Mary Seacole is, without a doubt one of the unsung heroines of both Black History and British History. She was one of the two famous women who aided British troops in the Crimea. Her contemporary, Florence Nightingale, has been lionised and is renowned and celebrated. Mary Seacole was until recently largely forgotten.
Of Jamaican origin, Mary Seacole learned her nursing skills from her mother who had kept a boarding house for injured soldiers. Mary was of mixed heritage having a Scottish father and a Jamaican mother.
Seacole was widely travelled for a woman in the 19th Century. She had visited London twice, and had set up a Hotel in Panama. Always giving medicine to those who needed help.
After helping the victims of a Cholera epidemic, a White American, doubtless well meaning yet nonetheless uncouth, toasted “Auntie Seacole”. He suggested that she be bleached white in order to make her :
“As acceptable in any company as she deserves to be”.
Mary met this comment with stiff rebuke.
Mary Seacole heard of the collapse of the British nursing system in the Crimea and headed for London in 1845. She applied to the War Office to offer her services as a nurse, however she was turned down, despite producing many fine references.
She believed the reason to be colour prejudice. In her memoirs she asked:
“Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?”
Not discouraged, she funded her own trip to the Crimea where she immediately set about tending to the sick and wounded.
Mary Seacole was loved by the troops
Mary opened the “British Hotel” at Spring Hill, near Kadikoi, between Balaclava and Sebastopol. It was built almost entirely from salvaged wood.
She set up her own store where she sold medicines and supplies. She became a favourite with the troops. One soldier writes in his memoirs:
“She was a wonderful woman…. all the men swore by her, and in case of any malady , would seek her advise and use her herbal medicines, in preference to reporting themselves to their own doctors.
That she did effect some cure is beyond doubt, and her never failing presence amongst the wounded after a battle and assisting them made her beloved buy the rank and file of the whole army”
After the war she retained to England destitute and in ill health, the Times brought her condition to the attention of the public. A letter asked:
‘While the benevolent deeds of Florence Nightingale are being handed down for posterity …are the The grave of Mary Seacole humble actions of Mrs.Seacole to be entirely forgotten?’
Related Links :
Mary Seacole Website
The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in many Lands