Eleanor Brennan (1792-1859)
Nurse of Cholera Victims
Douglas washerwoman who nursed those dying of cholera and became the first matron at the new Douglas Dispensary and Hospital.
Eleanor (usually known as Nelly) Brennan was born in Douglas in 1792. Her father, a sailor, had been drowned at sea a few months before her birth, and her mother also died while she was a child. From early in life she earned her keep by taking in washing, and was acclaimed as ‘the best mangle-woman in the town, and known by all her employers as thoroughly trustworthy’.
Under the influence of the Rev. Thomas Howard, she underwent a religious conversion and dedicated herself to caring for the sick of the town.
She is best known for her selfless devotion to caring for victims of the cholera epidemics of 1832-33. While the epidemics raged, Nelly Brennan continued to visit the sick and dying, wash bodies, clean clothes and prepare food. Though she escaped infection, she came very near to destitution, until rescued by private charity. Later she became a focus of admiration, and not only amongst the poor whom she helped: it was reported that ‘young gentlewomen would walk in miles from the country to have the privilege of reading the Word of God in the company of this poor mangle-woman’.
Nelly Brennan’s dedication and nursing skills resulted in her appointment, in spite of her illiteracy, to the post of matron at the new Hospital and Dispensary established in Strand Street in 1839.
Ostracised for nursing cholera victims