South London Memories: Caribbean nurse Annie Brewster

Southwark historian Stephen Bourne, author of the acclaimed Black Poppies and many other black British history books, has discovered the forgotten grave of a black woman who lived in South London in the late Victorian era.

In 1881 she joined the nursing staff at a well-known London hospital.

Stephen was researching the life of Caribbean-born Annie Brewster when he located her grave in the City of London Cemetery in Newham.

Nurse Annie Brewster

She was buried there in 1902 and Stephen was advised by the cemetery that, if there had been a headstone, it is unlikely it would have survived after 117 years.

However, when Stephen located the burial plot, he discovered a stone memorial in fairly good condition bearing Annie’s name, though the large cross had fallen over.

It was an emotional discovery for Stephen.Annie Catherine Brewster was born on the island of St Vincent in 1858.

Stephen said: “Her father, Pharour Chaderton Brewster, was a wealthy merchant who originated from Barbados.

He settled in South London in the 1860s with his family, including Annie and her younger sister, Laura.

St Giles’ Church in Camberwell, where Annie Brewster’s father, Pharour Chaderton Brewster, married Angelina Impey in 1879

In 1879 Pharour was a widower and a successful businessman, living with his daughters in Grove Vale, East Dulwich, when he married an Englishwoman, Angelina Impey, at St Giles’ Church in Camberwell Church Street.

According to the 1881 census, the family were still at the address in Grove Vale.

In 1881 Annie was recruited as a nurse by the London Hospital, situated in Whitechapel in the east end of London.

There she remained until her death in 1902. The hospital served a poor, ethnically diverse community.

On a visit to the archives of the London Hospital, Stephen uncovered a small treasure trove about Annie’s nursing career.

He said: “With assistance from the hospital’s archivist, Jonathan Evans, I accessed several records relating to Annie.

“The first, dated December 16, 1881, described her as a thoroughly satisfactory probationer.

“She was a favourite with all the sisters under whom she worked. She was gentle and kind to her patients.”

Annie Brewsters memorial in the City of London cemetery in Newham

In 1902 Annie died at the age of 43 following an emergency operation.

Matron Eva Luckes and the nursing staff were heartbroken.

Ms Luckes reported that Annie was known to all her hospital friends as ‘Nurse Ophthalmic’ because of her painstaking work with elderly patients who were going blind.

Ms Luckes continued: “She had spent the best and happiest years of her life at the London Hospital.

She was with us for just over 20 years, nearly 14 of which had been spent as nurse in charge of the Ophthalmic Wards.

“With her quick intelligence she became very skilful in the treatment of ‘eyes’ and her kindness to the poor old people who passed through her hands during this period was unwearied.

“Hospital friends mourn her loss and keep her in affectionate remembrance.”

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