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, reflected those 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 moved with his family to Sidmouth, Devon. The South-West of England was a popular location for colonial officers on leave. Nightingale had a retired relative already living 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.

RAMM was open to the public in 1868, and was actively seeking to add to its collections. In 1877, RAMM sent out an appeal for “specimens of local antiquity” and this may have reached the ears of Nightingale in South Africa who donated a group of artefacts in 1878.

This donation contained unique material not otherwise held by the museum. A second donation followed in 1880/81, which included additional ethnographic objects, as well as natural history specimens.

Notes in the accession register suggest that some weapons were acquired from battle. Items include a magistrate’s certificate signed by him in 1877 for a mine worker called Plaatje Menze, and a spear whose stamped iron blade highlights how imported sheep shears were recycled into weapons.

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