Agnes Jones

Agnes Elizabeth Jones (1832 β€“ 1868) of Fahan, County Donegal, Ireland became the first trained Nursing Superintendent of Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary. She gave all her time and energy to her patients and died at the age of 35 from typhus fever. Florence Nightingale said of Agnes Elizabeth Jones, β€˜She overworked as others underwork. I looked upon hers as one of the most valuable lives in England.’

Agnes Jones was born at Cambridge into a wealthy family with both military and evangelical religious connections. Her uncle was Sir John Lawrence, later Lord Lawrence who went on to become Governor General of India.

In the early years of Agnes Jones life, the family moved to Fahan in County Donegal, Ireland, though they followed her father's career with the army, notably to Mauritius. She was a deeply religious girl and was consumed by a passion to benefit her fellows and redeem herself from sin. During a holiday in Europe with the family she met and was deeply impressed by deaconesses who were from the Institution of Kaiserwerth, which had earlier overseen the early nursing experiences of Florence Nightingale. She visited the Institution in Bonn, returning home to Ireland to use the experience she had gained.

In 1859 she went to London, making contact with Florence Nightingale and Sarah E. Wardroper, senior nurse of St Thomas Hospital. Nightingale said of her that she was " a woman attractive and rich and young and witty; yet a veiled and silent woman, distinguished by no other genius than the divine genius"

In 1862 Agnes Jones commenced nurse training in the Nightingale School at St Thomas Hospital in London. When her year's training was complete, Nightingale called her "one of our best pupils". However her greatest work was ahead of her and was in Liverpool.

In 1865 she accepted an invitation from William Rathbone to lead in the introduction of trained nursing at the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary, at Brownlow Hill, one of the largest workhouse infirmaries in the country. He undertook to pay for the first three years' experiment, so that local taxes did not have to be raised to pay the nurses. This was a radical departure from the normal practices of workhouse management, which by law were obliged to deter the very poor from entering the workhouse by making conditions inside worse than those available to the working poor outside. The conditions in the workhouse were described "disorder, extravagance of every description in the establishment to an incredible degree"

Jones' contribution to the welfare of the sick paupers was enormous, and she worked tirelessly to make the experiment a success. However the work took its toll upon her, and at the age of just 35 years of age she died of typhus fever.This condition was endemic among the poor of Liverpool during this period. The collaboration between Jones, Nightingale and Rathbone is reported in detail in Florence Nightingale and Public Health Care. Jones's only publication was a Bible study, The Gospel Promises shown in Isaiah I to VI. Her sister published her Memorials of Agnes Elizabeth Jones in 1871. A Guardian review of Nightingale's introduction to it, as noted in a Times advertisement for a later "cheaper" edition, said it "should read like a trumpet call in the ears of any lady who is conscious of a similar vocation".[1]

The memory of her outstanding contribution to nursing, to Liverpool and to the poor is commemorated in Liverpool. A window in the Anglican Cathedral is dedicated to her memory, and a statue to her exists in the Cathedral Oratory. Also, a local housing association has named a large student hall of residence after her.

Agnes Jones is now buried in her beloved Ireland. Her recently refurbished grave can be found in the quiet country graveyard of Fahan, 4 miles east from Buncranna in County Donegal. This graveyard is also home to one of the oldest Celtic covering stones in Ireland dating back to the time of St. Columba.


  1. ↑ Times 8 April 1872 10B



James Nisbet 1875.

Florence Nightingale on Public Health Care. Waterloo ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press 2004:678.

Nightingale on Public Health Care 222-308.

Jones. Worthing: Churchman 1988.

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