DAVIES, ELIZABETH (BETSI CADWALADR, 1789 - 1860), Crimean nurse

Name: Elizabeth Davies
Date of birth: 1789
Date of death: 1860
Parent: Judith Cadwaladr (née Humphreys)
Parent: Dafydd Cadwaladr
Gender: Female
Occupation: Crimean nurse
Area of activity: Medicine; Military
Author: Robert Thomas Jenkins

Daughter of Dafydd Cadwaladr, born 24 May 1789 and christened 26 May at Llanycil (Bala). All our knowledge of her life comes from the Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis (two vols., 1857), compiled by Jane Williams, Ysgafell, from notes of her conversation. Left by the death of her mother (c. 1795-6) to the care of an elder sister whom she detested, Elizabeth quickly became a rebel. Though taken into the household of her father's landlord, Simon Lloyd of Plas-yn-dre, where she was kindly treated and learnt dancing and harp-playing, she ran away to Liverpool at 14 (her dates, be it said, are very sketchy throughout), and became a domestic servant, keeping however in the closest touch with the Welsh C.M. church in the city. Her employer's travels enabled her to see Mrs. Siddons acting at Edinburgh, and to visit several Continental countries in 1815-16. Returning to Bala, she again ran away, to Chester, and thence (to escape marriage) to London, where she stayed for a while under the roof of John Jones of Glan-y-gors (1766 - 1821), with whom she claimed ‘distant kinship.’ As domestic servant in the house of a fashionable tailor, she was able to combine zealous attendance at her chapel with devotion to the theatre. In 1820, after a visit to Bala (which she found ‘dull’) she became maid in a sea-captain's family, and for years rounded the globe, meeting all sorts of people (including William Carey and bishop Heber), acting Shakespeare on ship-board, undergoing remarkable adventures (on her own perhaps rather boastful testimony), but sedulously refusing the adventure of matrimony — one gets the impression of a somewhat masculine woman. Returning to England, she somehow lost her savings, and again took service — Charles Kemble (so she says) overheard her acting Hamlet in her employer's kitchen, and offered her £50 a week to act in his company. She was in North Wales in 1844-5, and in South Wales in 1849. Her employer left her ‘a fortune,’ of which she was deprived by legal chicanery; she then took to nursing at Guy's Hospital, and was thus led to volunteer in 1854 for nursing service in the Crimea. As might have been expected, she got on badly with Florence Nightingale, and was invalided home; her comments on affairs in the Crimea are extremely caustic. She spent her last years in poverty, dying in the London house of her sister Bridget, 17 July 1860. To the end, she was devoutly religious; the small Welsh Bible given her in her childhood by Thomas Charles remained her ‘constant companion.’ But her zest for the theatre (perhaps a throw-back to the pre-Methodist culture of her father's countryside), for adventure, and for seeing the world, was equally strong.

Author

Published date: 1959

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