain this loss to the House, With much correspondence going between them Lord Panmure finally agreed to make improvements, but total reconstruction would be impossible.
Little improvements were made, corridors were given windows, and ward windows onto corridors were enlarged. The result was a hospital which stretched 1,400 yards, along Southampton Water. In the centre of the building was the Chapel which separated the two wings. To the rear of each wing were the two courtyards surrounded by barrack rooms and stores. Also the kitchen with dining rooms above for the more mobile patients. The Building stood three stories high.
The Nightingale Fund had been approached to supply nurses. There had been correspondence between the Fund and the War Office about adapting the building, to find suitable quarters for the nurses. Miss Nightingale felt that the choice for nursing staff for a military hospital should be done carefully and that preference should be given to widows of army surgeons and officers. It was also felt that there should be as few female staff as possible, and that a nursing sister should never do what could be done by an orderly.
Mrs Jane Shaw Stewart (Lady) had been asked to be Lady Superintendent at Netley by Miss Nightingale, at first she would not agree, but after some persuasion she did. Mrs Jane Shaw Stewart (Lady) had gone to the Crimea with Mary Stanley, and was an experienced nurse, having spent some time at St Thomas`s as a pupil of Mr Whitfield studying surgical nursing, she took up her post in 1862.
The Governor was Major General Wilbraham, he and Mrs Shaw Stewart did not always agree. Captain Douglas Galton became Assistant Under Secretary at the War Office, and an intermediary between Major General Wilbraham and Mrs Shaw Stewart. Mrs Shaw Stewart did not mingle with the Doctors, she had a temper which at times was uncontrollable and it was said he hit her nurses. For all her personal faults there could be no criticism of her nursing and moral tone. Wilbraham could stand no more of Mrs Shaw Stewart, and at the end of May 1868 an enquiry was set by the War Office and held at Netley. The tribunal consisted of Dr Sutherland, Dr Beaston and General Hay and lasted from 29th May until 9th June. The outcome was that Mrs Shaw Stewart was forced to resign.
Mrs Jane Deeble was the next choice to take over from Mrs Shaw Stewart. Mrs Deeble was 40 years old, and a widow of an army surgeon who died at Abyssinia. She had three children, and an army pension of £140
Six nurses were chosen by Mrs Wardroper to go with Mrs Deeble to Netley they were; Mrs Rebecca Strong, Jane Kennedy, Jessie Lenox, Lucy Emm, Lucy Wheldon and Ann Clark. They were unable to leave for Netley until accommodation was provided for them.
Mrs Deeble and her party were ready to leave for Netley in October 1869, but in September the War Office said that the alterations were not completed. They suggest that a temporary arrangement could be made. Mr Bonham Carter wrote to say that no nurses would be sent until secure accommodation was provided. He also suggested that the War Office should be responsible for paying for the nurses from October. The War Office promised that the alterations would be finished by October.
The Fund had more or less drafted the Regulations for the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley. It contained a clause that the Superintendent would be responsible to the Secretary of State, she would have the power to dismiss sisters, but the reasons had to be reported.
It was felt by Miss Nightingale and Mr Bonham Carter that Mrs Deeble should do her own staff selection. Mrs Deeble felt that if she was to choose her own staff, she should also be allowed to train them herself. The Fund was against Military hospitals being used for training.
In 1871 Mrs Deeble wrote that the work was becoming heavier, due to the turnover of staff and the sickness rate. Lucy Emm had been dismissed and she was looking for a replacement. Sisters Clarke, Kennedy and Strong had all been ill. Miss Nightingale had predicted illness due to the hospitals poor site, and dampness.
Relations with Mrs Deeble and the Fund were not good. Mrs Deeble kept three of the original sisters, also Emma Berry who had been sent by Mrs Wardroper. It seemed as if the Nightingale connection with Netley was becoming slowly to an end. Miss Torrance was sent to advise Mrs Deeble, who had kept the support of the War Office.
During the Zulu War in 1882, Mrs Deebles took fourteen nurses to South Africa, eight to Petermaritzburg, and herself and the rest to Addington. Sister from Netley later served in Egyptian campaigns, including the Sudan War. Gradually nurses trained at Netley under Mrs Deebles were found at the Herbert, the new Cambridge Hospital, Devonport and Malta.
Mrs Deeble had persuaded Sir Thomas Longmore of the Army Medical College that Netley was the only place capable of training army nurses. Miss Nightingale was not happy about this because she felt nurses should be used from St Thomas`s, she could not persuade the War Office, and they recognised Netley as the main recruiting base, and should be used for training army nurses. When in 1882 Mrs Deeble was asked by the War Office to take nurses to Egypt, Miss Nightingale was annoyed. She wanted to take action, but was advised not to by Sir Harry Verney. Mrs Deebles wanted to take Mrs fellows who had trained at the Nightingale School. Miss Nightingale made sure that it was not only Mrs Fellows she took, as she did not want to be seen to be dictated to by Mrs Deebles. In the end Mrs Deebles did not go and was replaced by Miss Helen Norman, who had trained at St Mary`s by Rachel Williams. Miss Norman was accompanied by Misses Solley, Airy, Winter and Mrs Fellows. The campaign was short. In December Mrs Fellows and Miss Solley asked to come home. Sybil Airy stayed and nursed in a military hospital in Cairo.
In 1889 Mrs Deebles retired, the War Office had proposed to reduce her army pension by £90 a year. Letters were written on her behalf by Mr Bonham Carter to no avail. So Sir Harry Verney went direct to Lord Northbrook, and the decision was reversed. Mrs Deeble was generally regarded as having laid the foundations for the `Queen Alexandra Royal Nursing Service` Miss Norman took over as Superintendent at Netley. There was a rapid increase in numbers. Under the Patronage of Princess Christian the reserve corps was built up. In 1898 the Army Medical Department was reorganized into the Royal Army Medical Corps. An interest in army nursing had been taken by Princess Alexandra of Wales, she had organised and despatched nurses from London to the seat of War. The Red Cross Medal was initiated, among its first recipients were Miss Nightingale and Mrs Deeble.