Betsi Cadwaladr

Betsi Cadwaladr | Elizabeth Davis | Crimean War Nurse

Betsi Cadwaladr, 1789 - 1860

Betsi Cadwaladr (also known as Elizabeth Davis) was born in Llanycil, Bala, Wales in 1789 (31 years before Nightingale was born). Llanycil is, even today, a tiny community in rural northwest Wales, an equally tiny country abutting a larger, wealthier England–– its longtime ruler. Cadwaladr grew up on a farm as one of 16 children raised by a single father, the preacher Dafydd Cadwaladr. She began her career as a maid and assistant, during which time she learned both the English language and a love of adventure. She worked across Wales and England, France, South America, Africa, and Australia, trailing her wealthy employers to battlefields and along sailing routes.

During her travels, Cadwaladr developed a passion for care-taking, for midwifery and healing the ailing. At age 65, she received a qualification in nursing from a London hospital and joined the British military as a nurse. She was sent to the Crimean War, and posted to Scutari, Turkey–– where Florence Nightingale had set up shop. Nightingale is said to have disparaged Cadwaladr for her working class background and Welsh heritage. She is also said to have developed a begrudging respect for Cadwaladr’s work (before they fell out and Cadwaladr moved to another hospital in Crimea). By all accounts, Cadwaladr nursed intuitively, flouting rules that might have led to lower standards of patient care and battling with suppliers to ensure that proper care could be delivered. Her commitment to her work ultimately led to her own illness; after a year’s hard graft, she returned home sick with cholera and dysentery. She died in London in 1860, aged 71–– but not before having written an autobiography chronicling her long career.