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Eliza Jane Lusher 

(circa 1819-1859)

Dockyard in 1856, the year Eliza Lusher was nursing people with yellow fever.

Illustration: Hallowell painting, courtesy of the Bermuda Maritime Museum.

Eliza Lusher, one of the earliest known black Bermudian nurses, went about her work with a spirit of selflessness. A widowed mother of two from Southampton, she risked her life caring for victims of yellow fever during the 19th century, but was never paid for her services.

Parliament denied her request for financial compensation, and her exposure to yellow fever, a highly contagious disease, may have caused her own death at age 40.

A woman with both a sense of adventure and a willingness to serve, she petitioned the British government to send her to Scutari, Turkey, to nurse soldiers wounded during the Crimean War (1853-1856). 

Had her petition been successful, she would have been serving in the same arena as British nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale.


There are many gaps in Lusher’s life, but the basic facts that have been unearthed from public records paint a picture of a woman who was remarkable by any measure.

Lusher was born around 1819 to enslaved parents Anthony Darrell and Lettice Jones. In 1825, Anthony Darrell obtained his freedom. In 1827—seven years before the abolition of slavery—he married Lettice, who was still a slave.

In March 1837, Eliza married John Henry Lusher in the parish church of Southampton. They had two daughters Eleanor, born in 1838, and Carunay Mary Lusher, born in 1844. In 1852, Henry Lusher died, leaving Eliza to raise two daughters on her own.


In 1853, Bermuda was hit by an outbreak of yellow fever. Lusher   nursed soldiers stationed at Dockyard and their wives.

In  1855, she petitioned the British government to serve in Scutari. News of the Crimean War had filtered to Bermuda. The Governor had established a Patriotic Fund for soldiers’ widows and orphans, to which Bermudians, black and white, contributed.

On January 2, 1855, just three days before Governor Freeman Murray forwarded her petition to England, The Royal Gazette ran an appeal from Murray for contributions to the Patriotic Fund. The same edition carried a story about Florence Nightingale and a team of nurses caring for the wounded at Scutari.

Governor Murray backed Lusher in her desire to serve, stating in his January 5 forwarding letter: “This woman was very useful in attending the sick soldiers during the prevalence of Yellow Fever in this Colony in 1853 and bears an excellent character.

“She is most anxious that Government should furnish her with a passage to Turkey for this purpose and from what I can learn of her I believe her services would be extremely serviceable in such a capacity.”

The British government replied the following month, declining her request, without explanation.


Three years later, in July 1858, the Governor received a second petition from Lusher. This time she was seeking financial compensation.

In her petition, she said that she had supported herself as a nurse. Although she had nursed yellow fever patients in Dockyard in 1853, she had never been paid because the colonel who had promised to pay her had died.

In 1856, there was another yellow fever outbreak.  She nursed 85 people who had come down with the disease over several months, treating them with her own medicines and supplies. All of them had recovered but they were extremely poor and unable to pay her for her services.

She went on to explain that because she had become seriously ill herself, she had been unable to apply for compensation earlier.


Her petition was presented to Parliament, but in August 1858, parliamentarians denied her appeal by a vote of 13 to 5.

Lusher died in 1859 and was buried in the parish church of Warwick. The cause of death was unknown, but her exposure to yellow fever and the reference in her petition to becoming “seriously and dangerously ill” invite speculation that she may have contracted the disease herself.

Her daughters were 21 and 15 at the time of her death. Public records reveal that her younger daughter Carunay later married twice, first to a Bassett, then to a Bean.

Author Dr. Kenneth Robinson said information about black women’s public service in the 19th Century is sketchy, but Lusher is one who merits recognition.  Writing in Heritage, he said: “ In particular a sick nurse named Eliza Jane Lusher rendered such outstanding service during both of the yellow fever epidemics of the 1850s that she would have been guaranteed very honourable mention in Bermuda’s annals.”

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circa 1819—Eliza Lusher is born in Southampton to enslaved parents Anthony Darrell and Lettice Jones

1825—Lusher’s father obtains his freedom

1827—Lusher’s parents are married

1834—Slaves are emancipated in Bermuda and throughout the British Empire.

1837—Eliza marries John Henry Lusher

1838—Lusher gives birth to her first daughter Eleanor

1844—Lusher has a second daughter, Carunay

1852—Lusher’s husband, John Henry Lusher, dies.

1853—Lusher nurses British soldiers stationed in Dockyard and their wives

1855—Lusher petitions the British government to send her to Scutari, Turkey, to nurse soldiers; Britain declines to take up her offer

1856—Bermuda is hit by a second outbreak of yellow fever — Lusher nurses 85 patients over several months, all of whom recover.

1858— Parliament denies Lusher’s request for financial compensation

1859–Lusher dies and is buried at Warwick parish church


“That your Petitioner is a widow with two daughters and maintains herself by nursing the sick.

“That in 1853 when the yellow fever prevailed so mournfully in these Islands, Your petitioner nursed a great many of the soldiers wives resident in Ireland Island and although Colonel Oakly promised that your petitioner should not go unrewarded yet the melancholy and sudden demise of the gallant Colonel frustrated the expectation which such a promise had naturally raised.”

“That of the 85 persons whom your petitioner attended during their sickness and her services were extended over several months — so few were able to remunerate her at all the total amount of her receipts scarcely reached the sum of £6 in all.”

- Excerpts from Eliza Lusher’s 1858 petition to the Governor, reprinted in Heritage, by Dr. Kenneth E. Robinson, page 275

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Further reading

19th Century Church Registers of Bermuda Indexed by A.C Hollis Hallett, Second Edition. A joint Publication of JuniperHill Press and Bermuda Maritime Museum Press, 2005

Mind the Onion Seed by Nellie E. Musson, Musson’s, Hamilton, Bermuda, 1979

Heritage by Kenneth E. Robinson, MacMillan Publishers Ltd. London and Basingstoke, 1985

“Miss Nightingale and The Nurses for The Army”, The Royal Gazette, Tuesday, January 2, 1855

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