Nellie Brennan’s House

3 Willow Terrace


Manx washerwoman Nelly Brennan became a national heroine after her care of the sick during the 1832 cholera epidemic.

Eleanor Brennan was born in 1792, the daughter of a washerwoman and a sailor, who died at sea before she was born. When her mother died, 16-year old Nellie borrowed the money for her mother’s burial, slowly paying it off with hard work. She also began to attend early-morning prayer meetings at the Wesleyan Church.

When the cholera epidemic hit in 1832, Manx people had few medical options. The doctors worked hard, but there were few nurses and many people were too afraid of catching the disease to go near those afflicted. Nellie saw the chance to demonstrate her Christian principles and began visiting the sick and poor, preparing food, washing their clothes and blankets, and providing them with care.

In 1834 she became laundress of Castle Mona, then ran a lodging house at Shaw’s Brow. In 1849 she became the matron of the Douglas Medical Dispensary at Strand Street, moving to the Fort Street site when that opened in 1850, retiring from the post in 1851 due to ill-health.

By this time, Nellie had saved enough money to buy some land and build a house, which she named Wesley Cottage after the founder of Methodism. On her death in 1859, she instructed in her will that it should be used by four single poor women of about 50 years of age, who belonged to the Methodist Church, who she called the “poor lone ones”.

Nellie was well-remembered after her death, with a large memorial in St George’s Churchyard, and several books and plays written about her life. One hundred years after the cholera epidemic, she was widely known as the ‘Manx Florence Nightingale’.

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