Shining a light on £10 Florence Nightingale banknote lamp blunder

By Rebecca Cook
March 3 2020, 18.21

The £10 note which was in circulation for nearly 20 years featured Florence Nightingale holding the wrong lamp.

Nightingale, dubbed ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ during the Crimean War, was featured on a commemorative banknote in circulation between 1975 and 1994. At their peak in 1990 there were almost 600 million of the notes in circulation.

Her standing portrait on the reverse of the £10 note is accompanied with a background scene from the Scutari hospital where she served in Turkey.

At the centre of the picture, rays of light shine from the lamp Nightingale holds while she and other nurses tend to patients.

The lamp on the note is a genie-style lamp that holds a candle, but Nightingale used the more elaborate and distinctive folded Turkish ‘fanoos’ lamp.

David Green, the Florence Nightingale Museum director, said: “There were journalists sent over in the Crimean War but no photographers, so when they described the woman walking around the ward, none of them described the lamp.”

During the Crimean War, The Times reported on Nightingale walking around the beds of wounded men throughout the night, holding a lamp aloft before her.

It read: “She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.

“When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

This portrait of the indefatigable attendant captured the British imagination and began to cement her silhouette in the public eye.

As a historical figure, she not only evoked an astounding level of adulation, but became instantly recognisable.

Yet the precise outline of the lantern light used to care for the wounded and dying soldiers was never specified.

It is often the historically inaccurate Grecian lamp or genie lamp, as opposed to the folding Turkish lamp.

Of the erroneous 1975 banknote, Mr Green said: “It’s a piece of history you can carry around in your pocket, and it also shows you how accuracy is important.”

The banknote will feature in the upcoming exhibition ‘Nightingale and Popular Fiction’, which will be displayed at the museum.

The exhibition objects are being taken out of the museum’s storage or sourced from other institutions.

They will also include the gold watch Nightingale took to the Crimea and a medical prescription she gave to her maid Fanny Pettit to collect.

The exhibition is part of the museum’s bicentenary commemoration of Nightingale’s birth in 1820.

The celebrations commence on March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day as well as the 2020 International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

The museum is constructing a giant version of Nightingale’s fanoos lamp for a tourist photo opportunity.

Nightingale was the first woman to appear on a banknote, excluding the female monarchs, and remained the only woman immortalised on paper currency until 2002.

The Bank of England commissioned new designs for the four polymer notes, which began to enter circulation in 2016.

JMW Turner’s £20 note was issued earlier this month and Alan Turing’s £50 banknote will be released in 2021.

Of these four new notes, only one pictures a woman: the Jane Austen £10.

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