Inspirational Black nurses : Annie ‘Nurse Ophthalmic’ Brewster
Annie Catherine Brewster was born in 1858 in the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. She is one of the pioneer nurses of Afro-Carribean descent working in Britain in the late 1800s and who contributed to the British health service way before the Windrush generation and the birth of the NHS.
Photo Credit : Queen Mary University London
Annie Brewster moved to South London in the 1860s with her father, Pharour Chaderton Brewster, a wealthy merchant from Barbados and her younger sister. She started training as a nurse in 1881 at the London Hospital and started working as one of the hospital’s nursing staff in 1884. In 1888, she received a promotion and became the nurse in charge of the Ophthalmic Wards. As she was dedicated to working with older patients who were losing their sight, she soon received the nickname ‘Nurse Ophthalmic’ .
“With her quick intelligence [Nurse Brewster] became very skillful in the treatment of ‘eyes’ and her kindness to the poor old people who passed through her hands during this period was unwearied. “
Annie Brewster died on 11 February 1902, following an emergency operation. She was 43 years old. She is buried in London at the City of London Cemetery in Newham. Eva Luckes, who was appointed matron of the London Hospital back in 1880, remembers Annie Brewster fondly: “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 the nurse in charge of the Ophthalmic Wards. With her quick intelligence she became very skillful 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.”
On 17 November 2018, as part of the NHS’ 70th anniversary, Annie Brewster’s contribution to British healthcare was recognised with her photograph being projected onto the facade of the former Royal London Hospital building in Whitechapel alongside other key figures of British healthcare.