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Matilda Beeton's first known nursing position was at St. Bartholomew's Hospital (London Fever Hospital) from where she received a testimonial dated 16 Sep 1862 which said that she had been a nurse on the medical wards for the last two years and described her as, "an intelligent, active, kind and attentive nurse and fully competent to perform all the duties usually required of persons in her position."

The following letter was sent by A. Tighe-Gregory, Vicar of Bawdsey, Suffolk to Rotherhithe Workhouse Infirmary in 1864.

Bawdsey Vicarage,
1 June 1864

"My opinion of Matilda Beeton having been requested, she has resided in my parish for very many years, perhaps 10, taking care of her grandmother.

I have never had reason to entertain anything but a good opinion of her. For the last three years or so she has been out of my observation, at a distance; but all the reports I have heard of her have been in her favour.

For the rest of her life she has been in her father's house, of whom I have the highest opinion as a most respectable and conscientious man, residing in the parish of Alderton adjoining but came under my own continual observation."

A. Tighe-Gregory,
Vicar of Bawdsey, Suffolk.

Matilda commenced her position at the Rotherhithe Workhouse on 9 July 1864 and left 16 April 1865, a reference from the Board of Guardians of the Workhouse describing her as the late Head Nurse of the Infirmary and saying she had held the position nearly 12 months, and during all which time she displayed great ability in her duties and attention to the patients.

From there, Matilda went to Newington Workhouse for 4 months, leaving with references that described her as having the complete supervision of its sick, performing her onerous duties to complete satisfaction and being intelligent and considerate.

Matilda was head nurse of the Strand Union Infirmary from 23 August 1865 to 27 March 1866, again leaving with glowing references.

Matilda Beeton played an important part in further exposures of filth and corruption which precipitated official investigations for the Poor Law board by Inspector Farnall and its medical officer, Dr Edward Smith, during 1866. Farnall seems to have worked closely with Florence Nightingale over this inquiry and there are suggestions she may have drafted parts of his report.

Matilda Beeton sent the following letter to Mr. Farnall in 1866. Sir, Monday, 9 July 1866.

"I hope you will excuse the liberty I take in writing to you, as I feel it somewhat a duty having read in the papers a few days since an account of your inspection of workhouses. Now, sir, I do not think anything like justice is done you by saying you ought to have known of the evils that have been proved to exist in workhouse infirmaries. I am sure the Press would agree with me if it were known how you have been deceived, and the trouble that has been taken on some occasions to do so; and I do not hesitate to say, it would be hard for the inspector, even if his visits extended to three times a week to the same house, to find out the real evils while so much deceit is practised upon you by the managers, of which I speak from experience.

I well remember sir, your visit to the Rotherhithe Infirmary; the master accompanied you. When there, you asked me about the nursing, the food and other things ; I think you will recollect I gave you the most favourable answers.

In this I knew I was doing wrong towards you, but I now confess to you I was afraid to tell the truth of things to you, through the master being with you. Before leaving the infirmary you pointed out what you thought were defects, and said you would make a report in your visit book.

A few days afterwards I was called to the master's office on business of the infirmary; I then asked the master if you had written anything in your book; he replied you had, and allowed me to see it. At the same time he said, It is all very well for Mr. Farnall to say this is right and the other wrong, but the Board do not bind themselves to act up to his suggestions, or they might have nothing else to do.

Under these circumstances things remained nearly as they were. I found the same deceit practised at the Strand and Newington as I did at Rotherhithe, every possible means used to deceive the guardians and the Poor Law Inspector.

Your visit to the Strand was known in the morning, as you were expected later in the day. I need not say the patients were courted, the place put in order, and the matron begged me to put the best side of things as she was going to bring a friend round the wards in the afternoon, this friend proved to be yourself, and when you came into my room and asked me some questions. I answered yes where I ought to have said no; this I did, fearing the master or matron would hear me, or you would tell them, and then I might have been reported for the same, and that is anything but pleasant, the rod being shook over a subordinate officer, inasmuch as they are told they must mind how they leave their appointment, or the Poor Law Board will not sign another for them. This rod was shook over me, sir. I have spoken of your visit being known at the Strand a few hours previous to your coming, but you will understand that made but little difference; as soon as the Poor Law Inspector passes through the lodge it is known all over the house, and one has to run one way and one the other to hide such things as perhaps you ought to see; this is done by the masters orders, and he engages your attention perhaps only a few minutes; this I witnessed on more than one occasion. Many things I could name to show how utterly impossible it is or has been, to find out what is going on in a workhouse, unless things are pointed out by those more closely connected with it than the inspector is, or the Boards of Guardians, if not guardian, ought to have known, which professes to look over the wards every week. I think it has been proved to the public that horrors of the worst kind have existed in workhouses, and guardians have admitted they did not know of such things, also that they did not wish such things to be; if that is true, they, like the inspector, must have been deceived by the managers.

Now, sir, I think vou'll know there are some good paid nurses in workhouses, and some pauper nurses better than others. Supposing in your visits you find a patient with bed-sores, a thing that will occur in any hospital, even with the best possible intention, I think so far as my experience tells, it would have been unfair to either nurses for you to expose the workhouse patient, without being told it had arisen from neglect or want of proper appliances, and I am positive no one could tell the cause of it unless told, or saw frequently for themselves. Many other things- I could easily point out to show how the eyes may be deceived in the sick wards, and not the less so when a party inspecting is told every attention is paid by the managers, who now ought to have the credit of bad treatment in workhouses. For my part, I always had a wish to make known to the guardians, or the Poor Law Inspector, any defects, believing they were the ones who should or could remedy them; this 1 was not altogether to rights, and I think many other nurses would agree with me that for us to complain would be, for certain, the loss of our appointment. At the same time, I am willing to stand my ground, and say, instead of the Poor Law Inspector and Boards of Guardians being blamed, the faults rest with officers on the establishments; such has been my experience of the workhouses where I have held office; and begging, sir, you will accept this imperfect written letter as an Apology for my not having done my duty by you in not making known how things really were conducted in the infirmaries of which I was head nurse."

And remain, &c. Mr. Farnall.
Matilda Beeton.

Selected parts of Matilda Beeton’s report to Inspector Farnall re Rotherhithe Workhouse Infirmary read as follows:

**My Experience in Workhouses**

"On the 9th of July 1864 I took office, as head nurse, in Rotherhithe Infirmary, where I had 50 patients sick and infirm; with this number I found I was really able to personally superintend the actual nursing, which is as much as one paid nurse can do with any satisfaction to herself or those by whom she is employed. For this number of patients I had four pauper nurses, all of whom were old and inexperienced; two could read but neither could write.

Of the four nurses allowed me three were all I could expect them to be; drunk only when they had the means or the chance of getting anything to drink; the fourth was a confirmed drunkard, so much so, that I was in constant fear of her doing bodily harm to the sick patients. She would beat them till they were black with bruises, more especially those who were unable to help themselves and friendless; and I found, by the patients, that they lived in fear of her, and only by giving her their beer, or other nourishment, could they feel themselves safe to ask for the most trifling thing to be done for them.

I complained to the matron and assistant master, and was told she had always done very well till I came there; they supposing she did not like a paid nurse over her. I must therefore do the best I could with her, as there was no one in the house she could put in her place.

I then complained of the dirty state the patients were in, when the matron said I must get used to all that, as workhouses were not like hospitals.
When I had been there about four months, I had a pauper sent to the sick ward from some ward up at the workhouse. I understood this poor creature had been in the house for some time, she was an imbecile. This poor patient I believed sensitive to all her sufferings and yet she was the victim to the most cruel treatment from this inhuman pauper nurse.

This state of things went on till one morning I sent for the master to come to the infirmary. Immediately on his coming, I told him he must that moment remove the sick ward nurse, or I would go and bring in the guardians to see what could be done in the shape of finding me another nurse; the master, fearing I should do so, very reluctantly ordered what he thought a model nurse to the body of the house.

I do not think I am wrong in saying many a poor creature went to their home long before the time, by the hands of this inhuman nurse. It was my firm impression that when patients had got bad and troublesome she gave opium, put them on the left side, and so they passed out of this world as natural deaths.

Respecting things for the use of the patients, there was an insufficiency of everything throughout the whole infirmary.

As regards the sick diet, I considered on the whole it was insufficient; the mutton broth and beef tea were only mockery, the meat was more often than not one lump of fat, and nearly cold, so that a patient very ill could not eat it. Milk in the sick ward was never heard of till I asked the doctor to allow it with arrow-root; then the master made a great fuss about it. I had forgotten to say nightdresses were not allowed for the sick patients, with the exception of three or four of the union blue, made out of the skirts of worn out dresses. Patients were allowed to wear their own if they could pay for the washing; and I found they often had to sell their nourishment to do it.

On the whole, it did not seem to me that a pauper's life was regarded in any other light than the sooner they were dead the better.

I left Rotherhithe workhouse 16th April 1865."

Matilda Beeton

23 April 1866.

A letter from the Poor Law Board to the Guardians of the parish of St Mary, Rotherhithe read as follows: Poor Law Board, Whitehall, S.W.,

Sir, 20 July 1866.

I AM directed by the Poor Law Board to inform the guardians of the poor of the parish of St. Mary, Rotherhithe. that they have received from their inspector, Mr. Farnall, a report of his inquiry into the allegations contained in a statement made by Matilda Beeton, late the paid nurse at the workhouse, in reference to the general management of the infirmary and sick wards at the workhouse, together with a copy of the evidence which he took on that occasion.

As Mr. Farnall's Report, together with the evidence, have been moved for, and will be immediately laid before Parliament, the Board think it desirable to postpone their communication to the guardians respecting the report until the guardians have had an opportunity of seeing it.

The Board will communicate with the guardians in the course of a short time upon the general subject of the present state and condition of the sick wards of the workhouse.

I am, &c.
(signed) R. A. Earle, Secretary.
R. S. Hawke, Esq.,
Clerk to the Guardians of the Poor of the Parish of St. Mary, Rotherhithe.

An extract from The Origins of the National Health Service: The Medical Services of the New Poor Law, 1834-1871 by Ruth G. Hodgkinson is taken from and reads as follows:

"Rogers (Joseph Rogers, Workhouse Medical Officer) had won his greatest victory in 1865 when a superintendent skilled nurse was appointed by the Guardians. He himself gave the credit for her institution to Louisa Twining's evidence before the Select Committee of 1862 and to the Lancet inquiries, because his own repeated demands had been constantly ignored. Her appointment however had become imperative because the numbers of the sick had increased so tremendously that the ceilings of some of the infirmary wards had had to be removed to increase the cubic feet allowance. Beds had been put so close together that patients could only get out at the end. Rogers said it was beyond the new nurse's strength to supervise so many patients but she could check some of the graver abuses connected with pauper nursing.

It was through the allegations of this nurse that two official inquiries were held in 1866. She brought her cases to the notice of the Workhouse Infirmary Association and they demanded investigations from the Poor Law Board. Matilda Beeton had been employed at Rotherhithe Workhouse before going to the Strand and her charges were concerned with the terrible nursing system , the negligence of the master and the matron, the lack of cleanliness of the patients, - who were 'crawling with vermin' - the total absence of amenities for the sick, the 'foul smell of the beds' from which maggots crawled in their hundreds, and the inadequate food of the patients. If they wanted nightdresses they had to pay for the laundry themselves for which they sold their food, and milk had been unheard of in the infirmary until her arrival. To her complaints the master had replied that she must 'get used to all that, as workhouses were not like hospitals'. The evidence at the inquiry revealed that the master and the matron had never met any of her requests, nor had the Medical Officer taken any steps to procure efficient nurses or reported in writing any defects which he was required to do by the Consolidated Order of 1847."

When Matilda Beeton came to the Strand Workhouse she made similar allegations against the treatment of the sick and Inspector Cane was deputed to investigate. Several members of the Workhouse Infirmary Association attended the inquiry, as they had done at Rotherhithe. Evidence was given that Louisa Twining and other Visitors had stated the Strand workhouse was 'clean and sweet' and that arrangements and cleanliness were superior to other institutions. Rogers however confirmed Matilda Beeton's charges."

Matilda Beeton's allegations were reported in the House of Commons, the debate leading to the passing of the Metropolitan Poor Act, 1867.

On 13 May 1867, the London Morning Post reported on a meeting held at Wimpole Street, London under the presidency of Earl Grosvenor MP. At this meeting, a conversation arose as to the advisability of affording some assistance to Mis. Matilda Beeton, who gave such im- portant evidence before the Poor-law Commissioners as to the condition of the Strand Union and the Rotherhithe workhouses, and through doing which it was stated she had materially injured her prospects in life, for none of the guardians of either parishes would engage her, though she was proved to be a most efficient nurse. Sir John Simeon, Dr. Anstie, and Dr. Rogers were of opinion that the association might now vote Mrs. Beeton some compensation for the trouble which had been caused to her through her honest and unflinching conduct in the cause of the suffering paupers; and it was at length resolved to submit the question to a sub-committee, to see if Mrs. Beeton wanted a situation, so that the committee might use their best endeavours to obtain her one.

On 13 May 1866, Matilda Beeton gave birth to Beeton Oswald Thomas at 11 Birchin Lane, City of London. No name was given on the Birth Certificate for the father. However, on 6 December 1868, Beeton Oswald Thomas was baptised for John Arthur Thomas (Workhouse Manager) and Matilda who was probably Matilda Beeton given the child’s first Christian name at Holy Trinity Church, Heigham, Norwich.

Unfortunately, there is no record of Matilda Beeton marrying John Arthur Thomas and the only John Arthur Thomas I can find who could fit the bill was born in Cromer, Norfolk in abt. 1836 and was Assistant Workhouse Master in St. Leonard’s Workhouse, Shoreditch in the 1871 census. Have looked at other censuses, deaths and emigration records with no luck.

The 1869 Post Office Directory has a Matilda Beeton as Matron at Fox’s Home for Destitute Children, Unthank Road, Heigham, Norwich. She was still at the establishment when the 1871 census was taken. She is shown as being 38 years old, married and born at Bawdsey, Suffolk. With her is Oswald Thomas who is 4 years old and born in London.
Matilda had reverted to her maiden name by 1881 when Matilda and Oswald Beeton are both in the census for the Stockwell area of Lambeth, Matilda as a Servant and calling herself a widow though I have been unable to find a marriage for her, Oswald as a visitor. Matilda Beeton died 7 Apr 1889 at 176 Shirland Road, Paddington. She was 57 years of age at the time and the cause of death is shown as Compression of Brain from bursting of blood vessel in Brain. Natural. In the column for details of informant, the Death Certificate says, “Certificate from Geo Danford Thomas Coroner for Middlesex, Inquest held 9th April 1889. Matilda's body must have been brought back to Bawdsey for she was buried there on 11 Apr 1889Oswald Beeton arrived in Montreal, Canada from London, England on The Corean, 19 May 1886.

In the 1901 census for Wicklow Parish, Carleton, New Brunswick, the Head of the family is shown as Oswold Beeton, he is married, born 13 May 1866. His wife is Nelly Beeton born 18 Jun 1866 and their children are W. H. Beeton, Son, born 19 Nov 1890 and M.M. Beeton, Daughter, born 3 Dec 1894. All I could originally find regarding his wife's and the children's birthplaces is that they were born in Ontario.

However, Family Search records for Ontario, Canada include the birth on 18 Oct 1890 of a William Harold Beeton at Renfrew, Ontario, parents Oswald Beeton and Nellie Watt and the birth on 3 Dec 1894 at Renfrew, Ontario of Marion May Buton, parents Oswald Buton and Nellie Lough Watt. Have noted that William Harold Beeton's birth is a different date to that given in my last paragraph.

There are a couple of discrepancies in that they have Oswald as being born in Canada where our Oswald was born in London, England and the birth date they have for him is 13 May 1870 when it should be 13 May 1867. However, the following which confirms all other aspects but has him as being born 1867 in England helps to correct any anomalies. It is taken from

Nominal Rolls:

50th Battalion 1914-1915 3rd, 12th and 13th Regiments Canadian Mounted Rifles 1915-1916 Canadian Expeditionary Force
108090 Private
Beeton, Oswald
Beeton, Mrs. Sarah Ann


649 – 2nd Street . S.E., Medicine Hat, Alta.
Medicine Hat
Jan. 7, 1915

The following is taken from the Lethbridge (Alberta Canada) Herald of 26 December, 1940.

(From our own Correspondent)

"MEDICINE HAT – A marriage of wide interest to old timers of Southern Alberta was solemnized on December 17 at the Fifth Avenue United church parsonage when Mr. Oswald Beeton and Mrs. C. E. Crawford were joined in holy matrimony. The Rev. J. W. Bainbridge officiated at the ceremony.

Mrs. Beeton came to Lethbridge as a young girl in 1885 and was the daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. D. J. McKay who were well known and highly respected citizens of the southern city.

At the time of her recent marriage she was the widow of the late James Crawford who was at one time an engineer on the narrow gauge railway out of Lethbridge.

Mr. Beeton has been a resident of Medicine Hat for the past 37 years. By trade he is a Decorating Contractor. Thirty years ago he farmed near Boswell, but sold out his interests to move into this city. He is a returned veteran of the last great war and saw active service with the 3rd C.M.R.s."

Catherine Eliza Beeton formerly Crawford, was born Catherine Eliza McKay 7 Feb 1871 at Stellarton, Nova Scotia, and died 1 Jul 1949 Medicine Hat.

The evidence so far suggests that Oswald Beeton was possibly married to Nelly Watt in or before 1890 and definitely to Catherine Elizabeth Crawford on 17 Dec 1940. There is also the question of Mrs. Sarah Ann Beeton mentioned in Oswald’s military records, possibly being another wife in between Nelly Watt and Catherine Elizabeth Crawford? Interestingly, a Sarah Ann Beeton died 19 July 1940 at Medicine Hat and was buried in the same Hillside Cemetery as Oswald Beeton

An Oswald T. Beeton died 18 August 1953 at Medicine Hat and was buried in the Hillside Cemetery, Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Also of interest is the website for the Canadian Great War project at http://www.canadiangreatwarproject.com/searches/soldierDetail.asp?ID=61224 regarding Oswald. There are a couple of discrepancies in that they have Oswald as being born in Canada where our Oswald was born in London, England and the birth date they have for him is 13 May 1870 when it should be 13 May 1867.

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© Richard Green 2013