Statues and Monuments: Mary Seacole

Posted: September 27, 2016 in History, London, UK
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Mary Seacole. Photo by Matt Brown (https://www.flickr.com/photos/londonmatt/)

Mary Seacole. Photo by Matt Brown (https://www.flickr.com/photos/londonmatt/)

Anyone visiting St Thomas’ hospital in central London recently will have noticed a statue as you enter from Westminster Bridge. It is of Mary Seacole, a Jamaican woman, who nursed sick and wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, where she became known as ‘Mother Seacole’.

Mary was born Mary Grant in Kingston Jamaica in 1805. Her mother was a Jamaican nurse and her father a Scottish soldier serving in the Island’s garrison. She had a brother and a sister. As a young woman, she visited Britain on two occasions, staying a year in 1820 and for two years in 1823. In 1836 she married Edwin Seacole and they opened a store and hotel in Kingston. Unfortunately, Edwin died in 1844, but Mary continued to run the hotel and nursed people suffering from cholera. In 1853 she left Kingston and moved to Panama to join her brother Edward, who owned a hotel and store there.

Mary Seacole. Phot by David Holt (https://www.flickr.com/photos/zongo/)

Mary Seacole. Photo by David Holt (https://www.flickr.com/photos/zongo/)

A year later news reached them about the war in the Crimea and Mary decided that she wanted to go and nurse the wounded soldiers. She travelled to London and applied to join the official nursing parties being sent out, but was refused. Not to be daunted, she joined up with a friend, Thomas Day and decided to travel independently. Arriving in Turkey she met with Florence Nightingale before travelling onto the Crimea and setting up a ‘hotel’ near Balaclava, where she served hot food and drink, provided blankets and clothes and nursed wounded and sick soldiers. She would often visit troops on the battlefield and was the first woman to enter Sebastopol after it was captured.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole

When the war ended in 1856, she returend to London and was greeted by newspaper reports detailing her activities. She wrote and published a book about her travels. She received awards for her work in the Crimea from both Turkey and Jamaica. After the initial interest in her adventures died down she settled for a quiet life in London, where she died in 1881.

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