IT is difficult to express in adequate words all I feel about Sister Henrietta of Kimberley and her magnificent life work in S. Africa. It was soon after our arrival in December, 1889, my husband heard from Mr. Rhodes, Dr. Sir Starr Jameson, Mrs. J. B. Currey, Bishop Gaul, then Rector of Kimberley, and many others, of the strong character of Sister Henrietta, who trained matrons and nurses for all parts of S. Africa, and we heard, when travelling about the country, these nurses were an unfailing influence for good, always showing that remarkable power and capability derived from their teacher.
About March, 1890, at the time of our cordial and interesting reception in Kimberley for the new Governor and High Commissioner I was obliged suddenly to renounce all public engagements, owing to hearing by cable of the death of my mother in England. This gave me the opportunity of realising Sister Henrietta's goodness; she was so strong, gentle and helpful. She took me to see every part of her great work at the hospital, which seemed then very perfect, compared to other institutions, with the refined, holy lady at the head, who had quite a unique position. Every sort of person, from the Governor to those under him, used to appeal to Sister Henrietta for advice and help, and she always gave it so cordially, working so hard to find the best person for each post that had to be filled. She also helped much a few years after our arrival, in collecting information to help the Bill through Parliament for the Registration of Nurses, which she had felt was so urgently needed. She used to receive telegrams from isolated places, just saying, "dangerous case of illness, send experienced nurse as soon as possible." She did not know whether it was a surgical case or severe illness, and consequently it was no use to have a nurse whose qualifications or degree of fitness she had no means of gauging.
During the several visits we paid to Kimberley, which I found the best place as a sanatorium, after the more relaxing climate at the Cape, I used to enjoy many interesting talks with Sister Henrietta, who was also very fond of my daughters. She often read aloud to me in a beautiful strong, clear voice, and I heard from many how her "Readings for Ladies" were enjoyed. She was really fond of reading herself, and had a good memory, so that whether writing her excellent and stirring letters, or talking, she would have endless quotations to help those she was advising or comforting in any trouble or sorrow. She helped her nurses to get out for recreation and enjoyment, and would do double work herself to enable them to be free. She also exacted from them the qualities of brisk attention to duty, and straightness, honesty and truth, which can only come with the aid of God's guidance and in answer to prayer.
When the Government at the Cape took charge in 1891 of about 500 lepers on Robben Island, Sister Henrietta was invited to go over, taking two or three nurses, and leaving them there in charge of the wards for the sick. She went several tunes herself, as we know now, with no fear of the possibility of catching the illness--in those days it was thought there was some risk--and we all admired her example. The work was well taken up by her devoted nurses, but after about eighteen months or two years, they had to give up the work, as the poor lepers objected so much to being washed twice a day, also to the comfortable beds. When dying, they used to slip out of their beds on to the floor, this being more in accordance with their memory of Kaffir homes and the friends they loved. Sister Henrietta had a most beautiful face, and such a bright laugh and smile, and was much beloved by the patients at Kimberley, and yet they were afraid to disobey any rule she made.
Sister Henrietta stayed with us at Government House, Cape Town, two or three times, and we also found her letters helpful and stimulating, when any decision connected with women and girls had to be made. She had a high opinion of Dr. Sir Starr Jameson, and used to tell me she had never known anyone so skilful or so quick and prompt in his decisions, these always turning out to be the best that could be made for the patients.
Sister Henrietta had great power of getting money, as she was so trusted, and all knew she never asked but for a great need; Mr. Rhodes, Dr. Jameson, Mr. Beit, were very good patrons and helpers. She was herself a very good manager, though there was often a great struggle in the Home to make ends meet.
After we left the Cape, I received most interesting letters four or five times a year from Sister Henrietta, and if ever I wrote in any trouble, she would answer at once in the most helpful way; and she wrote me a copy of her Diary during the siege, which was very stirring and interesting.
She came to stay with me in Suffolk in 1901, and was often so suffering that I persuaded her to see Sir Thomas Barlow, who gave her a long appointment and his best advice. He thought she was well and sound, but all organs were overstrained, and that she must expect one or other of them to give way, unless she could lead a quieter life.
Of course, she preferred to break down and die rather than give up any of her work.
In July, 1907, believing that she had not long to live, she wrote me the most beautiful farewell letter, saying: "I cannot bear to think of leaving this world without a few lines to thank you for all you have been to me in wise advice and loving friendship for so many years, never once failing me." She also sent her best love to my girls and son, Lord Loch, saying, "they have always been sweet to me from their childhood."
Happily, Sister Henrietta partly recovered from that illness, and so often expressed a wish to see me; I longed to gratify it, and give myself the great pleasure of talking with her once more. Just four years after, I was able to go out to the Cape, and three days after arrival, went with Mary Currey, Dr. Sir Sinclair Stevenson, and Miss Soulsby to the Victoria Falls. Miss Currey and I went to see Sister Henrietta at Kimberley on the way up, and to my great relief she was fairly well and as beautiful as ever.
On my return, early in September, 1911,1 was able to stay alone with the dear Sister Henrietta in her comfortable Home for Nurses, for four or five days. She greeted me so warmly and made me so comfortable. There were with her five or six nurses besides her niece, Miss Sunny Stockdale, who was her devoted right-hand for several years, and she told me of her great help. She had a shower of gifts of flowers every day, and offers of vehicles to take me round to see all the places of interest and different sites of battlefields around Kimberley. She often partly broke down, telling me so eloquently of all the sufferings they had had to bear during the war, and how many were in great trouble at the loss of husbands, sons, brothers, and friends, and how weary and sad it was, and yet so many comforts and helps, which Mr. Rhodes and others had done all they could to supply, as will be seen in her Diary. She still went on directing all the work at the Home, where the busy nurses went in and out, and she heard many details of sad cases of illness and suffering. She would sit at the head of the table and carve for some nine of us, also stand at the telephone for ten minutes together, often looking very tired. Her great dread seemed to be that some stroke would disable her, and that she would live on and be of no use, and we prayed often together that the end might come quickly.
When the day came for us to part, she seemed rather nervous, but came to the little sitting-room she had prepared for me, and we had tea together, and as I drove off with her niece, she stood erect as ever, that fine, handsome figure and beautiful face, and I knew I could never see her again in this world. She had a chill and was not so well after I left, but wrote me word that she had recovered. Her last letter to me, written only ten days before she died, was about a photograph she had caused to be taken of the grave of a dear nephew of mine, Captain Sydney Earle, killed at Modder River Battle, and buried by his comrades of the Coldstream Guards in the open veldt; "a desolate spot," wrote Sister Henrietta, "but really there is something in the great sun-washed plain and absolute silence--the
'Sky breadth and field, silence and the day
Are also symbols in some deeper way,
Kneel in the latter years to pray again
Ere the night cometh and we may not work,'
which seems more fitting for things Eternal than work and noise and talking.
"The hard thing is to realise that they have ever known the din of battle, the cry of anguish, the shout of the victor--although that perhaps may bring home to us that a day will come when a trumpet shall sound again from that sky breadth in the midst of the field-silence--and those who rest there shall rise again in their spiritual bodies.
"Well, I must not maunder on. Good-bye, dearest, dearest friend.
"Ever your loving Sister Henrietta, C.S.M., and A.A."
These were her last words to me. The end came suddenly and painlessly as she wished, and Mrs. Currey and her daughters, with whom I was staying at the Cape, felt thankful to God for His mercy, while deeply mourning for ours and the country's loss.
I have spoken little of Sister Henrietta's strong faith and religious teaching, but it was felt in all she did and said, and to my mind it was this great spiritual influence and the high standard of character, and perfection of work that she brought to the Throne of God, that was the secret of her power.
All in South Africa felt and realised the spread of her influence among men, women and children throughout the country, and her example has inspired many to go forward in her footsteps, though the light of her presence is no longer visibly there to cheer and comfort them.