These May Be the Last Photos Ever Taken of Florence Nightingale

The rare images are among a collection of artifacts connected to the “Lady with the Lamp” that recently sold at auction

Photographs and other items connected to Florence Nightingale
Photographs and other items connected to Florence Nightingale Roseberys London

A trove of photos, letters and gifts associated with Florence Nightingale just sold for £25,584 (more than $32,000) at a Roseberys auction in London.

The intimate collection includes two rare unposed sepia images of the celebrated nurse, social reformer and statistician. They may be the last photos ever taken of Nightingale, and they have been displayed publicly only once before, when they went on view for ten days at the Florence Nightingale Museum in London, reports the London Times’ Constance Kampfner.

Measuring just over two inches long, they were taken by Eliza Francis “Fanny” Pettit, who was Nightingale’s “lady companion” for two years during her late 80s. The auction house says they date to 1910—the same year Nightingale died at age 90. After that, the photos (along with the other items in the sale) were passed down through the Pettit family for four generations.

“The family history behind these photographs leads us to believe that they may be the final images taken of Nightingale,” Jack Wallis, a works of art specialist at Roseberys, tells CNN’s Jack Guy. “We can be certain that they were taken in 1910, and as such almost certainly in the final weeks or months of Nightingale’s life.”

When Pettit stopped working for Nightingale, the nurse gave her a silver-plated tea caddy and a traveling teapot as a personal thank you. These gifts were included in the sale, as was a letter describing Nightingale’s final hours written by her housekeeper, Elizabeth Bosanquet.

“It was very peaceful and merciful and one is so thankful she slept away with no suffering,” Bosanquet writes. “We shall all be the better for her wonderful influence.”

Born in 1820, Nightingale is known as the founder of modern nursing. In 1860, she established the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, which helped formalize nursing education and served as a model for the field. Nightingale viewed this project as a movement intended “to promote the honest employment, the decent maintenance and provision, to protect and restrain, to elevate in purifying ... a number ... of poor and virtuous women,” she wrote at the time.

She was also a pioneering statistician, becoming the first woman fellow of the Royal Statistical Society in 1858. Her data visualizations helped make information more accessible, and her analyses led to critical advancements in medical care and sanitation reform.

Nightingale believed that “using statistics to understand how the world worked was to understand the mind of God,” David Spiegelhalter, a University of Cambridge statistician and author, told Smithsonian magazine’s Joshua Hammer in 2020.

Even in her own lifetime, the nurse was often referred to as the “Lady with the Lamp” given the night rounds she spent checking in on wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. Her work during the combat led her to become the first woman to receive the Order of Merit. Today, International Nurses Day is celebrated every year on May 12, Nightingale’s birthday.

Born into a wealthy family, “she had the option of having a society life in a nice big house, with a staff of servants. It was all mapped out for her,” self-taught Nightingale authority Peter Kay told Smithsonian magazine. “But she pushed against it and devoted herself to a higher calling. And she would single-mindedly break down barriers.”

The rare photographs are a momentary glance into Nightingale’s final chapter. Wallis tells CNN: “What makes them so special is their personal, candid nature—they are informal shots captured for posterity by a close friend to remember a much-loved principal.”

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