Skip to main content

Archive of the Overseas Nursing Association


  • How to

The collection covers the whole period of the association's existence, 1896-1966, and includes some earlier papers concerned with its formation (MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 400 / 120 / 1, fols. 1-20) and some later papers concerned with financial matters (MSS. Brit. Emp. s 400 / 18a). There are 119 bound volumes – minutes of meetings, ledgers and registers, and printed material - and 32 boxes of correspondence and other records including the complete series of annual reports. In the final annual report the work of the association is reviewed in a "Historical Survey" (MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 400 / 131, item 53).


  • Creation: 1894-1972


26.84 Linear metres (244 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Conditions Governing Access

Some items in MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 400 / 149-150 are closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 400 / 1, fols. 1-2].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 400

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 3580


Papers of the Overseas Nursing Association, formerly the Colonial Nursing Association, which was established in 1895 to provide trained nurses for hospital and private work in the British colonies and among other British communities abroad.

Biographical / Historical

In 1895 a proposal was made to the Colonial Office by Mabel W. Piggott, wife of the procureur and advocate-general of Mauritius, that an association should be formed in England to help British communities in the colonies and elsewhere to provide themselves with trained nurses. In many isolated territories skilled nursing was unobtainable; British officials and settlers and their families suffered severely, and doctors were much handicapped in their work, by the absence of trained nurses. Joseph Chamberlain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, took a personal interest in the proposal, and with his help the Colonial Nursing Association (renamed in 1919 the Overseas Nursing Association) came into being.

The first English nurse to be selected by the association sailed for Mauritius early in 1896. Later that year a despatch circulated by Joseph Chamberlain to colonial governors, recommending the scheme to their consideration, met with a warm response (MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 400 / 120 / 1, fols. 10-15). In December two nurses were chosen for the Government Hospital at Accra, and in the association's annual report of 1902 the chief medical officer is quoted as writing with enthusiasm of the "state of perfection" achieved in the hospital by these nurses and the "marvellous reduction in death rate" (MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 400 / 131, item 1).

From the start the association recruited nurses for both government and private employment. At the request of the Colonial Office, nurses were selected for posts in colonial government hospitals, and after 1961 this service was continued on behalf of the Department of Technical Co-operation and later the Ministry of Overseas Development. Nurses were also chosen for private nursing associations and other employing authorities wherever British communities existed, and local committees were formed to raise funds for salary and expenses. A Scottish branch of the association was created in 1900, to help with the raising of funds and to interview candidates in Edinburgh (MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 400 / 132 / 1).

In 1903 a matron was selected for the Colonial Hospital, Sierra Leone, to "supervise and train the native nurses", and in the half-century that followed the association played an important part in the training of nurses and development of health services throughout the colonies. It looked after the interests of nurses serving under colonial governments, pressing their claims for better conditions of service where necessary, and took a personal interest in the welfare of all members serving overseas. Visits to the headquarters of the Overseas Nursing Association by medical officers on leave in England brought first-hand information of conditions, and notes about such visits are included in the territorial files (MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 400 / 134-139). When in 1926 a chief medical adviser was appointed at the Colonial Office, he freely discussed nursing problems with the honorary secretary.

Mabel W. (Lady) Piggott remained closely associated with the Overseas Nursing Association until her death in 1949. Among the many distinguished men and women who gave their services as officials and members of the committee were Mary E. Chamberlain (later Carnegie) who served on committees for nearly sixty years, Edith M. (Lady) Antrobus, Honorary Secretary for eighteen years, and her husband (Sir) Reginald Antrobus, Assistant Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies 1898-1909, who became Vice-President and Honorary Treasurer and gave much assistance to the cause of pensions for Overseas Nursing Association nurses. The secretaries responsible for the bulk of the correspondence in the collection were Miss M. E. Dalrymple Hay, Miss A. M. Middleton, Miss C. M. Adams, Miss M. Gawan Taylor and Mrs. G. M. Hamblin.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

When Queen Elizabeth's Overseas Nursing Service (as the Overseas Nursing Association came to be known) closed on 1 December 1966 the Executive Committee agreed to donate their papers to the Oxford Colonial Records Project. The papers were received by Rhodes House Library in February 1967.

An association for members (Queen Elizabeth's Overseas Nursing Service Association) was formed on 25 May 1966 and continued until 2006.


  • The History of Nursing in the British Empire by Sarah A. Tooley (1906) gives an account of the association's early years.
  • The Badge of Britannia: The history and reminiscences of The Queen Elizabeth's Nursing Service by H. P. Dickson (1990).
Catalogue of the archive of the Overseas Nursing Association, 1894-1972
Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by P. A. Empson, The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, 1973, EAD version by Marion Lowman, 2014
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom