Posts by Lynn McDonald

From NHS England

RE: Bicentenary of the Birth of Florence Nightingale 2020 Mary Seacole Campaign

Thank you for your letter which NHS England received on 8 April 2015.

Your correspondence has been passed to the Case Management Team that manages correspondence for the Chief Executive, Chairman and Directors and a case officer will provide you with an update in due course.

If you require any further information or wish to speak to someone about your case, please contact NHS England at the email address and telephone number shown below quoting the reference number CAS-07122.

Yours faithfully

NHS England
PO Box 16738 | Redditch | B97 9PT

To seven English museums

The following letter was sent to seven English museums which include exaggerated or distorted information on the life and achievements of Mary Seacole. Institutions and addressees are listed at the end of the page.

Dear Museum Director

Re: False information on Mary Seacole

We are asking you, as other museums with incorrect information in their displays and websites, to correct it.

Museums, as educational institutions, should provide reliable information, not propaganda. You invite school tours and provide websites as background for teaching, and doubtless misinform many pupils, teachers and parents who take advantage of your material.

We entirely agree that the life of Mary Seacole deserves celebration, but on its own merits. She was independent, enjoyed many adventures, was kind and resourceful in difficult circumstances (epidemics in Jamaica and Panama) and during the Crimean War. She left a fine account of them in her Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, reference to which will show how wrong your material is.

Seacole should not be credited with the work Florence Nightingale did, either during the Crimean War or in the founding of the modern nursing profession, hospital reform and the advancement of public health care. Nightingale’s achievements were enormous, and they deserve museum space and time.

We are warning schools, parents and pupils of the shoddy material of your and other museums in TES Connect and the Mary Seacole Information Website. We will be happy to remove the warnings as soon as you remove the erroneous material. We invite use of the Mary Seacole Information Website for further material on the many errors put out about Seacole, and more reliable information:

Yours sincerely
(signed by 17 members of the Nightingale Society)

Letters were sent to:

Janice Murray, director general
National Army Museum
Royal Hospital Road
London SW3 4HT

Director and
Dr Kenny Webster, learning manager, Birmingham Museums
Soho House Museum
Birmingham B18 5LB

Ian Blatchford, director
Science Museum, London
Exhibition Road
London SW7 2DD

Professor Tim Entwistle director & chief executive
Royal Botanic Gardens, and
Botanic Gardens Education Network
Surrey TW9 3AB

Thackray Medical Museum
141 Beckett St, Leeds
West Yorkshire LS9 7LN
Liz Egan

Jack Lonman, director, Museum of London
Noel Hayden, programme manager
Museum of London
150 London Wall
London EC2Y 5HN;

Gunnersbury Park Museum
Popes Lane
London W3 8LQ

To Simon Stevens, CEO, NHS

Simon Stevens, CEO
National Health Service
PO Box 16738 Reddich B97 9PT
April 5, 2015

Dear Mr Stevens

Re: Bicentenary of the Birth of Florence Nightingale 2020
Mary Seacole Campaign

We are writing to raise two related issues with you and your colleagues: celebration of the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale in 2020, and the complication of the active campaign for Mary Seacole to be recognized as an “equal nurse,” “pioneer nurse” and even “pioneer health service” provider, titles awarded her variously by the Dept of Health, by NHS Employers, the RCN, etc.

We see little prospect of an appropriate celebration while the denigration of Nightingale continues. Nurses did not start it, but no nurse, nursing or health care organization defended Nightingale when she was accused, in a BBC “educational” programme no less, of discriminating against Seacole on the basis of race. We did, and eventually the BBC Trustees ruled that the programme was “materially inaccurate.”

The Department of Health named leadership programmes in public health after Seacole in 2013, although it has never said what she pioneered, and we are aware of nothing that would qualify. Nightingale, of course, pioneered much, as the major founder of the modern profession of nursing and the visionary, in 1864, of the NHS itself, that is, of the provision of quality care to all, including those unable to pay.

The listing of Seacole with Edward Jenner, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Aneurin Bevan, omitting Nightingale, is peculiar to say the least. It was Nightingale who first set out the goal of quality care for all, and did so much to improve care for the neediest. The old workhouse infirmaries were turned into real hospitals, in time with nurse training schools themselves.

A letter we sent to Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, May 20 2013, made these points, and received no answer.

The NHS Employers could give us no answer either, but rather complained that we were too fussy about accuracy in research (NHS letter of 30 July 2013). The RCN CEO and president, likewise, declined to answer our request for particulars.

The Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust had no answer to our queries (of 2012 and 2013) as to what Seacole did as “Britain’s black heroine who gave her life’s work in support of its early development,” a statement it issued as research background for its board (20 July 2011). In fact, Seacole did not give a day of her life to develop nursing in England, or elsewhere: she was a businesswoman, a caterer with an informal practice of over-the-counter herbals on the side.

We note also that the inordinate focus on Seacole has the unhappy result of sidelining genuine black and minority nurses who gave leadership. (See Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014 for bios of several who deserve recognition.)

We would particularly urge you to consider Mrs K.A. Pratt, a Nigerian Nightingale nurse who trained in England on an RCN scholarship. She was likely the first black nurse in the NHS when it opened in 1948. She subsequently became chief nursing officer in Nigeria, where she led in the development of professional nursing, with Nigerian nurses.

We hope that you will celebrate Nightingale’s bicentenary and ask that you turn the matter over to the appropriate people for planning. We ask you to review all Mary Seacole promotional material you use. Mrs Seacole was a spunky person who led a remarkable life that deserves celebration. It is unfortunate that she should be credited with Nightingale’s achievements. She deserves better than to have her life hijacked for a political campaign, even if its purpose, of improving diversity in nursing, is a worthy one. There are better means for doing this.

We would argue, finally, that the challenges of health care today are such as to ensure the ongoing relevance of Nightingale’s principles and standards. Environmental health, safe hospitals and the creative use of good research to improve policy were her specialties.

Yours sincerely

To the Mayor and Councillors of Lambeth

Mayor and Councillors of Lambeth
Lambeth Town Hall
18 Brixton Hill
London SW2 1RD

April 5, 2015

Dear Mayor and Lambeth Councillors

Re: Mary Seacole Statue intended for St Thomas’ Hospital and Florence Nightingale Bicentenary 2020

We note that the three years will soon draw to a close of the period for which planning permission was granted, after a hearing on April 24 2012. We understand that if the money is not all in place, that planning permission lapses, so that a new application would be required if and when the money is all raised.

We are aware that your permission process is narrowly focused on technicalities, assuming that the broader merits of the matter would have been dealt with elsewhere. In the case of the Seacole statue, this did not happen. The Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust promised consultation on a statue, then made its decision to approve without any, indeed at a closed-door meeting. As we pointed out to the Trust, the document it used to justify acceptance– claiming that Seacole was a dedicated nurse who gave her life to the early development of nursing in England- -was without foundation. The evidence is clear that she did not nurse a day in her life in England, or elsewhere. (She was a businesswoman; during the Crimean War she kindly gave first aid on several occasions, and was a friend to many, but did nothing to develop the profession.)

We entirely agree that Mrs Seacole’s life deserves celebration. Our concern is simply that she should not be credited with Nightingale’s work, or that Nightingale should be denigrated to make space for her.

To name Seacole “Pioneer Nurse” on a statue at Nightingale’s hospital would be seen by many people to be an outrage. St Thomas’ was the home of the first nurse training school in the world, and the base of Nightingale’s decades-long work in mentoring nurses from many countries, and sending out trained nurses to help found the profession in other countries.

The proposed placing of the statue facing the Houses of Parliament is particularly troublesome. Seacole took no interest in the political process, while Nightingale was an astute political activist all her life. She wrote briefs and reports for Parliamentary committees on health care and lobbied Cabinet ministers and MPs.

Placing the statue somewhere else in Lambeth would make sense. There is already a Seacole statue in Paddington, near where she lived. She never worked or lived in Lambeth, but there is a family connection through relatives of her late (English) husband, Edwin Seacole. His sister, Maria Seacole, married a James Kent in 1832, and their son’s marriage in due course produced a granddaughter, Florence Seacole Kent, born in 1861.

The 1881 Census shows her living in Brixton. On 14 April 1883, she married William Frederick Tilt at St Paul, Brixton. In 1901 she was a widow, still living in Brixton.

In 2020 the world will celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. She is still highly respected in most of the world, especially in India, Japan and China, and many will be coming to London to mark the occasion. Are visitors to discover that someone else has replaced her as the “Pioneer Nurse” at her own hospital?

We draw this complex matter to your attention, with two requests:

1.that Lambeth begin to consider how to celebrate the Nightingale bicentenary and find a more appropriate place for a Seacole statue than at Nightingale’s hospital.

Yours sincerely

From Lambeth Council

Dear Mrs Matthews,

Thank you for your letter (Our Ref LP/2015-04/8170) to Councillor Peck, The Mayor of Lambeth and Cabinet Members in respect of the Mary Seacole Statue proposed for St Thomas’ Hospital. As you may know, Lambeth Council’s role in this process was as the Planning Authority. The Planning Application – 11/04574/FUL has already been approved.

As Lambeth Council is not the proposer or owner of the statute it is not for Lambeth to suggest or promote an alternative site, especially as a site has already been approved after following the proper process. In these circumstances, I would suggest that you present your arguments and requests directly to the Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust to determine if they are willing to amend either the wording on the Statute or consider an alternative location in line with your representations

In respect, of the celebration of Florence Nightingale’s bicentenary we would of course be interested in in supporting you and others with promoting and developing events in the borough to mark this significant milestone. Our Events team (telephone 020 7926 6207) would be happy to offer advice and assistance on holding events in Lambeth, I would also suggest that you review this guide to holding events in Lambeth – ‘Outdoor events in Lambeth’ In addition, the following websites – & , provide excellent advice. The Council’s archive service may also prove to be a useful resource and contact with planning your arrangements, including the Landmark service – Lambeth Archives Image Collection.

Whilst I know that this was not the answer you were hoping for I hope that the above information is of some use to you.

Michael Warren

PA to Councillor Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council

To Dr Peter Carter and Cecilia Anim, RCN

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive, and
Cecilia Anim, president
Royal College of Nursing
20 Cavendish Sq
London W1G 0RN

April 5, 2015

Dear Dr Carter and Ms Anim

We continue to be concerned with the wildly inaccurate presentation of Mary Seacole by the RCN, in the Nursing Standard, your website and events. We believe that the life of Mrs Seacole deserves celebration, for her own merits. Instead, she has been appropriated as the equal or even superior to Nightingale, something she never claimed: see her delightful memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands.

We note with dismay the continued denigration of Florence Nightingale, the major founder of nursing, a major hospital reformer and the early, great, visionary of public health care.

Her bicentenary will be celebrated in 2020, yet it is difficult to imagine any appropriate celebration in the U.K., given the ongoing disparagement of her life, contributions and character.

Not one nurse or nursing organization protested when the BBC put out an “educational” video on Mary Seacole which had an actress portray Nightingale as a racist, with an entirely fictional anti-black script. We protested and, after a year and a half of runaround by BBC official, the BBC Trustees ruled that the video was “materially inaccurate.”

We received no answer to our enquiries to the RCN in 2012, followed up in 2013, as to what Seacole did to pioneer nursing.

Yet stories published in the Nursing Standard repeatedly call her a “pioneer” nurse, and equate her work with that of Nightingale, without ever mentioning a specific. We are unaware of any work Seacole did to found the nursing profession. She gave first aid on three occasions on the battlefield during the Crimean War, post-battle–after serving sandwiches and wine to spectators.

This was greatly appreciated, but hardly qualifies as “battlefield nursing” or makes her a nursing “pioneer.”

In her memoir, Seacole recounts visiting the Land Transport Corps Hospital (one nursed by Nightingale’s team) to distribute magazines and visit. Again, this shows her to have been a kind volunteer, but has nothing to do with founding a profession.

Seacole’s own book reports her use of lead acetate and mercury chloride in “remedies” for cholera–indeed she considered that adding lead acetate helped with “stubborn” cases (WA p 31).

Doctors, it must be acknowledged, were then using such mistaken “remedies,” and the effective cure for cholera and other bowel diseases, oral rehydration therapy, only came into use in the 1960s. Seacole could hardly have known better, but to credit her with “pioneering” nursing, and even being a leading “nurse practitioner,” is simply wrong. Yet she is routinely held to be “role model” for nurses.

We query Jean Gray’s presentation of Nightingale, Seacole and Cavell as “equal heroes,” who deserve “equal recognition” (Nursing Standard 28,4 p. 28). Cavell, of course, is celebrated for her bravery and patriotism, not nursing–her life was cut short. Cavell, incidentally, trained at a hospital where Nightingale mentored the matron, and was night superintendent at a workhouse infirmary where Nightingale got trained nursing started.

There are many nurses apart from Nightingale who made excellent contributions to early nursing, yet they are ignored.

Gray should have told us exactly what Cavell and Seacole did that of the same significance to Nightingale’s decades of work to build the profession. Why do you continue to ignore significant, authentic pioneers?

Cecilia Anim is quoted as calling for celebration of “Seacole’s uniqueness and commitment to the profession” (Nursing Standard 27,37 p 10). She was certainly unique, and had many fine qualities, but we ask what did she do for the nursing profession?

We note that the Nursing Standard does not permit, or even send out for peer review, articles that take a critical view of Seacole, no matter how well documented they are. This is unworthy of a professional journal.

The contention that Mary Seacole was “rejected” as a nurse by Nightingale, or someone representing her, is all too frequently made, but is contradicted by available primary sources, including her own memoir. Seacole never submitted the required application. Moreover, she was late starting her informal calls on government offices to apply: Nightingale certainly had already left, and probably the second team had left, too. No one in the RCN seems willing to acknowledge that Seacole’s trip to London in autumn 1854 was to attend to her gold stocks, not to become an army nurse, that it was only after 2 months of unsuccessful efforts on those stocks that she decided to try to become an army nurse–too late. Yet this is clear in her memoir (WA, p. 71).

Nightingale called for nurses to honest, truthful and trustworthy in their work. We concur, adding only that this is a good standard for nursing organizations and journals as well.

Yours sincerely

To all Westminster MPs re National Portrait Gallery

Dear Member of Parliament

The National Portrait Gallery is a major national institution, largely funded by British taxpayers. High standards of accuracy and fairness are expected in the material it produces in support of its exhibitions. In the case of Mary Seacole, it fails.Naturally the NPG was pleased, in 2005, to acquire a fine painting of Seacole. However in announcing that acquisition, and in celebrating the bicentenary of Seacole’s life that same year, it became a purveyor of misinformation. The portrait shows Seacole wearing 3 medals–none of which she earned. There are seven pictures of Seacole on the website, six of them with medals (on one she wears 4 medals). In three places on the website the medals are referred to as if they were hers, and an exercise for children invites them to design yet another Seacole medal!

Two banners of portraits hang outside the entrance: one of the Duke of Wellington wearing his medals, the other of Seacole wearing medals which were not hers.

In 2006 the NPG named Seacole one of “Ten Great Britons,” on the 150th anniversary of its founding. Again those medals appear, again with no explanation that they were not hers. It was not a criminal offence to wear other people’s medal at the time Mrs Seacole wore them–it is now. That 2006 award places her in the company of Shakespeare, Darwin, Walter Scott, Virginia Woolf and Winston Churchill.

Mrs Seacole was indeed a remarkable woman who led an adventurous life that deserves to be celebrated. But why not describe her and her contributions as they were? Why give her credit for the contributions of the real founder of the modern profession of nursing–Florence Nightingale? And why underplay and misstate what Nightingale did, as the comparison with Seacole does?

The bicentenary of the birth of Nightingale will take place in 2020, and people around the world will remember her work to establish nursing, reform hospitals and promote public health care. The National Portrait Gallery was asked to recognize that bicentenary, and refused. The director explained that people wanting to see a Nightingale portrait could come in and see one as usual.

The NPG has a number of portraits of Nightingale and the people with whom she worked to achieve such great social and public health care reforms. Does it lack curatorial ability and imagination? Why not show the wonderful collaboration of Nightingale with leading reformers that led to so much good?

Yours sincerely

[17 members of the Nightingale Society]

Please reply to

From Lynn McDonald to Rebekka Campbell

Rebekka Campbell, Editor, BBC Schools
September 4, 2014

Dear Ms Campbell,

Thank you for your reply of 3 September 2014 regarding my complaint about “BBC School Radio–Mary Seacole.” I am of course sorry that material still in use cannot be removed or corrected, because I failed to complain within 30 days. If something has been misinforming people since 2010, that hardly makes it right to continue to use it, especially as an educational resource.

It is troubling that you consider that a mere two mentions of Mrs Seacole running a hospital does not violate the standard of “due accuracy,” given that she never ran a hospital (or hotel) at all. Or that having Seacole treat “injured men,” while not “literally true” as shown, is fine. Clearly we differ in opinion.

However, your reply is wrong in several matters of fact, not interpretation, which I trust you will re-examine more carefully.

1. The man, not specified as officer or ordinary soldier, could not have been “provided with soup and blankets,” as you state in defence of the programme. Seacole’s business provided no one with blankets (Nightingale did that, for soldiers). You continue to transfer her work improving conditions for soldiers (she got kitchens going and bedding supplied) to Seacole, when her establishment was commercial, for officers (you blur this by not specifying rank). Seacole described how “course after course made its appearance, and to soup and fish succeeded turkeys, saddle of mutton, fowls, ham, tongue,” etc., in a “French” style of cooking (p 179). Not your “soup and blankets”!

2. You cite a “letter” from John Hall, Inspector General of Hospitals, which Mrs Seacole purports to quote. However, the letter could never be found in any archive or publication relating to Hall. Seacole’s enthusiastic biographer, Jane Robinson, who searched for evidence of the existence of the various testimonies, could find none. Nor could I. The very notion that Hall should commend her for administering “appropriate remedies,” even “charitably” is preposterous. The position of the Army Medical Dept, and Hall himself, was that no charity was needed, that the medical staff and supplies were adequate for the tasks. Thus, Hall is not “quoted by Seacole,” but a fictional letter is used. I discuss this and give sources in my book, Mary Seacole, The Making of the Myth, which of course was not available when the programme was first created, but which is available now and it does document everything.

3. On the entry into Sebastopol you have mixed up pages of her memoir. Seacole’s first trip into Sebastopol (with no mention of Sally, although hardly a matter of importance) was strictly social. There were no medicines, but only refreshments (p 173). In her book, she goes on to describe scenes of drunken soldiers plundering the city, and accepting plunder herself (pp 174-75). This is not performing medical work! She went again the next day, merely to observe, again no medical work, according to her own book (p 176). The quotation you give of her taking “medical supplies” occurs on the day of the last assault, on 8 September (p 169), which presumably is what prompted the Russians to abandon the city. This is one of the three times she did give first aid. However, there was no fighting in Sebastopol, for the Russians had left in the night.

4. Russell’s account of Mrs Seacole assisting is warm indeed, for the very good reason that he was fundraising for her. He mentions 3 occasions, the same as I do. It is stretching it to say that this confirms your point. His account of Seacole during the war itself was flattering, but brief.

Yours sincerely

Lynn McDonald, PhD, LLD (hon)
Professor emerita

To BBC School Radio

BBC School Radio
4th Floor, Bridge House
Salford M50 2BH

August 5, 2014

Dear Sirs/Mesdames

Re: BBC School Radio. History–The Victorians. 9. The Life of Mary Seacole. BBC 2010. Still available.

The BBC’s coverage of Mary Seacole has been fallacious in many respects, and this BBC School Radio “educational” material is particularly bad. Some of the comparisons with Nightingale are nasty. The whole programme should be replaced with one that meets reasonable standards of accuracy (to apply both to material on Seacole and comparisons with Nightingale).

My own publications give accurate information, with sources. They were not available when this item was created, but obviously the sources I used were. Most of the BBC’s mistakes could have been avoided simply by consulting Seacole’s Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (page references hee are to it).

The website and clips should be taken down promptly, to be replaced when adequate, accurate material is available.

Herewith a list of errors. Further material can be supplied to detail errors and/or provide more context. For other examples of misinformation see

Lesson Plan: Learning intention: We are learning to understand the life of a key historical character from the Victorian era.

1. Journey to the Crimea (approx 6 mins). This describes Nightingale as “a famous nurse who organised help for soldiers during the Crimean War,” which is true, but a gross understatement, while most statements about Seacole an overstatement or fiction.

During listening, one key fact to focus on. Key question: What obstacles did Mary Seacole overcome to serve as a nurse in the Crimean War? Instruction: Write down the things Mary Seacole overcame to fulfil her ambition. (Answers: Racism preventing travel to England from Jamaica.

However, there is no evidence that racism was the problem; since Seacole never properly applied, and did not have the hospital experience required, there were good reasons for rejecting her.

“Not allowed to serve as a nurse in the army,” but she never applied. “Had to make the dangerous journey to the Crimea on her own.” The journey was not especially dangerous, and she probably was accompanied by her two black servants.

2. The Crimean War. Before listening: one key fact to discuss….. Discussion question: What do soldiers need if they are injured fighting in a war? (To be cleaned, bandaged, kept warm, brought, food, given medicine.)

Yes, but this was the work of the doctors and nurses, not Seacole.

During listening: one question to focus on. Key question: How did Mary Seacole help the British soldiers? Instruction: Write notes to explain what Mary Seacole did to help the British soldiers. (Answers: Providing shelter and food for injured soldiers. Running a hospital in a dangerous area close to where the battles took place.)

Again, this is not true: Seacole never ran a hospital, or even worked in one so much as one day of her life.

3. After the war was over. Before listening: one key fact to discuss…. The British soldiers and Florence Nightingale’s nurses were all brought home by the British army. Discussion question: How do you think Mary Seacole should have been treated after the Crimean War?

This seems geared to fostering resentment. But why would the British Army bring a businessperson home for free? Doctors, nurses, soldiers, of course, but Seacole was not one of them. Nor did she ever complain that the army did not give her a free trip. She presented the loss of her business as the result of overstocking their supplies, not correctly estimating when the army would leave the Crimea.

During listening: one question to focus on. Key question: What happened to Mary Seacole after the Crimean war? Instruction: Write a list of the things that happened to Mary Seacole after the war was over. (Answers: The ‘British Hotel’ hospital cost money to maintain and could not be sold. Mary Seacole had no money to live on. A reporter told her story and organised collections to reward her for her service.)

However, by her own description, Seacole had some money to live on, although little. No reporter organized fundraising for her, but her officer friends did.

When she applied to the War Department in London to join Florence Nightingale as a nurse, she was turned away with the weak excuse that no more nurses were needed, although Mary was under the illusion that she was being rejected because of her colour. So Mary Seacole decided to travel to the Crimea and build her own hospital and in spite of hearing stores about the harsh conditions she would encounter in the Crimea, she was determined to carry out her plans.

The “weak excuse”? Seacole never applied (the applications are at the National Archives, Kew). Her own description of her efforts at applying show her dropping into government offices, informally. Moreover, she was late, not starting until November 30 or later (her own account says after the sinking of a supply ship, which was first reported November 30).

2. The Crimean War. Mary has built her hospital (she calls it the ‘British Hotel’) which is much closer to the battlefield than Florence Nightingale’s.

It was not a hospital but a business for officers.

She describes how she treated the wounded soldiers who needed her help.

However, this occurred on three occasions only–she missed the three major battles and the worst of the siege.

One day in 1856 a journalist called William Howard Russell from ‘The Times’ newspaper arrived at the British Hotel, wanting to write an article about Mary. Rather grudgingly she agreed.

She never said anything of the kind, and his report never refers to an interview at her business, but seeing her on the battlefield, postbattle, where he was taking notes. This account is entirely fictional. He is known to have been a customer, for he is listed as having left (a small) unpaid bill.

He discovered how well loved Mary was by the soldiers–they called her Mother Seacole.

Officers did also.

And how she would put aside fears for her own personal safety in order to treat wounded soldiers on the battlefield itself.

Again, this occurred on only three occasions–he saw one–when he was on the battlefield himself.

She would treat any wounded soldiers if they needed her help, including enemy troops.

On one occasion, according to her memoir, she helped “several” Russians.

3. After the war was over….Back in London, she and Sally, her faithful maid, were very poor.

Seacole gave her maid’s name as Mary. There is no mention of a Sally or any maid in London. Chef Alexis Soyer called Sally/Sarah her daughter in his war memoir.

A “surprise visit” from Russell is described, but Seacole herself said that she went to Lord Rokeby to ask for help and he organized the fundraising. There was a huge party but the “message of congratulation from Queen Victoria” is yet again fictional.

On the clips, a segment shows Seacole running a hospital, called the British Hotel, where she treated ordinary soldiers injured in battle, carried in from the battlefield. Yet, according to her memoir, she planned on opening a hotel, never a hospital, and it was scrapped for a restaurant/bar/takeaway/catering service, for officers. It was a hut, not a hotel, with a “canteen” available to the soldiers (p 114).

There is also a fictional visit “late in the day” by W.H. Russell, who did in fact write nice things about Seacole, but not what he is quoted as saying. Russell praised Seacole for kindness, but never called her hut a hospital.

Seacole contrasts her hospital with Nightingale’s: “Mr Russell, I just want to make a place where soldiers can come and be safe and warm. This one here with the wound in the head….” and the soldier states “I thought I was going to die, and now here I am tucked up in the warm, drinking soup.” Blatantly false, again.

Seacole is also falsely described as walking Russell to the fighting: “Look, if a man gets wounded up here near Sebastopol, he has to be taken down to our place. That’s two hours walking. We’re just not close enough.” But she had no hospital anywhere!! A jibe at Nightingale, that her hospital “is too far away from the action,” true, but hardly Nightingale’s decision: she was sent there by the War Office.

The soldier with head wounds given soup and tucked up in head is entirely fictional. Seacole missed the first three, major, battles. She was present at three, which were over in hours. She described giving first aid on the battlefield and at the entrance to a hospital, but she never took soldiers in, transported them to her “hospital” (which did not exist). Meals–and she described delicious meals–were available, for a price, to officers, not ordinary soldiers. This is a nice story–but it is untrue.

On treating “wounded enemy soldiers” it seems that Seacole’s description, on one occasion, of giving first aid to “several Russians” (166) has been grossly exaggerated. There is no mention of her taking loot from dead Russians, including cutting off their buttons as souvenirs (167). One Russian officer gave her a ring for her kindness. She was kind, but all this exaggerates it.

On entering Sebastopol, the letter by General Garrett was not to bring medicines, but, “to pass Mrs Seacole and attendants with refreshments for officers and soldiers” (173). She described a convivial group bringing muleloads to the fallen city, and did not describe treating any wounded.

The “Follow up and extension activity” is also wrong. The Crimean War did not begin in 1853 (not for the French and British), and Seacole was nowhere near the Crimea until March or so 1855, not 1854-56. She was not “ignored at first,” but enjoyed celebrity immediately after the war. The children are to work on a timeline, but are given incorrect dates!

Yours sincerely

Lynn McDonald, PhD, LLD (hon)
Professor emerita

To the Publications Director, OCR Publications

To the Publications Director, OCR Publications

OCR Publications
July 9, 2014

Dear OCR Publications Director

We are writing with concern about the mark scheme for Mary Seacole in Medicine through Time. We also have concerns about the mark scheme for Florence Nightingale, but they are minor in comparison. For example, her important work analyzing mortality data post-Crimea, her health promotion work and “environmental” theory of nursing and health care are omitted. The material refers to deaths from wounds, apparently oblivious to the fact that disease killed far more people. The material on Seacole, however, is simply factually wrong, when relevant sources are consulted, notably her own memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (Oxford University Press 1988 for page references). The information on her life is thoroughly documented with primary sources in “The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole, in Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014, chapter 3. A (largely) accurate biography is Jane Robinson, Mary Seacole: The Charismatic Black Nurse Who Became a Heroine of the Crimea.

Mark Scheme A951/11-14 January 2011 indicates that marks are given for false statements in 4(1) “Briefly describe the career of Mary Seacole.” Of the eight points given as illustrations of good answers, five are thoroughly incorrect, and two are wrong in minor ways:

  1. worked as nurse/doctor in Jamaica,
  2. worked as a midwife,
  3. dealt with cholera in Panama,
  4. went to Britain and volunteered to go to Crimea,
  5. went at own expense, set up the ‘British Hospital,’
  6. nursed soldiers,
  7. returned to Britain bankrupt,
  8. newspaper held an appeal for her, benefit concert held for her.

An example, given 3 marks, states: “Mary Seacole did a lot to help the soldiers in the Crimea. She set up the British Hospital and kept soldiers clean and fed. She personally looked after the soldiers and often went into battle to help them.”

On 1, the answer fails to mention her actual occupation, proprietress of a boarding house in Jamaica, later a store/restaurant in Panama and one in Crimea, with work, on the side, as a “doctress” or herbalist. 2, she never worked as a midwife. She prescribed and administered drugs on her own, what would now be called practising medicine without a licence.

On 3, Seacole “dealt” with cholera, but not necessarily well. She acknowledged “lamentable blunders” (WA 31) and that some of her remedies later caused her to “shudder.” She used lead acetate and mercury chloride, toxic substances. Her “remedy” for cholera featured emetics, purgatives and sweating, all of which dehydrate the patient, while the known treatment (now, not then) is oral rehydration therapy. Seacole’s “remedies” were no worse than what many doctors used at the time, but she thought they were good, while some doctors, at least, were more sceptical.

On 4, the purpose of her trip to London, according to her own memoir, was to pursue her unsuccessful Panamanian gold stocks (WA 71). She only volunteered to go the Crimea in late November 1854, after the first three, major, battles had taken place, and well after Nightingale had left (WA 78-80). She never submitted the required application to become a nurse, but dropped in informally to various offices, never the one stipulated in the announcement inviting late applications for nurses, that is, after Nightingale’s departure.

On 5, she never set up any hospital, or claimed to have. In her memoir she specified her intention to establish the “British Hotel,” to be a “mess table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers” (WA 81) but in fact set up a hut which served as a restaurant/bar/store/takeaway/catering service for officers. There were no overnight stays at it, and it closed each night at 8 p.m. and on Sundays.

On 6, her customers were officers, not soldiers, and she sold them goods and services. On three occasions she gave first aid on the battlefield, post-battle, to officers or soldiers as needed (WA 155, 164, 169). She also sold remedies over the counter to (walk-in) soldiers, and in some cases gave them away. This is far from what is normally understood by “nursing.” Seacole never nursed in a hospital anywhere: Jamaica, Panama, Crimea or Britain.

On 7 she and her business partner sought bankruptcy protection on their return to Britain; they had overstocked the restaurant/bar/store in the long period after the fighting was over when business was good: “My restaurant was always full” (WA 178). This was a bad business decision, not quite what is often implied.

On 8, the appeal and benefit concerts were held by officer friends, former customers. Newspapers assisted with positive stories about her but did not organize them.

We ask that Ofsted inspectors ensure that the teaching given on Seacole be fair and accurate for a school to be rated positively for it. Given the lack of adequate resources, we believe that teaching on Seacole should be suspended. The promotion of racial equality and cultural diversity are worthy goals, but the end does not justify the means. Mrs Seacole was a fine and decent person whose life deserves to be celebrated. She does not deserve false stories to puff her up. In the case of nursing, there are a number of good black and other minority nurses who have been neglected, thanks to the Seacole campaign. Pupils deserve honest and accurate information at all ages, with details appropriate to their age.