Crimean heroine appealed to tommies to support soldiers’ institute

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On this day in 1877 Florence Nightingale appealed for support for Sarah Robinson’s Soldiers’ Institute in Portsmouth.

The institute, she maintained, helped troops avoid ‘on landing...invitations to bad of all kinds. We may not hope to make saints of them all, but we can make men of them instead of brutes’.

Three years earlier Sarah Robinson had converted a notorious High Street pub, the Fountain Inn, and provided a place to stay away from the temptations and dangers of prostitutes and ‘land sharks’, conmen who specialised in relieving seamen of their earnings.

Miss Robinson welcomed sailors, marines and soldiers. Troopships were visited and religious books and ‘warming but not inebriating coffee’ distributed.

In 1879 the Sailors’ Welcome, with 220 beds, was opened by Miss Robinson near the dockyard gates reflecting the increasing demand.

These initiatives were funded by the support and charitable donations from rich patrons, including Florence Nightingale and General Gordon.

Local prostitutes, however, were less keen, reportedly ‘snarling and cursing’ at Miss Robinson. They accused her of ‘taking the bread out of other people’s mouths’. An effigy of her was burned ceremoniously on Southsea Common – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.