Sir Hugh Taylor and Sir Ron Kerr
Re: Liability for the Mary Seacole Statue
We are concerned with the announcement that preparation of the site for the Mary Seacole statue is going ahead, even though not all the money has been raised to pay for it.
Who will be responsible for any gap in funding? Will health care money be redirected to pay the costs?
We inquire also about liability for maintenance if the installation goes ahead. What happens when the honeymoon is over, and people begin to realize that Mrs Seacole was not the “Pioneer Nurse” claimed? Or that she was not a “black nurse,” for she did not identify as a black or African but rather disparaged those roots while she praised her Scottish heritage. This is understandable given the mores of the time, but it hardly makes for a good role model.
What happens when Seacole’s own words come to be suspect, as in her statement that, if her skin ‘had been as dark as any nigger’s,” she “should have been just as happy and as useful” (Seacole, Wonderful Adventures p. 48) and her references to her “good-for-nothing black cooks” (p. 141).
Who is responsible if the site becomes a location for drinking and damage, after the honeymoon is over? “Mrs Seacole’s” was effectively an officers’ club, never a hospital, as so often claimed, a source for champagne, fine wines, meals, sherry and catering for officers’ dinner parties. When a writer visited the Crimea years after the war he recalled going past the site, where there was an “immense heap of broken bottles by the roadside… all that was left behind of Mrs Seacole’s famous store” (Arnold, From the Levant, the Black Sea and the Danube 2:184).
The broken bottles may indeed have been the result of Mrs Seacole’s own hammering “case after case” of red wine, when she could not sell it when it was time to go home (p. 196).
The Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, alas, gave such an fallacious presentation of Seacole’s life that people may not realize the risks of the truth coming out, as it often does. Statues can acquire a negative meaning as times change.