Mary Jane Seacole was a British-Jamaican business woman and nurse who helped countless civilians behind the lines during the Crimean war. She was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004 she was voted the greatest Black Briton.
When the Crimean war broke out, she applied for assistance in the war office but was turned down. She travelled and set up her hotel and assisted on the battlefield for the wounded. She became extremely popular among service personnel, who raised money for her when she ran out of money after the war.
She was widely forgotten after her death but today she is celebrated as a women who combated racism.
Mary Seacole was born on 1805 in Kingston Jamaica. Her father,james grant was a scottish lieutenant in the british army, Her mother was a doctress who used traditional African and Caribbean herbal remedies to heal patients.It was thru her mother that she acquired her nursing skills ,by ministering to a doll and then progressing to pets before helping her mother treat humans.
Seacole was proud of both her jamican and scotish ancestry and called herself a cerolea term that was commonly used in a racially neutral sense or to refer to the children of white settlers with indigenous women. Legally,she was considered as a mulatto, who is a multiracial person with limited political rights. Nevertheless, she was proud of her black ancestary.
Seacole spent many years of her life with an elderly woman. Where she was treated as familywhich was where she received her formal education. Now that she was an educated daughter of a Scottish officer and a black women with a business,mary chould have held a high position in the jamican society.
In 1821,she visited London,staying for a year,and visited her relatives.she also spent time with many black people to hear out their experience in England.Seacole returned back to jamica in 1825.
After returning to her homeland, Jamaica, Seacole nursed her teacher as she was suffering from some illness, unfortunately she passed away after a few years, and the she finally returned to the family home. Seacole then worked alongside her mother, she also assisted the British Army hospital at Up-Park Camp.
She married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole in Kingston on 10 November 1836
During 1843 and 1844, Seacole suffered a series of personal disasters. She and her family lost their boarding house in a fire in Kingston. Blundell Hall burned down, which was replaced by Hall. Then her husband died in October 1844,which was followed by her mother. Seacole enshrouded in sorrow didn’t stir out for days. She took over the management of her mother’s hotel. She committed herself to her work, declining any offers of matrimony. She became widely known and respected, especially among the military visitors to Jamaica who often stayed at the Hall. She treated patients during the cholera epidemic of 1850
In 1851, Seacole travelled to Cruces to visit her brother, Edward who established a Hotel to accommodate the many travellers between the eastern and western coasts of the United States . just after she arrived there, the town was struck by cholera, a disease which had reached Panama in 1849. Seacole went hand on hand to treat the victims, she established herself reputation and brought her a succession of patients as the infection spread. The rich had to pay, but she treated the poor for free. While her preparations had moderate success, she faced little or no competition.
The epidemic raged throughout the population. Seacole later expressed her opinion at their feeble resistance, claiming they “bowed down before the plague in slavish despair”. She performed an autopsy on an orphan child, which gave her “decidedly useful” new knowledge. Towards the end of the epidemic, Seacole herself got affected but survived.
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,with two rooms, the smaller one to be her bedroom, the larger one to serve up to 50 diners.
Seacole briefly ran a woman-only hotel. In late 1852, she travelled home to Jamaica. The journey was difficult when she faced racial discrimination while trying to book a ticket an American ship. She was forced to wait for a later British boat. 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. She found that she could do little, because the epidemic was so severe. her own boarding house was full of sufferers and she saw many of them die. She did all her best to help other to her maximum.
Seacole returned to Panama in early 1854 to finalise her business , and three months later moved to the New Granada Mining Gold Company establishment at Fort Bowen Mine. Seacole came to know of the reports of the outbreak of war against Russia before she left Jamaica, and news of the escalating Crimean War reached her in Panama.
The Crimean War lasted from October 1853 till 1 April 1856 which was where Seacole setup a camp .Many thousands of troops from all the countries were involved were drafted to the area, and disease broke out almost immediately. Hundreds perished, mostly from cholera. The few who somehow survived where taken to poorly staffed, unsanitary and overcrowded hospitals which were the only medical provision for the wounded.
Seacole finally decided to travel to Crimea using her own money and to open the British Hotel. called the “British Hotel”, which would be a mess and comfortable quarters for sick and officers. Shortly afterwards, her Caribbean acquaintance, Thomas Day, arrived unexpectedly in London, and the two formed a partnership. They assembled a stock of supplies.
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.
The hotel was built from collected driftwood, packaging cases, iron sheets, and salvaged architectural items such as glass doors and window-frames, from the village of Kamara, using hi local labour. The new British Hotel opened in March 1855. Alexis Soyer, a noted French chef who adviced her on how to manage her business, and was advised to concentrate on food and beverage service, and not to have beds for the visitors because the few either slept on board of the ships in the harbour or in the tents in the camp.
The hotel was finally completed in July at a total cost of 800 pounds. It included a building made of iron scaffolding, with a main room with counters and shelves and storage space above, an attached kitchen, two sleeping huts made of wood, and an attached stable-yard. The building was stocked with provisions shipped from England and italy, as well as local purchases from the British camp and the French camp. Meals were served at the Hotel and the kitchen also provided outside catering.
Despite constant burglary, especially of the livestock, Seacole’s business prospered.
She was popularly known to the British Army as “Mother Seacole”.
Apart from serving officers at the British Hotel, Seacole also provided catering for spectators at the battles.
In the late of August, Seacole was on the way to Cathcart’s Hill for the final phase of the seavastopol war on 7 September 1855. French troops led the front, but the British were beaten By dawn on Sunday 9 September, based on the destruction and the fire it was clear that the city had fallen the Russians had already retreated to forts to the north of the harbour. Later she became the first British woman to enter Sevastopol after it’s downfall. After getting a pass , she went around the fallen city, giving refreshments and visiting the crowded hospital by the port, Which were filled with thousands of dead and dying Russians.
After Sevastopol fell,the hostiles continued their dirty work. Seacole’s business flourished with the officers taking the opportunity of the free time in indulging theatrical performances and horce racing events where Seacole provided catering.
During the peace talks in Paris in early 1856 ,and friendly relations started to open between the allies and the Russians.The treaty of paris was assigned on March 1856 ,after which the soldiers thleft thewar hit crimea region.Seacole was in a bad financial situation, her business was filled with unsalable provisions,the creditors where demanding payment immediately.She later had to sell off her excess expensive items for far less price for the Russian soldiers returning back to their home.she was the lastone to leave crimea.
Mary ,even though never the “black british nurse” she claimed to be,was a successful immigrant to Britain. She led a very eventful l life,and her memoir still read widely. She was very generous and kind.She made friends wherever she wen tbe it army officers and navy officers who helped her getting funds when she went broke.she did all she chould during the pre-crimea to help those who where in need even though she chouldnt help everyone she said comforting and calming words before their death.she deserves much credit for rising to the occasion where no one chould even rise a finger.
After the war ended, She returned to a English destitute . In the conclusion of her autobiography, she said that she took the opportunity to visit yet other lands on her return journey. She arrived in August 1856, and considered setting in Hampshire, but nothing emerged out of it. She attended a triumphant dinner for 2,000 soldiers at Royal Surrey Gardens in Kennington on 25 August 1856, at which Nightingale was chief guest of honour. Seacole was also praised by the huge crowds, However she chouldn’t escape from the suppliers whowere in pursuit of her for their money . She later had to declare . a business specialist Robinson conjectures that her 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.
Seacole started to receive military medals for her services. She received four medals, three of which have been identified as the British Crimea Medal, the French Legion and the Turkish Order of the Medjidie medal. One Sardinian award. he Jamaican Daily newspaper stated in her obituary that she had also received a Russian medal, but it has not been identified. However, it seems unlikely that Seacole was formally rewarded for her actions in Crimea. As a result of her bankruptcy a fund was set up, to which many people donated money, and on 30 January 1857, she was granted certificates discharging them from bankruptcy. But still her funds remained low.
Seacole joined the Roman Catholic Church circa 1860, and she later returned to a Jamaica as it faced economic related issues. She became a very famous figure in her country. However, by 1867 she was again close to bankruptcy, Seacole, this time were helped with new patrons including the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Cambridge, and many other senior military officers. This fund helped her and she later baught herself a house to live in and some land.
Seacole later became personal masseuse to the Princess of Wales who suffered with white leg and rheumatism.
Seacole died of apoplexy in 1881 at her home in Paddington, London