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 Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?

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joebratpunk



Posts : 18
Join date : 2012-09-24
Location : Exeter

PostSubject: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Fri Sep 28, 2012 1:40 pm

I’ve recently read “Sister Janet: Nurse and heroine of the Anglo-Zulu War 1879”, by Brian Best & Katie Stossel, ed. Adrian Greaves (Pen & Sword 2006). It’s a great story of a lesser known but wholly remarkable young woman, very much in the cast of Florence Nightingale.

The book is based upon the papers and diaries of Sister Janet King (née Wells), which are held at the Tenderden Museum in Kent. I’m hoping to contact Dr Greaves to arrange to see the original manuscripts and papers, as, while the book presents as a great narrative, not all of the commentary is referenced, and it’s sometimes hard to know what is sourced and what is speculative.

In my initial research, I’ve found a few inaccuracies and question-marks over some key information. The most obvious example, the book lists her birth as in 1859 in Shepherd’s Bush (ibid, p39), and proceeds from there (eg, “in 1876, age just 17”, ibid, p46). Her death in 1911 quotes her age as 53 (ibid,p154). In Appendix J, there is a record of the 1881 census, which lists her as 22 – and so on. In the opening acknowledgements, Dr Greaves writes of her time in Zululand, “She was just 20 years old”.

However, this information is almost certainly incorrect.

I’ve found several online references to her birth date being March 1854 – including the 1881 census, which lists her birth as ‘about 1854’, and credits her age as 27, when she is a governess living at 99 St Stephen’s Avenue, Shepherd’s Bush, with her parents and seven younger siblings.

The parish birth records in Kensington confirm this date, as does a Wells family geneaology web page.

The 1901 census traces her by her married name, Janet Helen King, and lists her as age 46, making her birth year 1855 at most.

Having checked this relatively straightforward information, I’m wondering if anyone on the forum has more details, and further cross-referencing, of information pertaining to her life.

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joebratpunk



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Location : Exeter

PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Sat Sep 29, 2012 5:49 pm

An update to this question -

I now have all the census returns for the Wells and King families, with Janet's birthdate definitely Q1 1854, and her whereabouts and age recorded in 1861, 71, 81, 91, 1901 and just before her death in 1911.

What's most interesting is that, in 1871, aged 17, she's not living at home with Benjamin and Elizabeth, but near Clapham Junction station. The book has her entering nurse training in Tottenham aged 17 in 1876 - but by then she was actually 22. So - why was she in south London in 1871, and what was she doing for those six years in between? Did she, in fact, study under the Nightingale programme at St Thomas' teaching hospital, which is 4 miles on the Waterloo line to the east of her 1871 abode?

Another question that intrigues me - the book has her invited to meet and received thanks from Cetchwayo, and then treating him for a stomach ailment with an enema, during his imprisonment at Cape Town castle in late 1879. Are there records or journals of his captivity that might confirm or question this? And, more interesting - did they meet again when he visited London? Lady Wolsley certainly witnessed his arrival. Jane's then husband was a society figure and a prominent journalist. There would be every reason for the Kings to meet the King.

Any thoughts or comments most welcome.
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littlehand

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PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Sat Sep 29, 2012 7:08 pm

Was she not given a medal of some sort from the Zulu King.
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warrior3



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Age : 52
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PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Sat Sep 29, 2012 9:00 pm

Hi
Any book that Mr Greaves has involvement in I find there are always inaccuracies to various degrees. And I mean, very serious inaccuracies indeed. Hence, I do not purchase any.
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littlehand

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PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Sat Sep 29, 2012 9:02 pm

We could say that about any of the authors.
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joebratpunk



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Location : Exeter

PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Sun Sep 30, 2012 1:28 pm

Given some Zulu jewellry, apparently, which is in the collection.

I have a great deal of sympathy for Dr Greaves, as editor and not author.

The book itself is a ripping yarn, and though I'd been reading Anglo-Zulu War literature for 30 years, I;d never before heard of Sister Janet. It's not a scholoarly work, though, in that very little of the narrative is referenced... it's impossible to know what is based directly on source material, particularly the diaries, and what is speculation and embellishment.

Getting such a simple and verifiable pice of information wrong throws questionmarks over the accuracy of... well.. everything... though it doesn't detract from the importance of the book in bringing the story and Sister Janet to wider attention... but it's perhaps more 'Zulu' than academic treatise....
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Mr David Payne



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Join date : 2010-09-06
Location : Tenterden

PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Mon Oct 01, 2012 8:01 am

Hi folks

I seem to recollect that an earlier sibling of Janet's with the same name died and the Janet we know does not relate to the some of the information that is out there.

Regards

David
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Mr David Payne



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PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Mon Oct 01, 2012 8:12 am

Hi Joe

Can you post images of the jewellery you were given.

The reason for the request is that I am doing research into the old zulu beadwork to try and unlock the code of the colours and shapes.

Regards

David
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joebratpunk



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Join date : 2012-09-24
Location : Exeter

PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Mon Oct 01, 2012 9:44 am

Hi all,

I have consistent Birth, Marriage and Death indexes for Janet Helen Wells, and every census in her lifetime from 1861 to 1911, with the 'red herring' being 1901, where is she is incorrectly indexed as 'James'. Her first child was Janet Elsie King, known as Elsie, and listed on the 1901 census (but not in 1911, by which time she was 17). A distant family member confirms Elsie grew up, and had twins in 1915.

I can't find record of another Janet in the family. The Wells family as of the 1861 census is:

1861C...Benjamin Wells 34 head professor of Music bn cambridge [1827]
1861C...Elizabeth Wells 34 wife
1861C...Arthur A Wells age 12
1861C...Leonel W Wells age 10
1861C...Kate F Wells 9
1861C...Janet E Wells 7
1861C...Harry E Wells 5
1861C...Augustas F Wells 1
1861C...Ada P Wells 2 Mo

In 1851, Benjamin and Elizabeth are lving at 30 New Square, Cambridge, with one son of 6 months (listed as 'Waller' but presuably the same 'Arthur' from above, given the age/timing. If there was another 'Janet', born and died between the censuses of 1851 and 1861, it's hard to envisage, given the the consistent 2 year age gaps between Arthur, Leonel, Kate and Janet.

I've not seen the beads, but the book has a black & white photo, credited to the AZWHS (presumably via Dr Greaves) I would have guessed at them being in Tenterden Museum with her medals and other effects, but I don't know that for sure.

Does anyone know of any journals or diaries of the others involved in the medical provisions in South Africa?

I'm aware of A CIVIL SURGEON SSERVING WITH THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE ANGLO-ZULU WAR. by Lewis M. REYNOLDS (2002); and the Lancet Articles from 1879 by D Blair-Brown, but to my knowledge Sister Janet did not cross paths with either. The staff mentioned in the book are Surgeon-General Ross and Surgeon Major Fitzmaurice, and it quotes a passage from the latter dated September 13 (but unreferenced) commending Sister Janet by name. Knowing where this came from, at least, would be very helpful...!
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joebratpunk



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PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:43 am



Interesting stuff, though all of this is in the book.

One minor note, there are more references in this short article than in the whole of the book. Adrian Greaves is an good historian in his presentation, and even in this short extract, it shows.

I note that three of the referenced sources are clearly obits - still some way from primary source material.

As in the book, Janet's birth year is out. She was definitely born in Q1 1854, and in 1871 was 17 and living near Claphap Junction. This doesn't, of course, take anything away from her story, but it does open up five years between then and her enrolment at the Protestant Deaconesses Institute, in 1876, and beg the question as to what she was doing in that time.

Because very little in the book is referenced, it's nigh-on impossible to know which details in the book are sourced directly from Janet's scrapbooks and diaries, and which things are speculative or narrative embellishment.

I'm coming to regard 'Sister Janet' as a little like 'Zulu' - very important in commemorating and highlighting something significant that might otherwise be lost forever, and with a broad truth to a remarkable tale, but not necessarily accurate in all the details, and so not something that can be accepted at face value as academic 'history' in the strictest sense.

Again, the thoughts of this group are most welcome
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Chard1879

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PostSubject: Re: Sister Janet - fact checking and further information?   Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:30 pm

Joe, not sure if you have see this. Doesn't give much infoe on Janet regarding dates.

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