Percy Nightingale (1836 – 1895)

Percy Nightingale was born in South Africa 1836 to Thomas Henry Nightingale and Hannah Elizabeth Nightingale.  He was the oldest of 9 siblings.  His father worked as a Harbour Master and Shipping Master and had moved to South Africa in the 1820s after a period in the Navy.


South Africa

There was a lot of political unrest in South Africa during Nightingale’s life, and he worked in various administrative posts in a number of districts.  The objects which he collected, and later donated to RAMM, reflect these changing times and include a large number of weapons.


Nightingale married his wife, Frances Emma Brophy, in 1860 in Cape Town.  They had seven children together, the youngest being born in 1871.  In 1870, Nightingale was granted 12 months leave, and he moved to Sidmouth, Devon with his family.  The South-West of England was a popular location for colonial officers to take leave and a relative of Nightingale was retired in Teignmouth.


On his return to South Africa in 1871, Nightingale was made Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate for the Victoria Division of Cape Colony (Cape of Good Hope).  He experienced some difficulty with the local Ngqika population and was given military aid by General Frederick Thesiger.  Despite this, Nightingale seems to have been an advocate for indigenous Africans and former slaves.


RAMM opened in 1868 and was actively seeking to add to its collections, so it is possible that Nightingale decided to collect for the museum on his return to South Africa.  In 1877, RAMM sent out an appeal for “specimens of local antiquity” and this may also have reached Nightingale in South Africa.

E670 spear

(Above) Surrendered Gaika spear, donated by Nightingale in 1878. It is stamped with a Sheffield manufacturer’s mark. This was once a pair of sheep shears that were exported to South Africa and transformed into two spears. Accession number E670. Length = 1398mm.


Nightingale’s first donation was made in 1878 and contained unique material not otherwise held in the museum.  A second donation was made in 1880/81 and included further ethnographic objects as well as a larger amount of natural history specimens.


Notes made in the accession register suggest that some of the objects may have been acquired during conflict.  These include weapons which were “surrendered to Mr Nightingale personally” as well as others taken from those killed in battle.  Other objects were collected by Nightingale from caves, and dug up in his garden in Alice, Eastern Cape.


Percy Nightingale died in 1895 in Cape Town, and his wife moved back to England.  She died in 1905 in Kensington, London.