Letter to William Clark: 5 October 1872

Image 1 of letter to William Clark 5 October 1872
35 South Street
Park Lane                  Oct. 5/72
London W.                 (evening)

My dear Sir,
I am unwilling not to thank
you more particularly for
yours of the 1st than I
was able to do this morning
(in posting to you my enclosures
– to make sure of their reaching
you before you started, I
being exceedingly hurried at
the time by business which
would however be nothing
to me, if not so ill1).
It is not that I have
W. Clark, Esq.2

Image 2 of letter to William Clark 5 October 1872
really anything to object –
or should venture to object –
to the practical Engineering
discoveries, we may call them,
of your great experience &
ability, that I now write.
It is only that I should say
that no one principle will
be applicable in all cases,
but that the true function
of the Engineer – as who
has successfully proved
more than you? – is to
examine minutely his problem
& to apply his principles so as
to obtain the required results
at the smallest outlay.

Image 3 of letter to William Clark 5 October 1872
[But who am I to say this to you,
since if I had to choose the
ablest example of this,
I should name yourself.]

In Mr. Chadwick’s3 paper in the
I.O.4 Blue Book5, to which you
refer, this is overlooked: –
and when the Gov’ t. of India
printed it for circulation
in India, they actually
appended a note to the effect
that Mr. Chadwick’s paper
was useful but that he had
quite misunderstood the
Cawnpore case.6
An Engineer should of course
deal with every separate town

Image 4 of letter to William Clark 5 October 1872
just as a doctor deals
with every separate Patient
– applying the principles of his
art to the particular case.

Much controversy would
have been spared had you
explained the facts about the
Sewers of your Calcutta
system which you have
been so kind as to tell me.
In telling me you have
clearly described your case,
& you have replied
completely to Mr. Chadwick,
& to all people who hold
by a principle & not by
an application.

Image 5 of letter to William Clark 5 October 1872
May I repeat what I said
this morning about the
desirableness of your
giving to the world this your new
Chapter on Sanitary

A principle which would
certainly not apply in many
cases can scarcely be
laid down as an infallible
law, like a Law of Nature.
Here was how the Metropolitan
San:y. Comm: & Mr. Chadwick
arrived at their views about
sewers: London was sewered
by great sewers: they had
these sewers guaged after
heavy rains & then they

Image 6 of letter to William Clark 5 October 1872
calculated what size of drain
pipe would carry away
the sewage & they found
that quite small tubes
would do; and then they
laid down the same principle
as of universal application.
The Calcutta problem was quite
different from the London
one. You had to free
continuously a town sub soil
not only charged by rainfall
but by river water. [I suppose
that, tho’ the sizes of your
sewers are somewhat
over calculated for the
existing flow, if the entire
city were drained into your
outlets, they would not be too

Image 7 of letter to William Clark 5 October 1872
The French Algerian method
of dealing with such a site
(except with large sewers for all
the sewage) would be, I
suppose, to drain the houses
separately, & to lay sub-soil
drain pipes of sufficient size
& depth in the same trenches
– & then to use the House
Drainage solely for agricultural
Capt. Galton7 however shews
by Chemical Analysis, I understand,
that street washings, at least
in London, are as rich in manure
as house sewage is — And hence
on the whole that it is cheaper
to have one set of drains.
In small places, I suppose,
the true way is to drain the houses

Image 8 of letter to William Clark 5 October 1872
& trust to surface washing –
provided there be fall enough –
by the rain.
But I must ask your pardon
for these very elementary
remarks. My knowledge
of the subject being really
as superficial as that of
Nursing would be by a
person who had never nursed
a real live Patient.
My only object in troubling
you thus: is l. to acknowledge
your clear & valuable letter.
2. to ask whether it is possible
to lay down a principle which
shall be universally applicable
3. & chiefly – to wish you
again Godspeed & again

Image 9 of letter to William Clark 5 October 1872
on your noble course of saving
life & health & civilization
& to beg that you will believe
me (tho’ in haste,) My dear Sir, always
& ever your faithful serv‘t
Florence Nightingale

Is Bombay only to remove the
house sewage only?

Image of the front of the envelope for 5 October 1872 letter
W. Clark Esq
3 Brown’s Road
Surbiton Hill
Surbiton S.W.

Image of the back of the envelope for 5 October 1872 letter

Postmark: London, A5, OC 5, 72
[London, A5, October 5, 1872]


  1. It is generally accepted that Miss Nightingale suffered from chronic brucellosis, which she contracted during her time nursing in the Crimea, causing her to become a virtual recluse for the last 40 years of her life. Modern theorists also believe she may have suffered from bipolar disorder (manic-depression), which would explain how she could be so ill and yet remain so productive.
  2. William Clark, fl. 1871-1875, sanitary engineer in India
  3. Sir Edwin Chadwick, 1800-1890
  4. India Office: a branch of the British government created in 1858 to take over the administration of India from the East India Company. Abolished in 1947 when relations with India and Pakistan came under the purview of the Office of Commonwealth Relations.
  5. Blue Book: a report published by the British government; bound in blue
  6. In 1871 Chadwick was asked to review a drainage plan for Cawnpore, India, submitted to him by the Duke of Argyll. Common practice of the time was to have a single system of sewers, combining surface run off water with household waste water, and was the basis for the Duke’s plan. Instead, Chadwick advocated a “separate system” plan utilizing storm drains for surface water and separate house drains for household waste water and sewage. Chadwick’s plan was ultimately chosen for construction by the Indian Army Sanitary Commission.
  7. Sir Douglas Strutt Galton, 1822-1899, Captain (Royal Engineers) and scientist
Last modified: 12/06/16
Support Research, Teaching, & Learning - Give to the HSL