Nurses in Bombay by Clifton and Company

The women in this photograph are unidentified.  Fortunately, the mount is stamped Clifton & Co., Bombay, indicating that the photo was taken at the studio founded in that city (Mumbai) by Harry Clifton Soundy (1863-1922).

Nurses in Bombay by Clifton & Co. 3

Nurses in Bombay by Clifton & Co. 2

At first I assumed the woman sitting at left was wearing a County or Branch badge of the British Red Cross.  However, the shape of her badge is different, and I haven’t been able to identify it.  My guess for a date of the photo would be 1900-1910.  At least four prints were probably made–one for each sitter–so I hoped there might be a chance of finding another copy online, but I haven’t found one.  This print came to me in 2019 from Philadelphia.

Nurses in Bombay by Clifton & Co. 4

Nurses in Bombay by Clifton & Co. 5


A note about the previous post: I’d like to thank Beverly Hallam and Valmay Young of FIBIS (Families in British India Society) for sharing a link to my post Who are these men? on the Society’s Facebook and Twitter pages.  Since they did so on August 1, the blog post has been viewed more than 140 times by visitors from at least a dozen countries.  So far, no one has identified any additional men in the photo, but I’m optimistic it’s just a matter of time!

48 thoughts on “Nurses in Bombay by Clifton and Company

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  1. This is a lovely photograph! These four ladies look calm and ready to take care of anyone in the midst of a health crisis. I imagine the book on the table to be a medical volume. I find it interesting that their uniforms are the same except each has a unique belt and manner of buckling. I like the way the second young woman has a very detailed and ornate buckle with keys and a small pair of scissors tucked in at her side. And I love her watch! I wonder who made it. You don’t often see something like that. Wonderful photo, Brad. Thank you so much! ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Suzanne! I’m glad you commented on the keys, scissors, belt buckles and watch. These professional women would have relied on such tools in their work. The buckles were certainly fashionable as well as useful. Another commenter after you (Michael) said that women adopted wristwatches before men, which I didn’t know. The evolution of medical care is a fascinating subject!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose a trim waist might be practical when doing physically demanding work (think of sportswear today). Ironically, the rest of the uniform looks comfortable, but so loose as to be almost impractical. I’d be thrilled to identify these ladies. Thanks, Shayne!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A fine image. I also have a photo of an Edwardian lady with a similar style of fob watch on a wrist strap. I stll hear people claiming that wristwatches were invented for male aviators or officers in the trenches 1914-18, but this is not true. Women were the early adopters, as their small fob watches (normally worn on a neck chain) were easily adapted for this purpose.

    The elaborate silver buckles are commonly found at British antiques fairs, and some people collect them exclusively. Elegant, but also practical – silver is antibacterial !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s very interesting about wristwatches, Michael! I’ve noticed a few like this one on women before, but not on men, as far as I can remember. I never put two and two together to deduce that women adopted them first. Now I’ll certainly be on the lookout for them in photos. Have you ever seen such an early watch in person, such as in a shop or at a museum? I never have, but I haven’t looked for one.

      Large silver buckles are quite striking in portraits. Would you say they were in vogue for about a decade, roughly corresponding to the Edwardian era?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Now you mention it, no, I have never seen this kind of strap on sale or display !

        The larger buckles seem to flourish along with the Art Nouveau designs that mark out the best of them. After WWI, those Jazz crazy youngsters prefer the loose waisted ‘flapper’ dresses, so there is a decline in buckle wearing. Not sure about inter-war medical uniforms though, but perhaps someone will tell us.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Those tiny waists look almost unnatural. I suppose that having close-fitting uniforms made sense, but still: being able to breathe and bend while caring for patients had to be a little constrained. It’s interesting how closely their uniforms resemble those of nursing sisters. Given the fancy buckles, watch, and other details they probably aren’t in a religious order, but it’s still an interesting similarity.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. A friend who knows about such things said they might have been part of a diaconate: teachers, nurses, and such who were affiliated with various orders, but who didn’t take vows and weren’t so constricted in things like apparel.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a beautiful photograph, the nurses look so sereen and calm. I like their uniforms, and the details of them. Great find! Hopefully more persons will be identified in the previous picture!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m another one who was surprised at the tiny waists on these women, especially the two who are standing. However, they also look competent and trustworthy, and I wouldn’t worry about placing a loved one (or myself) in their care.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cette photo est magnifique …une chose ou plutôt un détail a retenu mon attention : la ceinture de la personne à droite . Voilà environ 50 ans , j’ai travaillé avec une sage-femme anglaise qui portait son uniforme ainsi qu’une ceinture de couleur rouge , celle-ci ressemblait à celle de votre photo … sauf la couleur of course !
    En faisant une recherche sur Google , je peux voir des anciens uniformes où les infirmières ont une ceinture de différentes couleurs et agrémentées de boucles différentes . Peut-être des signes d’appartenance à différentes spécialités médicales .
    Bon dimanche à vous

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bonjour Pierrette! Your comment about the belts is very interesting. I wish we could see the color of the uniform that these ladies are wearing. I assume they’re all wearing the same color. The lady seated at left is the oldest member of the group, and the only one wearing a medal, which may reflect her experience or seniority.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, and have a wonderful week!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think these are probably military nurses. And maybe the one with a medal or whatever it is, is the Matron or Sister (in other words a different nursing rank from the others). I don’t know about the early days, but in my lifetime – certainly in the 1950s onward – in Britain, what rank of nurse (sister, staff nurse, etc) was often shown by the type of belt or buckle, or also (and sadly we can’t see it here) what shade of uniform. The darker colour uniforms usually denoted a more senior nurse.

    Here’s a site that might give some more clues:

    Also, I have a photo of a group of young Italian women and one of them has the same type of watch. The card has writing on the back and the date 1917. It’s probably later than this one, but I would think these were probably (at a guess) British nurses sent to India during the start of WW1 or maybe some time before.

    I’d love to know if you find out more about it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Val, nice to hear from you! Thank you for that very interesting link. I’ve read a little about Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, but I hadn’t run across that page. It’s so good to see some of these women recognized for their work. It was difficult, dangerous and essential.

      I think we’ve talked about the history of nursing in the past. I’m frequently drawn to nurses’ portraits, so they’re well-represented here on the blog.


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