Why is Mary Seacole famous?
What she did
Mary Seacole went to the Crimean War, to help British soldiers. She nursed sick and wounded soldiers. When battles were raging, she gave everyone food, blankets, clean clothes and kindness. The soldiers called her 'Mother Seacole'.
When she lived
Mary was born in 1805, on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. She first visited Britain as a young woman. Later she ran a hotel in Panama. After her adventures in the Crimean War (1854-1856), she lived in Britain. She died in London in 1881.
Why we remember Mary Seacole
Mary Seacole did what few other women did in the Victorian age. She was a traveller. She ran a business. She went to a war. If people refused to help her, perhaps because of racial prejudice, she still did what she believed was right. She risked her life to help others.
Mary was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Jamaica was then part of the British Empire. Her mother was Jamaican, her father was a Scottish soldier, it is thought he may have been James Grant. His regiment was in Jamaica until 1815 (when Mary was 10). He may have died, or been sent back to Britain.
Mary's full name was Mary Jane Grant. She had a brother Edward and a sister Louisa. Mary's mother was a nurse and healer.
Did Mary go to school?
We don't know if Mary went to school. But she learned a lot. Most of what we know about her comes from a book she wrote about her life.
As a child, Mary played at being a nurse, with dolls and pet animals. At the age of 12, she was helping her mother. They nursed sick people. Many were British soldiers.
A mysterious friend
An older woman helped look after Mary. In her book, Mary calls her 'my kind patroness'. A patron is a rich person who helps poorer people. Mary's friend was like a grandmother or aunt.
Mary goes to Britain
Mary loved to watch the ships in Kingston port. When she was 15, she went to Britain with relatives. She went in a sailing ship. She travelled in a sailing ship and then went in a stagecoach to London.
She stayed in London about a year. When she was 18 she came again, this time for two years. Perhaps she visited more family members?
Mary was part-Jamaican, part-Scottish. She thought herself 'British'. When she first came to Britain, there were between 20,000 and 40,000 black people in Britain.
What kind of medicines?
Mary's mother used plants in her medicines. Mary did the same, but she also learned the medicines used by British Army doctors.
Mary and her mother ran a hotel. It was like a hospital. Soldiers and their wives rested there after being ill.
Mary loved to travel. She made business trips to the islands of Cuba, the Bahamas and England. She sold pickles and preserves made from fruit and spices.
Mary becomes Mrs Seacole
In 1836 Mary married Edwin Seacole. He was English. Mary and Edwin ran a store. But Edwin was a sick man. Mary nursed him until he died in 1844. Now she was a widow.
Mary worked very hard. After a fire in Kingston burned down her hotel, she soon built a new one. She made many friends among the soldiers. In 1850, she risked her life to look after people sick with cholera.
Mary in Panama
In 1853 Mary went to Panama, where her brother Edward had a hotel and store. She opened her own 'British Hotel' for hungry gold miners. Many miners had come to Panama, hoping to get rich.
Mary and her servant had to travel through Panama's jungles. Even in the jungle, she wore a long dress and a hat!
In 1854, news reached Jamaica that Britain was at war. The Crimean War had begun. British soldiers left Jamaica to fight in the war. It was far away in Russia. Mary wanted to help and decided she must go too.
In the Crimea
Mary is turned away
Mary arrived in Britain three days before Florence Nightingale left for the Crimea, with a party of nurses. Mary offered to be part of a second group of nurses heading out to join Florence but she was unsuccessful when she was interviewed.
Off to war
Mary was not put off. In London, she met Thomas Day, a friend from Panama. They agreed to go to the Crimea. In January 1855, Mary set off by ship, with medicines and stores. She wrote letters to Army friends telling them her plans.
In Turkey, Mary visited the Army hospital and met Florence Nightingale. Then she took a ship across the Black Sea to the Crimea.
After terrible battles, many soldiers were wounded, but not being looked after. Many more were sick. The men were cold, dirty and hungry. Soldiers had to buy their own food. The Army did not look after them.
Mary Seacole and Thomas Day opened the British Hotel. It was a hut made of metal sheets. It was close to Balaclava, where a battle was fought in October 1854.
How did Mary help the soldiers?
The hotel served hot food and drinks. Mary's store sold warm clothes, blankets, boots and saddles for horses. She bought vegetables from the local market. She nursed sick and wounded men in their huts and on the battlefield.
What Mary Seacole did
Why did men call her Mother Seacole?
Mary Seacole cooked food the soldiers liked, such as stew and rice pudding. She nursed sick soldiers so kindly they called her 'Mother Seacole'.
Visitors coming to see the battlefields came to visit the hotel. One visitor was the famous French chef, Alexis Soyer. He was helping Florence Nightingale. Now he told everyone about the good work 'Mother Seacole' was doing.
On the battlefield
Mary rode out on horseback, close to the fighting. She saw cannon balls whizz past! She was very brave. She watched the battle for the Russian town of Sebastopol. She was one of the first woman into the town, after British and French soldiers captured it.
The war ends
Peace came in 1856. The soldiers went home. Mary closed her hotel and store. She went back to Britain with very little money.
In London, soldiers wrote letters to newspapers, praising what Mary had done in the Crimea. The war reporter William Howard Russell wrote about her too. And there was a poem about her!
Mary wrote a book about her life. It was called Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. She was now famous. People came to concerts to raise money for her. She was awarded a medal by Turkey for her bravery. Mary Seacole was also awarded a medal by Jamaica in 1990.
Why we remember Mary Seacole
A quiet life
Mary's adventures were over. In 1867, people in Britain raised more money to help her live in London. She also had a home in Jamaica, away from cold winters. From the 1870s, she lived quietly.
When did Mary die?
Mary Seacole died in 1881, aged 76. She was buried in London. In her will, she left money to her relatives, to Thomas Day, and to a charity for soldiers’ orphans.
Forgotten, then famous again
For a hundred years, Mary Seacole was almost forgotten. But then people began to read about her, and wanted to know more. Nurses in Jamaica were among the first to make her famous again. They named a building after her.
A role model
Mary Seacole did things few other women of her time did. She made her own way in the world, as a single woman and as a person of mixed race. Mary was proud to be half Scottish, and half Jamaican. People respected her.
Mary helped everyone she met. She mixed medicine with kindness. She is an admired role model, not just for nurses, but for everyone.