Mary Seacole

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Mary Seacole
Seacole - Challen.jpg
A portrait of Seacole, c. 1869, by Albert Charles Challen. [1] [2]
Born
Mary Jane Grant

1805
Died14 May 1881 (aged 75)
Paddington, London, England
Other namesMother Seacole
CitizenshipBritish
Occupationnurse, hotelier, boarding house keeper, author, world traveller
Known forAssistance to sick and wounded military personnel during Crimean War
Honours Order of Merit (Jamaica)

Mary Jane Seacole (néeGrant; [3] [4] 1805 – 14 May 1881) [5] was a British-Jamaican business woman and nurse [6] who set up the "British Hotel" behind the lines during the Crimean War. She described this as "a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers", and provided succour for wounded servicemen on the battlefield. [4] Coming from a tradition of Jamaican and West African "doctresses", Seacole used herbal remedies to nurse soldiers back to health. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004 she was voted the greatest black Briton. [7]

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Historical sovereign state from 1801 to 1927

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was established by the Acts of Union 1800, which merged the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland.

Jamaica Country in the Caribbean

Jamaica is an island country situated in the Caribbean Sea. Spanning 10,990 square kilometres (4,240 sq mi) in area, it is the third-largest island of the Greater Antilles and the fourth-largest island country in the Caribbean. Jamaica lies about 145 kilometres (90 mi) south of Cuba, and 191 kilometres (119 mi) west of Hispaniola.

Crimean War 1850s military conflict

The Crimean War was a military conflict fought from October 1853 to February 1856 in which the Russian Empire lost to an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia. The immediate cause involved the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was a part of the Ottoman Empire. The French promoted the rights of Roman Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the unwillingness of Britain and France to allow Russia to gain territory and power at Ottoman expense. It has widely been noted that the causes, in one case involving an argument over a key, have never revealed a "greater confusion of purpose", yet they led to a war noted for its "notoriously incompetent international butchery".

Contents

She acquired knowledge of herbal medicine in the Caribbean. When the Crimean War broke out, she was one of two outstanding nurses to tend to the wounded, along with Florence Nightingale. Hoping to assist, Seacole applied to the War Office but was refused,[ citation needed ] so she travelled independently and set up her hotel and tended to the battlefield wounded. She became extremely popular among service personnel, who raised money for her when she faced destitution after the war.

Florence Nightingale English social reformer, statistician, and founder of modern nursing

Florence Nightingale, was an English social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing.

War Office department of the British Government responsible for the administration of the British Army

The War Office was a Department of the British Government responsible for the administration of the British Army between 1857 and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence. It was equivalent to the Admiralty, responsible for the Royal Navy, and the Air Ministry, which oversaw the Royal Air Force. The name "War Office" is also given to the former home of the department, the War Office building, located at the junction of Horse Guards Avenue and Whitehall in central London.

After her death, she was largely forgotten for almost a century but today is celebrated as a woman who made a success of her career, despite experiencing racial prejudice. [8] [9] Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), is one of the earliest autobiographies of a mixed-race woman, although some aspects of its accuracy have been questioned by present-day supporters of Nightingale. The erection of a statue of her at St Thomas' Hospital, London on 30 June 2016, describing her as a "pioneer nurse", [10] has generated controversy and opposition from supporters of Nightingale. [11] [12] Earlier controversy broke out in the United Kingdom late in 2012 over reports of a proposal to remove her from the UK's National Curriculum. [13]

Autobiography biography written by the subject

An autobiography is a self-written account of the life of oneself. The word "autobiography" was first used deprecatingly by William Taylor in 1797 in the English periodical The Monthly Review, when he suggested the word as a hybrid, but condemned it as "pedantic". However, its next recorded use was in its present sense, by Robert Southey in 1809. Despite only being named early in the nineteenth century, first-person autobiographical writing originates in antiquity. Roy Pascal differentiates autobiography from the periodic self-reflective mode of journal or diary writing by noting that "[autobiography] is a review of a life from a particular moment in time, while the diary, however reflective it may be, moves through a series of moments in time". Autobiography thus takes stock of the autobiographer's life from the moment of composition. While biographers generally rely on a wide variety of documents and viewpoints, autobiography may be based entirely on the writer's memory. The memoir form is closely associated with autobiography but it tends, as Pascal claims, to focus less on the self and more on others during the autobiographer's review of his or her life.

St Thomas Hospital Hospital in London

St Thomas' Hospital is a large NHS teaching hospital in Central London, England. It is one of the institutions that comprise the King's Health Partners, an academic health science centre. Administratively part of the Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, together with Guy's Hospital and King's College Hospital it provides the location of the King's College London GKT School of Medical Education.

Early life, 1805–25

Mary Ploom-Jane Seacole was born Mary Jane Grant in Kingston, Jamaica, [14] the daughter of James Grant, a Scottish [15] [16] Lieutenant in the British Army, [17] and a free Jamaican woman. Her mother, nicknamed "The Doctress", was a healer who used traditional Caribbean and African herbal remedies and ran Blundell Hall, a boarding house at 7 East Street, considered one of the best hotels in all of Kingston. [18] [19] Jamaican doctresses mastered folk medicine, had a vast knowledge of tropical diseases, and had a general practitioner's skill in treating ailments and injuries, acquired from having to look after the illnesses of fellow slaves on sugar plantations. [20] At Blundell Hall, Seacole acquired her nursing skills, which included the use of hygiene and herbal remedies. Seacole's autobiography says she began experimenting in medicine, based on what she learned from her mother, by ministering to a doll and then progressing to pets before helping her mother treat humans. Because of her family's close ties with the army, she was able to observe the practices of military doctors, and combined that knowledge with the West African remedies she acquired from her mother. [21] [22] In Jamaica in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, neonatal deaths were more than a quarter of total births, at a time when British-Jamaican planter Thomas Thistlewood wrote about European doctors employing questionable practices such as mercury pills and the bleeding of the patient. However, Seacole, using traditional West African herbal remedies and hygienic practices, boasted that she never lost a mother or her child. [23] [24]

Kingston, Jamaica Capital city in Surrey, Jamaica

Kingston is the capital and largest city of Jamaica, located on the southeastern coast of the island. It faces a natural harbour protected by the Palisadoes, a long sand spit which connects the town of Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport to the rest of the island. In the Americas, Kingston is the largest predominantly English-speaking city south of the United States.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

Thomas Thistlewood was a British citizen who migrated to western Jamaica where he became a plantation overseer and owner of land, property, and slaves. His diary is considered an important historical document chronicling the history of Jamaica and slavery during the 18th century. He is also known for keeping a detailed account of the treatments of his slaves as well as his sexual relationships with them.

Seacole was proud of both her Jamaican and Scottish ancestry and called herself a Creole, [17] a term that was commonly used in a racially neutral sense or to refer to the children of white settlers with indigenous women. [25] In her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole, she records her bloodline thus: "I am a Creole, and have good Scots blood coursing through my veins. My father was a soldier of an old Scottish family." [16] [26] Legally, she was classified as a mulatto, a multiracial person with limited political rights; [27] Robinson speculates that she may technically have been a quadroon. [28] Seacole emphasises her personal vigour in her autobiography, distancing herself from the contemporary stereotype of the "lazy Creole", [17] [29] [30] She was proud of her black ancestry, writing, "I have a few shades of deeper brown upon my skin which shows me related – and I am proud of the relationship – to those poor mortals whom you once held enslaved, and whose bodies America still owns." [31]

Creole people are ethnic groups which originated during the colonial-era from racial mixing between Europeans and non-European peoples, known as creolisation. Creole peoples vary widely in ethnic background and mixture, and many have since developed distinct ethnic identities. The development of creole languages is sometimes mistakenly attributed to the emergence of creole ethnic identities; however, they are independent developments.

Mulatto is a term that is used to refer to people born of one white parent and one black parent, or to describe a mixed race person in general. Historically it was used as a racial classification, though it is now chiefly considered to be derogatory or offensive.

Multiracial is defined as made up of or relating to people of many races. Many terms exist for people of various multiracial backgrounds. Preferred terms include mixed race, multiracial, biracial, multiethnic, polyethnic, half, half-and-half, Métis, Creole, Dougla, mestizo, mulatto, Melungeon, Criollo, quadroon, zambo, Eurasian, hapa, hāfu, garifuna and pardo. There are various other terms used that are considered insulting and offensive.

The West Indies were an outpost of the British Empire in the late 18th century, and the source or destination of one-third of Britain's foreign trade in the 1790s. [32] Britain's economic interests were protected by a massive military presence, with 69 line infantry regiments serving there between 1793 and 1801, and another 24 between 1803 and 1815. [33] This meant that large numbers of British troops succumbed to tropical diseases for which they were unprepared, providing West Indian nurses such as Seacole with large numbers of patients on a regular basis. [34] In 1780, one of Seacole's predecessors, Cubah Cornwallis, was a Jamaican mixed-race "doctress" who nursed Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, back to health in Port Royal after two-thirds of his force succumbed to tropical disease. [35] [36] In contrast to the Jamaican Maroons, whose populations experienced regular growth, the white population of Jamaica was constantly ravaged by diseases and illnesses. [37] While the Maroons relied on the "doctresses" such as Queen Nanny to provide for their healthcare needs, the white planters depended on the questionable treatments provided by European doctors. [38]

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

Cubah Cornwallis was a nurse or "doctoress" and Obeah woman who lived in the colony of Jamaica during the late 18th and 19th Century.

Mary Seacole spent some years in the household of an elderly woman, whom she called her "kind patroness", [17] before returning to her mother. She was treated as a member of her patroness's family and received a good education. [39] As the educated daughter of a Scottish officer and a free black woman with a respectable business, Seacole would have held a high position in Jamaican society. [40]

In about 1821, Seacole visited London, staying for a year, and visited her relatives in the merchant Henriques family. Although London had a number of black people, [41] she records that a companion, a West Indian with skin darker than her own "dusky" shades, was taunted by children. Seacole herself was "only a little brown"; [17] she was nearly white according to one of her biographers, Dr. Ron Ramdin. [42] She returned to London approximately a year later, bringing a "large stock of West Indian pickles and preserves for sale". [17] Her later travels would be as an "unprotected" woman, without a chaperone or sponsor—an unusual practice. [43] Seacole returned to Jamaica in 1825. [44]

In the Caribbean, 1826–51

After returning to Jamaica, Seacole nursed her "old indulgent patroness" through an illness, [17] finally returning to the family home at Blundell Hall after the death of her patroness a few years later. Seacole then worked alongside her mother, occasionally being called to assist at the British Army hospital at Up-Park Camp. She also traveled the Caribbean, visiting the British colony of New Providence in The Bahamas, the Spanish colony of Cuba, and the new republic of Haiti. Seacole records these travels, but omits mention of significant current events, such as the Christmas Rebellion in Jamaica of 1831, the partial abolition of slavery in 1834, [45] and the full abolition of slavery in 1838. [46]

She married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole in Kingston on 10 November 1836. [47] Her marriage, from betrothal to widowhood, is described in just nine lines at the conclusion of the first chapter of her autobiography. [17] Robinson reports the legend in the Seacole family that Edwin was an illegitimate son of Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson and his mistress Emma, Lady Hamilton, who was adopted by Thomas, a local "surgeon, apothecary and man midwife" [48] (Seacole's will indicates that Horatio Seacole was Nelson's godson: she left a diamond ring to her friend, Lord Rokeby, "given to my late husband by his godfather Viscount Nelson", but there was no mention of this godson in Nelson's own will or its codicils.) [49] Edwin was a merchant and seems to have had a poor constitution. The newly married couple moved to Black River and opened a provisions store which failed to prosper. They returned to Blundell Hall in the early 1840s.

During 1843 and 1844, Seacole suffered a series of personal disasters. She and her family lost much of the boarding house in a fire in Kingston on 29 August 1843. [31] Blundell Hall burned down, and was replaced by New Blundell Hall, which was described as "better than before". [31] Then her husband died in October 1844, followed by her mother. [31] After a period of grief, in which Seacole says she did not stir for days, [17] she composed herself, "turned a bold front to fortune", [31] and assumed the management of her mother's hotel. She put her rapid recovery down to her hot Creole blood, blunting the "sharp edge of [her] grief" sooner than Europeans who she thought "nurse their woe secretly in their hearts". [17] She absorbed herself in work, declining many offers of marriage. [31] She later became widely known and respected, particularly among the European military visitors to Jamaica who often stayed at Blundell Hall. She treated patients in the cholera epidemic of 1850, which killed some 32,000 Jamaicans. [50] Seacole attributed the outbreak to infection brought on a steamer from New Orleans, Louisiana, [31] demonstrating knowledge of contagion theory. [51] This first-hand experience would benefit her during the next five years.

In Central America, 1851–54

In 1850, Seacole's half-brother Edward [52] moved to Cruces, Panama, which was then part of New Granada. There, approximately 45 miles (72 km) up the Chagres River from the coast, he followed the family trade by establishing the Independent Hotel to accommodate the many travellers between the eastern and western coasts of the United States (the number of travellers had increased enormously, as part of the 1849 California Gold Rush [53] ). Cruces was the limit of navigability of the Chagres River during the rainy season, which lasts from June to December. [54] Travellers would ride on donkeys approximately 20 miles (32 km) along the Las Cruces trail from Panama City on the Pacific Ocean coast to Cruces, and then 45 miles (72 km) down-river to the Atlantic Ocean at Chagres (or vice versa). [55] In the dry season, the river subsided, and travellers would switch from land to the river a few miles farther downstream, at Gorgona [54] Most of these settlements have now been submerged by Gatun Lake, formed as part of the Panama Canal.

In 1851, Seacole travelled to Cruces to visit her brother. Shortly after her arrival, the town was struck by cholera, a disease which had reached Panama in 1849. [56] [57] Seacole was on hand to treat the first victim, who survived, which established Seacole's reputation and brought her a succession of patients as the infection spread. The rich paid, but she treated the poor for free. [58] Many, both rich and poor, succumbed. She eschewed opium, preferring mustard rubs and poultices, the laxative calomel (mercuric chloride), sugars of lead (lead(II) acetate), and rehydration with water boiled with cinnamon. [56] [59] While her preparations had moderate success, she faced little competition, the only other treatments coming from a "timid little dentist", [56] who was an inexperienced doctor sent by the Panamanian government, and the Roman Catholic Church.

Sketch of Mary Seacole's British Hotel in Crimea, by Lady Alicia Blackwood (1818-1913), a friend of Florence Nightingale's who resided in the neighbouring "Zebra Vicarage" Blackwood Seacole sketch.png
Sketch of Mary Seacole's British Hotel in Crimea, by Lady Alicia Blackwood (1818–1913), a friend of Florence Nightingale's who resided in the neighbouring "Zebra Vicarage"

The epidemic raged through the population. Seacole later expressed exasperation at their feeble resistance, claiming they "bowed down before the plague in slavish despair". [56] She performed an autopsy on an orphan child for whom she had cared, which gave her "decidedly useful" new knowledge. At the end of this epidemic she herself contracted cholera, forcing her to rest for several weeks. In her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, she describes how the residents of Cruces responded: “When it became known that their "yellow doctress" had the cholera, I must do the people of Cruces the justice to say that they gave me plenty of sympathy, and would have shown their regard for me more actively, had there been any occasion." [60]

Cholera was to return again: Ulysses S. Grant passed through Cruces in July, 1852, on military duty; a hundred and twenty men, a third of his party, died of the disease there or shortly afterwards en route to Panama City. [57]

Despite the problems of disease and climate, Panama remained the favoured route between the coasts of the United States. Seeing a business opportunity, Seacole opened the British Hotel, which was a restaurant rather than an hotel. She described it as a "tumble down hut," with two rooms, the smaller one to be her bedroom, the larger one to serve up to 50 diners. She soon added the services of a barber. [60]

As the wet season ended in early 1852, Seacole joined other traders in Cruces in packing up to move to Gorgona. She records a white American giving a speech at a leaving dinner in which he wished that "God bless the best yaller woman he ever made" and asked the listeners to join with him in rejoicing that "she's so many shades removed from being entirely black". He went on to say that "if we could bleach her by any means we would [...] and thus make her acceptable in any company[,] as she deserves to be". [61] Seacole replied firmly that she did not "appreciate your friend's kind wishes with respect to my complexion. If it had been as dark as any nigger's, I should have been just as happy and just as useful, and as much respected by those whose respect I value." She declined the offer of "bleaching" and drank "to you and the general reformation of American manners". [61] Salih notes Seacole's use here of eye dialect, set against her own English, as an implicit inversion of the day's caricatures of "black talk". [62] Seacole also comments on the positions of responsibility taken on by escaped American slaves in Panama, as well as in the priesthood, the army, and public offices, [56] commenting that "it is wonderful to see how freedom and equality elevate men". [63] She also records an antipathy between Panamanians and Americans, which she attributes in part to the fact that so many of the former had once been slaves of the latter. [61]

In Gorgona, Seacole briefly ran a females-only hotel. In late 1852, she travelled home to Jamaica. Already delayed, the journey was further made difficult when she encountered racial discrimination while trying to book passage on an American ship. She was forced to wait for a later British boat. [61] In 1853, soon after arriving home, Seacole was asked by the Jamaican medical authorities to minister to victims of a severe outbreak of yellow fever. [61] She found that she could do little, because the epidemic was so severe. Her memoirs state that her own boarding house was full of sufferers and she saw many of them die. Although she wrote, "I was sent for by the medical authorities to provide nurses for the sick at Up-Park Camp," she did not claim to bring nurses with her when she went. She left her sister with some nurses at her house, went to the camp (about a mile, or 1.6 km, from Kingston), "and did my best, but it was little we could do to mitigate the severity of the epidemic." [61]

Seacole returned to Panama in early 1854 to finalise her business affairs, and three months later moved to the New Granada Mining Gold Company establishment at Fort Bowen Mine some 70 miles (110 km) away near Escribanos. [64] The superintendent, Thomas Day, was related to her late husband. Seacole had read newspaper reports of the outbreak of war against Russia before she left Jamaica, and news of the escalating Crimean War reached her in Panama. She determined to travel to England to volunteer as a nurse, [64] to experience the "pomp, pride and circumstance of glorious war" as she described it in Chapter I of her autobiography. A part of her reasoning for going to the Crimean was that she knew some of the soldiers that were deployed there. In her autobiography she explains how she heard of soldiers that she had cared for in the 97th and 48th regiments were being shipped back to England in preparation for the fighting on the Crimean Peninsula.

Crimean War, 1853–56

Sketch of Mary Seacole by Crimean war artist William Simpson (1823-1899), c. 1855 Seacole simpson sketch.png
Sketch of Mary Seacole by Crimean war artist William Simpson (1823–1899), c. 1855

The Crimean War lasted from October 1853 until 1 April 1856 and was fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the United Kingdom, France, the Kingdom of Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire. The majority of the conflict took place on the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea and Turkey.

Many thousands of troops from all the countries involved were drafted to the area, and disease broke out almost immediately. Hundreds perished, mostly from Cholera. Hundreds more would die waiting to be shipped out, or on the voyage. Their prospects were little better when they arrived at the poorly staffed, unsanitary and overcrowded hospitals which were the only medical provision for the wounded. In Britain, a trenchant letter in The Times on 14 October triggered Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State for War, to approach Florence Nightingale to form a detachment of nurses to be sent to the hospital to save lives. Interviews were quickly held, suitable candidates selected, and Nightingale left for Turkey on 21 October. [65]

Seacole travelled from Navy Bay in Panama to England, initially to deal with her investments in gold-mining businesses. She then attempted to join the second contingent of nurses to the Crimea. She applied to the War Office and other government offices, but arrangements for departure were already underway. In her memoir, she wrote that she brought "ample testimony" of her experience in nursing, but the only example officially cited was that of a former medical officer of the West Granada Gold-Mining Company. However, Seacole wrote that this was just one of the testimonials she had in her possession. [66] Seacole hinted that her offers were turned down because of racial prejudice, writing in her autobiography, "Now, I am not for a single instant going to blame the authorities who would not listen to the offer of a motherly yellow woman to go to the Crimea and nurse her "sons" there, suffering from cholera, diarrhœa, and a host of lesser ills. In my country, where people know our use, it would have been different; but here it was natural enough – although I had references, and other voices spoke for me – that they should laugh, good-naturedly enough, at my offer." [67]

Seacole also applied to the Crimean Fund, a fund raised by public subscription to support the wounded in Crimea, for sponsorship to travel there, but she again met with refusal. [68] Again, Seacole questioned whether racism was a factor in her being turned down. She wrote in her autobiography, "Was it possible that American prejudices against colour had some root here? Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?" [69] [70] An attempt to join the contingent of nurses was also rebuffed, as she wrote, "Once again I tried, and had an interview this time with one of Miss Nightingale's companions. She gave me the same reply, and I read in her face the fact, that had there been a vacancy, I should not have been chosen to fill it." [69] [71] Seacole did not stop after being rebuffed by the Secretary-at-War, she soon approached his wife, Elizabeth Herbert who also informed her “that the full complement of nurses had been secured” (Seacole 78, 79). This furthered her belief that racial differences were the reasons for her not being able to formally serve with the nurses.

Nightingale reportedly wrote, "I had the greatest difficulty in repelling Mrs Seacole's advances, and in preventing association between her and my nurses (absolutely out of the question!)...Anyone who employs Mrs Seacole will introduce much kindness - also much drunkenness and improper conduct". [72] [73]

Seacole finally resolved to travel to Crimea using her own resources and to open the British Hotel. Business cards were printed and sent ahead to announce her intention to open an establishment, to be called the "British Hotel", near Balaclava, which would be "a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers". [66] Shortly afterwards, her Caribbean acquaintance, Thomas Day, arrived unexpectedly in London, and the two formed a partnership. They assembled a stock of supplies, and Seacole embarked on the Dutch screw-steamer Hollander on 27 January 1855 on its maiden voyage, to Constantinople. [66] [74] The ship called at Malta, where Seacole encountered a doctor who had recently left Scutari. He wrote her a letter of introduction to Nightingale. [75]

Seacole visited Nightingale at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, where she asked for a bed for the night. Seacole claimed that Mrs Bracebridge, Nightingale's helper, received her suspiciously. Seacole wrote, "Mrs. B. questions me very kindly, but with the same look of curiosity and surprise. What object has Mrs. Seacole in coming out? This is the purport of her questions. And I say, frankly, to be of use somewhere; for other considerations I had not, until necessity forced them upon me. Willingly, had they accepted me, I would have worked for the wounded, in return for bread and water. I fancy Mrs. B— thought that I sought for employment at Scutari, for she said, very kindly – "Miss Nightingale has the entire management of our hospital staff, but I do not think that any vacancy – " [76]

Seacole interrupted Bracebridge to inform her that she intended to travel to Balaclava the next day to join her business partner. In her memoirs, she reported that her meeting with Nightingale was friendly, with Nightingale asking "What do you want, Mrs. Seacole? Anything we can do for you? If it lies in my power, I shall be very happy." [75] Seacole told her of her "dread of the night journey by caique" and the improbability of being able to find the Hollander in the dark. A bed was then found for her and breakfast sent her in the morning, with a "kind message" from Bracebridge. A footnote in the memoir states that Seacole subsequently "saw much of Miss Nightingale at Balaclava," but no further meetings are recorded in the text.

After transferring most of her stores to the transport ship Albatross, with the remainder following on the Nonpareil, she set out on the four-day voyage to the British bridgehead into Crimea at Balaclava. [77]

Lacking proper building materials, Seacole gathered abandoned metal and wood in her spare moments, with a view to using the debris to build her hotel. She found a site for the hotel at a place she christened Spring Hill, near Kadikoi, some 3 12 miles (5.6 km) along the main British supply road from Balaclava to the British camp near Sevastopol, and within a mile of the British headquarters. [78]

The hotel was built from the salvaged driftwood, packing cases, iron sheets, and salvaged architectural items such as glass doors and window-frames, from the village of Kamara, using hired local labour. [78] The new British Hotel opened in March 1855. An early visitor was Alexis Soyer, a noted French chef who had travelled to Crimea to help improve the diet of British soldiers. He records meeting Seacole in his 1857 work A Culinary Campaign and describes Seacole as "an old dame of a jovial appearance, but a few shades darker than the white lily". [79] Seacole requested Soyer's advice on how to manage her business, and was advised to concentrate on food and beverage service, and not to have beds for visitors because the few either slept on board ships in the harbour or in tents in the camp. [80]

The hotel was completed in July at a total cost of £800. It included a building made of iron, containing a main room with counters and shelves and storage above, an attached kitchen, two wooden sleeping huts, outhouses, and an enclosed stable-yard. [81] [82] The building was stocked with provisions shipped from London and Constantinople, as well as local purchases from the British camp near Kadikoi and the French camp at nearby Kamiesch. Seacole sold anything – "from a needle to an anchor"—to army officers and visiting sightseers. [81] Meals were served at the Hotel, cooked by two black cooks, and the kitchen also provided outside catering.

Despite constant thefts, particularly of livestock, Seacole's establishment prospered. Chapter XIV of Wonderful Adventures describes the meals and supplies provided to officers. They were closed at 8 pm daily and on Sundays. Seacole did some of the cooking herself: "Whenever I had a few leisure moments, I used to wash my hands, roll up my sleeves, and roll out pastry." When called to "dispense medications," she did so. [83] Soyer was a frequent visitor, and praised Seacole's offerings, [84] noting that she offered him champagne on his first visit. [80] The Special Correspondent of The Times newspaper wrote approvingly of her work: "...Mrs. Seacole...doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle-field to aid the wounded, and has earned many a poor fellow’s blessings." [85]

To Soyer, near the time of departure, Florence Nightingale acknowledged favourable views of Seacole, consistent with their one known meeting in Scutari. Soyer's remarks—he knew both women—show pleasantness on both sides. Seacole told him of her encounter with Nightingale at the Barrack Hospital: "You must know, M Soyer, that Miss Nightingale is very fond of me. When I passed through Scutari, she very kindly gave me board and lodging." [86] When he related Seacole's inquiries to Nightingale, she replied "with a smile: 'I should like to see her before she leaves, as I hear she has done a deal of good for the poor soldiers.'" [87] Nightingale, however, did not want her nurses associating with Seacole, as she wrote to her brother-in-law. [88]

Map illustrating Mary Seacole's involvement in the Crimean War SeacoleWar.png
Map illustrating Mary Seacole's involvement in the Crimean War

Seacole often went out to the troops as a sutler, [89] selling her provisions near the British camp at Kadikoi, and attending to casualties brought out from the trenches around Sevastopol or from the Tchernaya valley. [58] She was widely known to the British Army as "Mother Seacole". [3]

Apart from serving officers at the British Hotel, Seacole also provided catering for spectators at the battles, and spent time on Cathcart's Hill, some 3 12 miles (5.6 km) north of the British Hotel, as an observer. On one occasion, attending wounded troops under fire, she dislocated her right thumb, an injury which never healed entirely. [90] In a dispatch written on 14 September 1855, William Howard Russell, special correspondent of The Times, wrote that she was a "warm and successful physician, who doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battlefield to aid the wounded and has earned many a poor fellow's blessing." Russell also wrote that she "redeemed the name of sutler", and another that she was "both a Miss Nightingale and a [chef]". Seacole made a point of wearing brightly coloured, and highly conspicuous, clothing—often bright blue, or yellow, with ribbons in contrasting colours. [91] While Lady Alicia Blackwood later recalled that Seacole had "... personally spared no pains and no exertion to visit the field of woe, and minister with her own hands such things as could comfort or alleviate the suffering of those around her; freely giving to such as could not pay ...". [92]

Her peers, though weary at first, soon found out how important Seacole was for both medical assistance and moral. One British medical officers described Seacole in his memoir as “The acquaintance of a celebrated person, Mrs. Seacole, a coloured women who out of the goodness of her heart and at her own expense, supplied hot tea to the poor sufferers [wounded men being transported from the peninsula to the hospital at Scutari ] while they are waiting to be lifted into the boats…. She did not spare herself if she could do any good to the suffering soldiers. In rain and snow, in storm and tempest, day after day she was at her self-chosen post with her stove and kettle, in any shelter she could find, brewing tea for all who wanted it, and they were many. Sometimes more than 200 sick would be embarked in one day, but Mrs. Seacole was always equal, to the occasion". But Seacole did more than carry tea to the suffering soldiers. She often carried bags of lint, bandages, needles and thread to tend to the wounds of soldiers. [93]

In late August, Seacole was on the route to Cathcart's Hill for the final assault on Sevastopol on 7 September 1855. French troops led the storming, but the British were beaten back. By dawn on Sunday 9 September, the city was burning out of control, and it was clear that it had fallen: the Russians retreated to fortifications to the north of the harbour. Later in the day, Seacole fulfilled a bet, and became the first British woman to enter Sevastopol after it fell. [94] Having obtained a pass, she toured the broken town, bearing refreshments and visiting the crowded hospital by the docks, containing thousands of dead and dying Russians. Her foreign appearance led to her being stopped by French looters, but she was rescued by a passing officer. She looted some items from the city, including a church bell, an altar candle, and a three-metre (10 ft) long painting of the Madonna. [94] [95]

After the fall of Sevastopol, hostilities continued in a desultory fashion. [96] The business of Seacole and Day prospered in the interim period, with the officers taking the opportunity to enjoy themselves in the quieter days. [97] There were theatrical performances and horse-racing events for which Seacole provided catering. [98]

Seacole was joined by a 14-year-old girl, Sarah, also known as Sally. Soyer described her as "the Egyptian beauty, Mrs Seacole's daughter Sarah", with blue eyes and dark hair. Nightingale alleged that Sarah was the illegitimate offspring of Seacole and Colonel Henry Bunbury. However, there is no evidence that Bunbury met Seacole, or even visited Jamaica, at a time when she would have been nursing her ailing husband. [99] Ramdin speculates that Thomas Day could have been Sarah's father, pointing to the unlikely coincidences of their meeting in Panama and then in England, and their unusual business partnership in Crimea. [100]

Peace talks began in Paris in early 1856, and friendly relations opened between the Allies and the Russians, with a lively trade across the River Tchernaya. [101] The Treaty of Paris was signed on 30 March 1856, after which the soldiers left Crimea. Seacole was in a difficult financial position, her business was full of unsalable provisions, new goods were arriving daily, and creditors were demanding payment. [101] She attempted to sell as much as possible before the soldiers left, but she was forced to auction many expensive goods for lower-than-expected prices to the Russians who were returning to their homes. The evacuation of the Allied armies was formally completed at Balaclava on 9 July 1856, with Seacole "... conspicuous in the foreground ... dressed in a plaid riding-habit ...". [102] Seacole was one of the last to leave Crimea, returning to England "poorer than [she] left it". [101] Though she had left poorer, her impact on the soldiers was invaluable to the soldiers she treated, changing their perceptions about her as described in the Illustrated London News: “Perhaps at first the authorities looked askant at the woman-volunteer; but they soon found her worth and utility; and from that time until the British army left the Crimea, Mother Seacole was a household word in the camp...In her store on Spring Hill she attended many patients, nursed many sick, and earned the good will and gratitude of hundreds”. [103]

Sociology professor Lynn McDonald is co-founder of The Nightingale Society, which promotes the legacy of Nightingale, who did not see eye-to-eye with Seacole. McDonald believes that Seacole's role in the Crimean War was overplayed: [104]

Mary Seacole, although never the 'black British nurse' she is claimed to have been, was a successful mixed-race immigrant to Britain. She led an adventurous life, and her memoir of 1857 is still a lively read. She was kind and generous. She made friends of her customers, army and navy officers, who came to her rescue with a fund when she was declared bankrupt. While her cures have been vastly exaggerated, she doubtless did what she could to ease suffering, when no effective cures existed. In epidemics pre-Crimea, she said a comforting word to the dying and closed the eyes of the dead. During the Crimean War, probably her greatest kindness was to serve hot tea and lemonade to cold, suffering soldiers awaiting transport to hospital on the wharf at Balaclava. She deserves much credit for rising to the occasion, but her tea and lemonade did not save lives, pioneer nursing or advance health care.

However, historians maintain that claims that Seacole only served "tea and lemonade" do a disservice to the tradition of Jamaican "doctresses", such as Seacole's mother, Cubah Cornwallis and Sarah Adams, who used herbal remedies and hygienic practices in the late eighteenth century, long before Nightingale took up the mantle. Social historian Jane Robinson argues in her book Mary Seacole: The Black Woman who invented Modern Nursing that Seacole was a huge success, and she became known and loved by everyone from the rank and file to the royal family. [105] [106] Mark Bostridge points out that Seacole's experience far outstripped Nightingale's, and that the Jamaican's work comprised preparing medicines, diagnosis, and minor surgery. [107]

Back in London, 1856–60

Seacole was bankrupt on her return to London. Queen Victoria's nephew Count Gleichen (above) had become a friend of Seacole's in Crimea. He supported fund-raising efforts on her behalf. Count Gleichen.jpg
Seacole was bankrupt on her return to London. Queen Victoria's nephew Count Gleichen (above) had become a friend of Seacole's in Crimea. He supported fund-raising efforts on her behalf.

After the end of the war, Seacole returned to England destitute and in poor health. In the conclusion to her autobiography, she records that she "took the opportunity" to visit "yet other lands" on her return journey, although Robinson attributes this to her impecunious state requiring a roundabout trip. She arrived in August 1856 and opened a canteen with Day at Aldershot, but the venture failed through lack of funds. [108] She attended a celebratory dinner for 2,000 soldiers at Royal Surrey Gardens in Kennington on 25 August 1856, at which Nightingale was chief guest of honour. Reports in The Times on 26 August and News of the World on 31 August indicate that Seacole was also fêted by the huge crowds, with two "burly" sergeants protecting her from the pressure of the crowd. However, creditors who had supplied her firm in Crimea were in pursuit. She was forced to move to 1, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden in increasingly dire financial straits. The Bankruptcy Court in Basinghall Street declared her bankrupt on 7 November 1856. [109] Robinson speculates that Seacole's business problems may have been caused in part by her partner, Day, who dabbled in horse trading and may have set up as an unofficial bank, cashing debts. [110]

At about this time, Seacole began to wear military medals. These are mentioned in an account of her appearance in the bankruptcy court in November 1856. [111] A bust by George Kelly, based on an original by Count Gleichen from around 1871, depicts her wearing four medals, three of which have been identified as the British Crimea Medal, the French Légion d'honneur and the Turkish Order of the Medjidie medal. Robinson says that one is "apparently" a Sardinian award (Sardinia having joined Britain and France in supporting Turkey against Russia in the war). [111] The Jamaican Daily Gleaner stated in her obituary on 9 June 1881 that she had also received a Russian medal, but it has not been identified. However, no formal notice of her award exists in the London Gazette , and it seems unlikely that Seacole was formally rewarded for her actions in Crimea; rather, she may have bought miniature or "dress" medals to display her support and affection for her "sons" in the Army. [111] [112]

Seacole's plight was highlighted in the British press. [4] As a consequence a fund was set up, to which many prominent people donated money, and on 30 January 1857, she and Day were granted certificates discharging them from bankruptcy. [113] Day left for the Antipodes to seek new opportunities, [114] but Seacole's funds remained low. She moved from Tavistock Street to cheaper lodgings at 14 Soho Square in early 1857, triggering a plea for subscriptions from Punch on 2 May. [115] However, in Punch's 30 May edition, she was heavily criticized for a letter she sent begging her favorite magazine, which she claimed to have often read to her British Crimean War patients, to assist her in gaining donations. After quoting her letter in full the magazine provides a satiric cartoon of the activity she describes, captioned "Our Own Vivandière," describing Seacole as a female sutler, or canteen-carrier, intentionally minimalising her wartime activities. The article observes, "It will be evident, from the foregoing, that Mother Seacole has sunk much lower in the world, and is also in danger of rising much higher in it, than is consistent with the honour of the British army, and the generosity of the British public." While urging the public to donate, the commentary's tone can be read as ironic: "Who would give a guinea to see a mimic-sutler woman, and a foreigner, frisk and amble about on the stage, when he might bestow the money on a genuine English one, reduced to a two-pair back, and in imminent danger of being obliged to climb into an attic?" [116]

Mary Seacole, depicted as an admirer of Punch along with her British Crimean War patients in "Our Own Vivandiere" (Punch, 30 May 1857). MarySeacole Punch.jpg
Mary Seacole, depicted as an admirer of Punch along with her British Crimean War patients in "Our Own Vivandière" (Punch, 30 May 1857).

Further fund-raising and literary mentions kept Seacole in the public eye. In May 1857 she wanted to travel to India, to minister to the wounded of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, but she was dissuaded by both the new Secretary of War, Lord Panmure, [117] and her financial troubles. [118] Fund-raising activities included the "Seacole Fund Grand Military Festival", which was held at the Royal Surrey Gardens, from Monday 27 July to Thursday 30 July 1857. This successful event was supported by many military men, including Major General Lord Rokeby (who had commanded the 1st Division in Crimea) and Lord George Paget; over 1,000 artists performed, including 11 military bands and an orchestra conducted by Louis Antoine Jullien, which was attended by a crowd of circa 40,000. [119] The one-shilling entrance charge was quintupled for the first night, and halved for the Tuesday performance. However, production costs had been high and the Royal Surrey Gardens Company was itself having financial problems. It became insolvent immediately after the festival, and as a result Seacole only received £57, one quarter of the profits from the event. When eventually the financial affairs of the ruined Company were resolved, in March 1858, the Indian Mutiny was over. [120] Writing of his 1859 journey to the West Indies, the British novelist Anthony Trollope described visiting Mrs. Seacole's sister's hotel in Kingston in his The West Indies and the Spanish Main (Chapman & Hall, 1850). Besides remarking on the black servants' pride and insistence that they be treated politely by guests, Trollope remarked that his hostess, "though clean and reasonable in her charges, clung with touching tenderness to the idea that beefsteak and onions, and bread and cheese and beer, comprised the only diet proper to an Englishman." [121]

Wonderful Adventures

A 200-page autobiographical account of her travels was published in July 1857 by James Blackwood as Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, the first autobiography written by a black woman in Britain. [122] Priced at one shilling and six pence (1/6) a copy, the cover bears a striking portrait of Seacole in red, yellow and black ink. [123] Robinson speculates that she dictated the work to an editor, identified in the book only as W.J.S., who improved her grammar and orthography. [124] In the work Seacole deals with the first 39 years of her life in one short chapter. [125] She then expends six chapters on her few years in Panama, before using the following 12 chapters to detail her exploits in Crimea. She avoids mention of the names of her parents and precise date of birth. A short final "Conclusion" deals with her return to England, and lists supporters of her fund-raising effort, including Rokeby, Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, the Duke of Wellington, the Duke of Newcastle, William Russell, and other prominent men in the military. The book was dedicated to Major-General Lord Rokeby, commander of the First Division. In a brief preface, the Times correspondent William Howard Russell wrote, "I have witnessed her devotion and her courage ... and I trust that England will never forget one who has nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead." [126]

The Illustrated London News received the autobiography favorably agreeing with the statements made in the preface “If singleness of heart, true charity and Christian works- of trials and sufferings, dangers and perils, encountered boldly by a helpless women on her errand of mercy in the camp and in the battlefield can excite sympathy or move curiosity, Mary Seacole will have many friends and many readers”. [103]

In 2017 Robert McCrum chose it as one of the 100 best nonfiction books, calling it "gloriously entertaining". [127]

Later life, 1860–81

One of two known photographs of Mary Seacole, taken for a carte de visite by Maull & Company in London (c. 1873) Seacole photo.jpg
One of two known photographs of Mary Seacole, taken for a carte de visite by Maull & Company in London (c. 1873)

Seacole had joined the Roman Catholic Church circa 1860, and returned to a Jamaica [128] changed in her absence as it faced economic downturn. [129] She became a prominent figure in the country. However, by 1867 she was again running short of money, and the Seacole fund was resurrected in London, with new patrons including the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Cambridge, and many other senior military officers. The fund burgeoned, and Seacole was able to buy land on Duke Street in Kingston, near New Blundell Hall, where she built a bungalow as her new home, plus a larger property to rent out. [130]

By 1870, Seacole was back in London, living at 40 Upper Berkley St., St. Marylebone. [131] Robinson speculates that she was drawn back by the prospect of rendering medical assistance in the Franco-Prussian War. [132] It seems likely that she approached Sir Harry Verney (the husband of Florence Nightingale's sister Parthenope) Member of Parliament for Buckingham who was closely involved in the British National Society for the Relief of the Sick and Wounded. It was at this time Nightingale wrote her letter to Verney insinuating that Seacole had kept a "bad house" in Crimea, and was responsible for "much drunkenness and improper conduct". [133]

In London, Seacole joined the periphery of the royal circle. Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (a nephew of Queen Victoria; as a young Lieutenant he had been one of Seacole's customers in Crimea) [90] carved a marble bust of her in 1871 that was exhibited at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1872. Seacole also became personal masseuse to the Princess of Wales who suffered with white leg and rheumatism. [134]

In the census of 1881, Seacole is listed as a boarder at 2 Cambridge Gardens. [135] Seacole died in 1881 at her home in Paddington, London; [136] the cause of death was noted as "apoplexy". She left an estate valued at over £2,500. After some specific legacies, many of exactly 19  guineas, the main beneficiary of her will was her sister, (Eliza) Louisa. [137] Lord Rokeby, Colonel Hussey Fane Keane, and Count Gleichen (three trustees of her Fund) were each left £50; Count Gleichen also received a diamond ring, said to have been given to Seacole's late husband by Lord Nelson. [138] A short obituary was published in The Times on 21 May 1881. She was buried in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London. [139]

Recognition

Plaque commemorating Mary Seacole at 14 Soho Square, London W1. Mary Seacole Home London Plaque.jpg
Plaque commemorating Mary Seacole at 14 Soho Square, London W1.

While well known at the end of her life, Seacole rapidly faded from British public memory. At the time though Seacole's work as a nurse was almost as celebrated as Florence Nightingale's, with newspapers describing them jointly as "The Mothers of the Army".[ citation needed ] Her work in Crimea was later overshadowed by that of Florence Nightingale. However, in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in her and efforts to properly acknowledge her achievements. Seacole has become a case study of racial attitudes and social injustices in Britain in the nineteenth century. She was cited as an example of "hidden" black history in Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988), like Olaudah Equiano: "See, here is Mary Seacole, who did as much in the Crimea as another magic-lamping lady, but, being dark, could scarce be seen for the flame of Florence's candle." [140]

She has been better remembered in the Caribbean, where significant buildings were named after her in the 1950s: the headquarters of the Jamaican General Trained Nurses' Association was christened "Mary Seacole House" in 1954, followed quickly by the naming of a hall of residence of the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, [141] and a ward at Kingston Public Hospital was also named in her memory. [142] More than a century after her death, Seacole was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991.

Her grave in London was rediscovered in 1973; a service of reconsecration was held on 20 November 1973, and her impressive gravestone was also restored by the British Commonwealth Nurses' War Memorial Fund and the Lignum Vitae Club. Nonetheless, when scholarly and popular works were written in the 1970s about the Black British presence, she was absent from the historical record, [143] and went unrecorded by Edward Scobie [144] and Sebastian Okechukwu Mezu. [145]

The centenary of her death was celebrated with a memorial service on 14 May 1981 and the grave is maintained by the Mary Seacole Memorial Association, [141] an organization founded in 1980 by Jamaican-British Auxiliary Territorial Service corporal, Connie Mark. [146] An English Heritage blue plaque was erected by the Greater London Council at her residence in 157 George Street, Westminster, on 9 March 1985, [147] but it was removed in 1998 before the site was redeveloped. [147] A "green plaque" was unveiled at 147 George Street, in Westminster, on 11 October 2005. [147] However, another blue plaque has since been positioned at 14 Soho Square, where she lived in 1857. [147]

By the 21st century, Seacole was much more prominent. Several buildings and entities, mainly connected with health care, were named after her. In 2005, British politician Boris Johnson wrote of learning about Seacole from his daughter's school pageant and speculated: "I find myself facing the grim possibility that it was my own education that was blinkered." [148] In 2007 Seacole was introduced into the National Curriculum, and her life story is taught at many primary schools in the UK alongside that of Florence Nightingale. [149]

She was voted into first place in an online poll of 100 Great Black Britons in 2004. [150] [151] The portrait identified as Seacole in 2005 was used for one of ten first-class stamps showing important Britons, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the National Portrait Gallery. [152]

Ward named after Mary Seacole in Whittington Hospital in North London Ward named after Mary Seacole in Whittington Hospital in North London.jpg
Ward named after Mary Seacole in Whittington Hospital in North London

British buildings and organisations now commemorate her by name. One of the first was the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice at Thames Valley University, [153] which created the NHS Specialist Library for Ethnicity and Health, a web-based collection of research-based evidence and good practice information relating to the health needs of minority ethnic groups, and other resources relevant to multi-cultural health care. There is another Mary Seacole Research Centre, this one at De Montfort University in Leicester, [154] and a problem-based learning room at St George's, University of London is named after her. Brunel University in West London houses its School of Health Sciences and Social Care in the Mary Seacole Building. New buildings at the University of Salford and Birmingham City University bear her name, as does part of the new headquarters of the Home Office at 2 Marsham Street. [155] There is a Mary Seacole ward in the Douglas Bader Centre in Roehampton. There are two wards named after Mary Seacole in Whittington Hospital in North London. The Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton named its outpatients' wing "The Mary Seacole Wing" in 2010, in honour of her contribution to nursing. [156]

An annual prize to recognise and develop leadership in nurses, midwives and health visitors in the National Health Service was named Seacole, [157] to "acknowledge her achievements". The NHS Leadership Academy has developed a six month leadership course called the Mary Seacole Programme, which is designed for first time leaders in healthcare. [158] An exhibition to celebrate the bicentenary of her birth opened at the Florence Nightingale Museum in London in March 2005. Originally scheduled to last for a few months, the exhibition was so popular that it was extended to March 2007. [159]

Statue of Mary Seacole at St Thomas' Hospital, London, by Martin Jennings Mary Seacole statue, St Thomas' Hospital, front view.jpg
Statue of Mary Seacole at St Thomas' Hospital, London, by Martin Jennings

A campaign to erect a statue of Seacole in London was launched on 24 November 2003, chaired by Clive Soley, Baron Soley. [160] [161] The design of the sculpture by Martin Jennings was announced on 18 June 2009. [162] There was significant opposition to the siting of the statue at the entrance of St Thomas' Hospital, [163] but it was unveiled on 30 June 2016. [164] The words written by Russell in The Times in 1857 are etched on to Seacole's statue: “I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.” [165]

A feature film is being made of her life by Seacole Pictures. [166] A short animation about Mary Seacole was adapted from a book entitled Mother Seacole, published in 2005 as part of the bicentenary celebrations. [167] Seacole is featured in BBC's Horrible Histories , where she is portrayed by Dominique Moore.

A two-dimensional sculpture of Seacole was erected in Paddington in 2013. [168]

Controversies

Seacole's recognition has been controversial. It has been argued that she has been promoted at the expense of Florence Nightingale. [163] Sociology professor Lynn McDonald has written that "...support for Seacole has been used to attack Nightingale's reputation as a pioneer in public health and nursing." [169] There was opposition to the siting of a statue of Mary Seacole at St Thomas' Hospital on the grounds that she had no connection with this institution, whereas Florence Nightingale did. Dr Sean Lang has stated that she "does not qualify as a mainstream figure in the history of nursing", [170] while a letter to The Times from the Florence Nightingale Society and signed by members including historians and biographers asserted that "Seacole's battlefield excursions ... took place post-battle, after selling wine and sandwiches to spectators. Mrs Seacole was a kind and generous businesswoman, but was not a frequenter of the battlefield "under fire" or a pioneer of nursing." [171] An article by Lynn McDonald in the Times Literary Supplement asked "How did Mary Seacole come to be viewed as a pioneer of modern nursing?", comparing her unfavourably with Kofoworola Pratt who was the first black nurse in the NHS, and concluded "She deserves much credit for rising to the occasion, but her tea and lemonade did not save lives, pioneer nursing or advance health care". [172]

However, this criticism belittles the achievements of Jamaican "doctresses" such as Seacole, who used more than "tea and lemonade" to heal the ill and wounded, often using herbal remedies and hygiene decades before Nightingale. Jennings suggested that race plays a part in the resistance to Seacole by some of Nightingale's supporters. [165] The American academic Gretchen Gerzina has implied that racism was a motivating factor behind a lot of criticism of Seacole from members of the British establishment and media. [173] One criticism made by supporters of Nightingale of Seacole is that she was not trained at an established British hospital. [174] However, that Eurocentric criticism ignores the fact that Jamaican nurses such as Seacole and Cubah Cornwallis, and even Nanny of the Maroons, developed their nursing skills from West African healing traditions, such as the use of herbs, which became known as obeah in Jamaica. According to the writer Helen Rappaport, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the West African and Jamaican creole "doctress", such as Cornwallis and Sarah Adams, who both died in the late 1840s, often had greater success than the European-trained doctor who practised what was then traditional medicine. These doctresses of Jamaica practised hygiene long before Nightingale adopted it as one of her key reforms in her book Notes on Nursing in 1859. It is possible that Nightingale learnt about the value of hygiene in nursing from the practices of Seacole. [175] [176] [177] [178] [179]

Seacole's name appears in an appendix to the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum, as an example of a significant Victorian historical figure. There is no requirement that teachers include Seacole in their lessons. [149] At the end of 2012 it was reported that Mary Seacole was to be removed from the National Curriculum. Opposing this, Greg Jenner, historical consultant to Horrible Histories, has stated that while he thought her medical achievements may have been exaggerated, removing Seacole from the curriculum would be a mistake. [180] While Peter Hitchens has argued that Seacole's accomplishments have been exaggerated because anybody who put a contrary view was afraid to be accused of racism, [181] both Jenner [180] and Hugh Muir [182] have asserted that this is not the case. Susan Sheridan has argued that the leaked proposal to remove Seacole from the National Curriculum is part of "a concentration solely on large-scale political and military history and a fundamental shift away from social history." [183] A lot of commentators do not accept the disputed Eurocentric view that Seacole's accomplishments were exaggerated. Patrick Vernon opines that a lot of the claims that Seacole's achievements were exaggerated came from an English elite that was determined to suppress and hide the black contribution in Britain. [184] Helen Seaton observes that Nightingale fitted the English ideal of a Victorian heroine more than a dark-skinned Seacole, who battled racial prejudice from English people who had little understanding about Caribbean herbal remedies. [185] In The Daily Telegraph , Cathy Newman argues that Michael Gove's plans for the new history curriculum "could mean the only women children learn anything about will be queens". [186]

In January 2013 Operation Black Vote launched a petition to request Education Secretary Michael Gove to drop neither her nor Olaudah Equiano from the National Curriculum [187] [188] Rev. Jesse Jackson and others wrote a letter to The Times protesting against the mooted removal of Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum. [189] [190] This was declared successful on 8 February 2013 when the DfE opted to leave Seacole on the curriculum. [191]

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Connie Mark British community activist

Constance Winifred Mark, MBE, BEM was a Jamaican-born community organiser and activist. She served as a medical secretary in the Auxiliary Territorial Service in World War II. After moving to England in the early 1950s, she became an activist for West Indians in London, after being denied her British Empire Medal. She worked to gain recognition for Black service personnel who were overlooked for their services and co-founded the Mary Seacole Memorial Association to bring recognition to the accomplishments of the noted Jamaican nurse.

Rebecca Strong was an English nurse who pioneered preliminary training for nurses.

References

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Bibliography

Further reading