Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mary Seacole Gets Her Due

It looks like Mary Seacole, the celebrated Crimean War nurse who was the daughter of a Scottish army officer and a free-black Jamaican, will finally receive a much-deserved tribute in the form of a memorial at St Thomas’s Hospital, London.

The Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal was launched in November 2003. The appeal’s original target of £475,000 was recently reduced after the construction company Sir Robert McAlpine offered to build the monument at cost and the hospital offered the site, reducing the expenses associated with acquiring land for the memorial.

The Times reports that a design competition will now move forward and will seek ideas for the memorial from artists around the world. The selection panel, chaired by Baroness Amos, leader of the House of Lords, "will be looking for a design that not only represents Seacole but also reflects the scope of her activities and journey from Jamaica to the Crimea, via London, and back to Britain." It expects to announce the winning design next spring.

The memorial will celebrate the life and work of the self-taught nurse, herbalist, and businesswoman who made her own way to the Crimea in 1854, where she set up a rest, refreshment, and nursing post for troops near Sebastopol.

Her work won the gratitude of soldiers and the admiration of officers, and became known to Britons back home through the reporting of William Howard Russell, The Times’s legendary correspondent in the Crimea. When Seacole arrived in London penniless after the war ended, The Times sponsored an appeal that was supported by dukes and generals.

That appeal, and her bestselling autobiography (Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Mary Seacole in Many Lands), helped put Seacole back on her feet. After a quiet and apparently happy later life, which included working as a masseuse for the Princess of Wales, she died in 1881 at the age of 76. She is buried at St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, northwest London.

In 2004 Seacole was named "Greatest Black Briton" in a BBC poll. The Albert Charles Challen portrait of Mary Seacole shown above currently graces a Royal Mail stamp.

Related links:

"Seacole memorial a step closer," The Times, 1 August 2006

Florence Nightingale Museum


helenmb79 said...

It would be good it this page coudl be update to include the recently unveiled blue plaque to commemorate Seacole, unveiled on the 30th November in Soho Square, where she lived briefly in the 1850s.

More info can be found at:

Kristan Tetens said...

Thanks very much for letting me know about this! I'll consider it for a future post.

In the meantime, readers are invited to click on the link provided if they'd like more information. English Heritage provides an excellent summary of Seacole's contribution to British life and culture.

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