The Grave Of Annie Brewster: One Of Britain's First African-Caribbean Nurses

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 11 months ago

Last Updated 28 June 2023

The Grave Of Annie Brewster: One Of Britain's First African-Caribbean Nurses
The white stone grave of Annie, with a cross at the head
Annie Brewster's east London grave has now been restored.

With the arrival of the NHS post second world war, there was a drive to recruit Black nurses in London — but they were not the first to work here.

Annie Brewster was an African-Caribbean women born in St Vincent in the then-British West Indies, who moved to Luton with her family in 1871, and began working at Whitechapel's London Hospital (now Royal London Hospital) as a probationer nurse in 1881, aged 23.

She became a fully-fledged member of the nursing staff three years later, and is recognised as one of the first Afro-Caribbean nurses to work in Britain.

Black and white image of Annie in a white nurse's apron
Brewster was a pioneering African-Caribbean nurse, but sadly died in her early 40s. Image: public domain

Continuing to climb the ranks, Brewster was promoted to be in charge of the Ophthalmic Wards in 1888, where she was often simply referred to as 'Nurse Ophthalmic'.

Sadly, the London Hospital was also where Brewster died, following an emergency operation here in February 1902. Brewster was laid to rest, aged just 43, and buried at the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium in Manor Park.

The hospital matron, Eva Luckes, wrote of Brewster at the time: "With her quick intelligence she became very skilful 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."

A close up of Annie's grave, including the nickname ‘Nurse Ophthalmic’
Annie Brewster became known as 'Nurse Ophthalmic' - and this features on her gravestone.

However, Brewster's grave fells into disrepair over the years, and in recent times had all but crumbled away. Enter writer and social historian, Stephen Bourne, who highlighted the importance of Brewster's grave, and campaigned to have it restored. The Company of Nurses and Royal British Nurses Association have now done just this, and the marble tribute keeps salubrious company with the likes of Robert Hooke and England footballer Bobby Moore.

The City of London Corporation, which owns the cemetery, said: "The grave has become a beacon in our cemetery. It is our privilege to pay tribute to Annie, and all those inspirational nurses who have made history, in their own way, in the profession."