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The exhibition

The Crimean War of 1854-6 was fought by the allied forces of Britain, France and Turkey against Russia, following continued Russian aggression against Turkey. The British army had not been tested in any major military action since Waterloo, and its success 40 years earlier, together with Britain’s position as the world’s leading industrialised nation, had instilled an ill-founded confidence. 20,000 British soldiers died in the Crimean War, of whom at least 16,000 succumbed to disease.   

Improved communications, the advent of photography, the growth of the pictorial press and the presence of war reporters in the Crimea, allowed the British public to follow the unfolding events of a conflict for the first time. News of the appalling conditions faced by the soldiers, through lack of sanitation, medical supplies, adequate clothes and provisions, filled the British public with horror.

The documents from Queen Victoria’s papers in the Royal Archives demonstrate the Queen’s keen personal interest in the progress of the war, and the welfare of the soldiers. She asked to be kept informed of their condition, and sent provisions to the men in the Crimea. She visited the sick and wounded on their return to Britain, and encouraged charitable enterprises to raise money for the families of those killed. Moved by Florence Nightingale’s work in Scutari hospital, the Queen invited Miss Nightingale to Balmoral to hear of her experiences at first hand. At the conclusion of hostilities she instituted the Victoria Cross, which remains the highest award for gallantry in the British armed forces.

This exhibition traces the course of the conflict and Queen Victoria’s responses to it through contemporary prints, watercolours commissioned by the Queen, photographs and letters.