Posts filed under “Correspondence on Nightingale/Seacole misinformation”

from Sarah John, Notes Directorate, Bank of England

from: Sarah John
Chief Cashier, Notes Directorate

20 December 2018

Dear members of the Nightingale Society,

Thank you for your letter dated 9 December addressed to the Governor. As Chief Cashier with responsibility for banknotes, and a member of the Banknote Character Advisory Committee, he has asked me respond on his behalf.

Thank you for taking the time to write to us with your views about Mary Seacole. As you will have seen in the press, the selection of the character for the next £50 note has attracted a lot of attention. We are delighted by the way the nomination process has captured the imagination of the public, and provoked some very interesting debates on the relative merits of potential candidates to appear on the banknote.

This is, however, just the start of the process. As the Banknote Character Advisory Committee works through the shortlisting process, we will be undertaking detailed historical research on each of the leading potential characters. I can assure you that the final decision, to be taken by the Governor, will be made in light of all the relevant available facts about the life and achievements of the shortlisted characters.

Yours sincerely,
Sarah John
Chief Cashier

To Mark Carney, Governor, Bank of England

to: Mark Carney, Governor
Bank of England
Threadneedle Street
London EC1R 8AH

December 9, 2018

Dear Dr Carney

The points made in the letter to you on Mary Seacole, by numerous MPs, are either clearly erroneous or unsubstantiated. We urge you to consult her own (fine and interesting) memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, which will belie so much of what is said of her by her current fans.

  1. “She became distinguished for nursing victims of the cholera epidemic and the yellow fever epidemic in both Kingston and Panama.” But she admitted she could do nothing on yellow fever, and her cholera remedy included lead and mercury. There is simply no evidence that her “remedies” helped anyone, and dehydration, by vomiting and purging of the bowels, is wrong: the effective treatment is rehydration.
  2. “Upon learning of the inadequate medical facilities for soldiers in Crimea, Seacole travelled to England and requested that the British War Office send her as an army nurse.” Hardly! Mrs Seacole went to England to attend to her gold stocks, not to offer help. After some 2 months of fruitless attempts to that end, she decided to go to the war, AFTER Nightingale and her nursing team had left. She never sent in the required application to the War Office, (the are at the National Archives, Kew). Instead, dropped into various offices seeking to go, too late.
  3. That she provided comfortable facilities for those sick and injured. No. The “British Hotel,” the name of her business, was a hut that sold meals, fine wines, etc., but there was no accommodation for the sick, well or injured (see her memoir!). She was called “Mother Seacole” by officers and friends, her usual customers. Ordinary soldiers were allowed to make purchases at a different hut from the officers, but could hardly have afforded her prices for meals and wine.
  4. Her business was much appreciated by officers, who raised money for her after she and her business partner had to declare bankruptcy. It is correct that Mrs Seacole was named at the top of the “Black Briton” list, but it should be understood that she did not identify as a black. She was a property-owning Jamaican, a Creole, with a white father, a white husband, a white clientele– she employed blacks, such as “my good-for-nothing black cooks” and her maid was black. She did experience discrimination herself, mainly from Americans in Panama. She handled herself with aplomb on those occasions. In short, the case made for her omits rather a lot. Nor has anyone provided any evidence of any pioneering contribution she made to nursing.

Yours sincerely

[31 members of the Nightingale Society]

History hoax on a banknote? Letter to Westminster MPs

Dear MP

Some MPs are lobbying to get Mary Seacole on the £50 banknote, but their description of her as “Pioneering Nurse” is simply false. Do we want a history hoax on any banknote?

Mrs Seacole was a fine and decent person. During the Crimean War she was what was then called a “sutler,” running a business for officers, a combination of restaurant, bar, store, and catering service. An officer who wanted champagne could drop in and buy it or send a servant to pick up bottles. She sold “herbal” remedies for various maladies, but some contained lead and mercury, which are toxic in any dose. In her fine memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, 1857, she acknowledged “lamentable blunders” in her “remedies.” Please take a serious look before you proceed!

Mrs Seacole aided both customers and soldiers with their illnesses as best she could. She never nursed a day in a hospital in any country, her own Jamaica, Panama (where again she ran a business), the Crimea (her famous business) or later in Britain, where she retired.

Note that Mrs Seacole never called herself a “nurse,” but used a combined title of “doctress, nurse, and ‘mother’” or–take note– the “yellow doctress,” indicating that she was of fair complexion (she was Jamaican born, Creole, one quarter African in heritage). Anyone who wishes to claim her as a “pioneering”nurse should state what she pioneered, no? Her memoir gives recipes and menus from her business, but the only remedy for which she gave specifics (with lead and mercury) was neither pioneering, nor a remedy.

Mrs Seacole deserves recognition for her independence and kindness, but why the history hoax? Why not put the first black woman to nurse in the NHS on the banknote? Or some other woman with appropriate credentials?

Yours sincerely
[members of the Nightingale Society]

To Kate Pankhurst, author, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World (2016)

To Kate Pankhurst
Spinning Mill Studios, 2nd floor
Spinning Mill, Sunny Bank Mills
Farsley, Leeds LS28 5UJ

Dear Ms Pankhurst

We are disappointed with the shoddy, inaccurate coverage you give to Mary Seacole in your book, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, 2016. Mrs Seacole was certainly a fine person, independent, generous and interesting, but how did she change the world? Certainly nothing that she described of her own life in her memoir, an excellent book, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. There she portrays herself as an adventurer—a keen observer of the world—and kind and resourceful in tough circumstances, but hardly anything more.

Moreover, her “remedies” are questionable at the very least. She gave a recipe for only one, to which she added lead and mercury, toxic substances at any strength, and not good for cholera and bowel diseases in particular. Indeed, she acknowledged “lamentable blunders” in her memoir (see p 31).

A “nurse”? But she never called herself a “nurse,” although she did use “doctress, nurse and mother” as a descriptor, but “nurse” was for Nightingale and her nurses. Do you realize that Seacole never nursed one day in any hospital in any country? Nor did she claim to have in her book. She describes assisting officers and men on the battlefield (on 3 occasions, not routinely), and she gave tea to soldiers waiting transport to the general hospitals—but never inside. Nor did she nurse in any hospital in Jamaica—she describes being invited to, but declining. Read the book carefully!

You state, incorrectly: “This nurse [NO!] set up her own hospital in the Crimea during the Crimean War”…. But in her book she said she planned to establish a “hotel,” never a hospital, and did not even do that (Chapter VIII). Instead, she had huts put up for a bar/restaurant/store/takeaway/catering service, for officers. Quite different.

You then state that she was “turned down” as an official nurse, carelessly not noticing that she only applied for a post, informally, AFTER Nightingale and her nurses had left, indeed after the second team of nurses had left. Mrs Seacole did not apply early, even though she was in London, as she was busy on her gold investments, which she makes clear in the book.

You state that Nightingale “nursed soldiers in the Crimean War” (she did a lot more than that) and that Seacole “did the same and at her own expense”!! Hardly, she ran a business, in which she invested from her earnings from her previous business, as did her business partner.

The point “because as a black woman” raises a more complex issue, for Mrs Seacole did not identify as black, but “yellow” or fair-skinned. Like white Jamaicans, she employed blacks. She travelled with two black servants and employed black cooks at her business. Rather off what you say.

It is particularly grating to see a descendant of the great suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst get Nightingale wrong—an early supporter of the vote for women (1866), who signed numerous petitions for the vote who did much to improve education for women, started nurse training and made nursing the best-paid occupation for women at the time.

If your book is re-published, you should ensure that these gross errors are corrected. You should apologize for misleading people—a children’s book! A bit much to expect children to check out sources, when the author can’t be bothered!

Yours sincerely
[19 members of the Nightingale Society]

To Blaise Simqu, Sage Publications

To: Blaise Simqu
Sage Publications Inc
2455 Teller Rd.
Thousand Oaks CA 91320

Dear Mr Simqu

We are writing with concern about seriously false and misleading material in a Sage book, Leadership in Health Care, and ask you to communicate this to the authors, Jill Barr and Lesley Dowding.

One might expect a book entitled Leadership in Health Care make the distinction between providing leadership in health care, as Florence Nightingale did, and running a business for customers, as Mary Seacole did during the Crimean War–however nicely she did it. But they get it spectacularly wrong, without ever citing a reference!

While Nightingale was leading the nursing, cleaning up hospitals and establishing laundries and kitchens for the sick soldiers, these authors have her “collecting data.” When did she have the time? (She did analyze data, post-Crimea, but the data were collected by the War Office.) They also have her in the wrong country: the Barrack Hospital was in Turkey–the war was in the Crimea, 300 miles away.

They go further off in listing Seacole in “leaders in health care,” immediately after Nightingale, as if she ranked second. However, as her own book, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (a good read) made abundantly clear, she ran a restaurant/bar/store/takeaway and catering service at commercial prices for officers. How does this qualify as health care? They repeat the common misinformation (no source given) that Seacole was “refused an interview to go to the Crimea). Check her Chapter VIII: She never applied, but only dropped in casually to various offices concerned with the war, after the nurses had left. What does it mean to be “refused” when you never applied?

If you want to call someone a nurse, should you not say where and when they nursed?

Not done with it, and again without a reference, Barr and Dowding have Seacole “held up as one of the first black women leaders.” What did she lead? Her business sadly failed. Her remedies were doubtful at best–she admitted to “lamentable blunders” (p 31), which adding lead and mercury to herbal preparations would be–lead and mercury are toxic in any dose. For other examples of Seacole misinformation online, see For a book, see Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of a Myth (Toronto: Iguana 2014).

There is a lot of other silliness in Leadership in Health Care, but these bloopers are really inexcusable. The authors should retract them and apologize for misleading their readers. They should delete the material in any subsequent edition, or get it right.

Yours sincerely
[19 members of the Nightingale Society]

To Sir David Cannadine, director, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Dear Sir David [Cannadine: Professor; director, ODNB]

Monica Baly was undoubtedly the best person to write the entry when it was commissioned, but she was past her best work, and in fact died before the final version was settled. There are some errors and peculiarities in her original text but, Worse, Colin Matthew added many points of his own. He and the advisors considered the entry to have been “too defensive,” meaning not critical enough. We consider the problem to have been undue reliance on F.B. Smith as a reliable source. Matthew added 14 Smith references to Baly’s text (she had one).

Lawrence Goldman, your predecessor, explained to one of us (Professor McDonald) that history graduate students were thrilled when Smith’s Reputation and Power book came out in 1982, delighted to see an icon tumble. Baly had already done her doctoral research when it appeared, and was not immediately influenced by it. She, however, increasingly accepted his views. The evolution of her ideas would make an excellent graduate seminar in history: the first edition of her 2 books on Nightingale were very favourable; in the second edition the superlatives are removed; in the third, there are negatives. Not all of the references Matthew added to Smith were wrong, but why quote him at all when he is such an unreliable source?

The (revised) entry praises Reputation and Power as “striking.” It warns of the errors and limitations of Woodham-Smith’s biography (agreed), but F.B. Smith is worse. Yet the (revised) entry credits him with examining “the remarkable network of manipulation (mostly by letter) by which she sought to impose her will and achieve her objectives” (911). It stated, without primary source evidence, that she “often used relatives ruthlessly to help her with her with various projects” and that she “coerced” others into acting as secretaries or guardians in her house (908).

Numerous errors in the entry have already been sent in (see correspondence from McDonald 20 December 2006 and 29 December 2009 and from Goldman 12 February 2007 and 19 February 2010). Corrections were made only on (most of) the incorrect names and dates, so that serious bloopers remain, such as that Nightingale “continued to disregard the germ theory of infection.” No, germ theory is not in her early books – how could it be, when they predate Lister’s antiseptic surgery (1867) and Koch’s definitive paper of 1879? Her school taught a rudimentary version of it in 1873, the first nursing school to do so (she approved the syllabus). How she came to accept germ theory is set out in Cook’s biography. She made references to germs and germ theory in late papers, notably in one for an Indian journal. She urged that slides be presented in lectures in Indian villages, to demonstrate the bacilli and encourage people to clean up the local water supply (“Sanitation in India, Quarterly Journal of the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha). Baly and Matthew are wrong.

We are concerned about the disproportionate space given to Nightingale’s family relations, and the sexist terms used: she is referred to by her first name, even as an adult; her mother is nicknamed “Fanny,” while her father is not nicknamed (he was “Night”). Nightingale’s Suggestions for Thought is discussed, but without any realization of its history, a composite of two draft novels and dialogue among a range of religious thinkers. The Crimean War coverage is heavy on the “lady with the lamp” imagery, light on the reforms she made.

The coverage of family relations and her suitor in general was not faulty, but out of proportion; her important health care and social reforms are glossed over or omitted. For example:

  1. No discussion of her Notes on Hospitals, a work used worldwide; indeed scant mention of her work on hospital reform. Only the briefest mention, no discussion, of her Introductory Notes on Lying-in Institutions, a pioneering study of maternal mortality post-childbirth.
  2. No list of her major writings!
  3. No coverage of her study of mortality and morbidity in colonial schools and hospitals or the disappearance of aboriginal races, nor of a proposal for providing employment in times of distress, nor her critique of the harm of voluntary relief in war.
  4. No discussion of Nightingale’s important late writing: (1) 2 articles on nursing for Quain’s Dictionary of Medicine, 1883, updated in 1890 and 1894, with the latest information on aseptic procedures for operating theatres; (2) 1884 a letter to the editor of the New York Herald on cholera prevention, “Scavenge Scavenge Scavenge” reprinted in both British and American journals, books and shorter works, reprinted in 1892; (3) 1890 a short article on hospitals in Chambers’s Encyclopedia; (4) 1893 a major paper for a Chicago world congress.

The section heads are unhelpful, when not misleading, especially “Out of office 1870-1880,” from an offhand remark cited from Cook 2:240 that the new viceroy, Lord Northbrook, did not visit her in 1872 (they did correspond). Lord Lytton, the next viceroy, did not visit either, but their differences were so great that she was glad that he did not ask her to do anything for him. The three Liberal viceroys that followed were keen to collaborate, and visited (Lords Ripon 1880-84, Dufferin 1884-88 and Lansdowne, 1888-94), also numerous governors of presidencies.

She had excellent government connections, notably with Lord de Grey (later Ripon) and Lord Hartington; Gladstone had a high opinion of her, which is badly misrepresented in the brief reference to him. During the 1870s she did a great deal to establish district nursing (in the entry briefly noted in 1867, when most of her work was in the late 1870s and late 1880s). She did a massive amount on India then, and the Franco-Prussian War (nowhere discussed!).

“Religion and attitude to women” makes no sense as a section, quite apart from the fact that it is wrong on her and her family’s religious views and practices. The error on germ theory oddly is in Religion and attitude to women.

The heading “Old age, 1880-1910″ is faulty; Nightingale effectively retired in 1900, but was enormously productive 1880 to at least 1893 (see the late papers). This included more work on India, the Egyptian campaigns and Anglo-Zulu Wars (nowhere discussed); she helped to launch new projects in health visiting; worked on establishing female medical care for women in India (with Lady Dufferin, the vicereine): mentored nurses going to India to nurse in plague: advised on new pavilion hospitals for (Montreal, Derby, Liverpool and Berlin are examples); assisted on establishing nurse training in Germany, and, in the 1890s, Italy and France.

She also took on new subjects in this late period, such as the Rukhmabai case, defending an Indian woman who refused to consummate her (child) marriage; she wrote a campaign letter for Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian to be elected to the British Parliament, and did further work on famine prevention and relief, with attention to land ownership, tenancy, credit and taxes.

The statement that Nightingale “tried to keep up with public health matters but she was increasingly out of touch” is badly mistaken; see those later writings and correspondence with experts who sought her advice.

The entry is wrong also that “in 1889 St Thomas’ appointed a matron without consulting her or the council”; she was consulted for the appointment made in 1890, via the secretary of her Council, Henry Bonham Carter (see the Minute Book and Add Mss 47722 and 47737); she was consulted on appointments as late as 1897.

What grounds are there for the conclusion that “she failed to achieve a credible training for nurses” in her school, for which further references are given to F.B. Smith. Sources which credit her with significant accomplishments in nursing are simply omitted: Lucy Seymer, Florence Nightingale’s Nurses: The Nightingale Training School 1860-1960, and Brian Abel-Smith, A History of the Nursing Profession). For a chronology of Nightingale’s influence establishing nursing throughout Britain and the world, see McDonald, Florence Nightingale: Extending Nursing, pp. 12-22 and for a list of the hospitals which got matrons from her school, see McDonald, The Nightingale School, Appendix C.

No information is given as to what training schools did a better job; indeed significant advances in training occurred only much later, e.g. with Isabel Hampton Robb at Johns Hopkins University Hospital (Nightingale mentored her). Nightingale’s influence can be seen as well in the writing of the next two generations of nursing leaders.

Given that the bicentenary of Nightingale’s birth will be celebrated in 2020, we are keen to see adequate coverage of her work in the ODNB, an influential source, which will undoubtedly be consulted in the preparation of speeches, papers, etc. We are all too aware of the ODNB entry on Mary Seacole being used as justification for errors elsewhere, notably by English Heritage.

(Signed by 20 members of the Nightingale Society)

To Sigma Theta Tau International

Teddie Potter, PhD, RN
Riane Eisler, JD PhD(h)
Dustin Sullivan, publisher

November 13, 2016

Dear Drs Potter and Eisler and Mr Sullivan

Thank you for your response to our concerns, which, however, we find inadequate; the great problems remain, for which we provide further evidence.

We note that the material at fault is largely a repeat of Potter’s doctoral dissertation. Sadly neither her advisor or any committee member or external examiner challenged her on the numerous factual errors in the thesis (now repeated in the book), nor the inadequate referencing – no page numbers for citations from a 200-page book!

1. Autobiographies? Nightingale never wrote one, yet she is on your list; Seacole’s book might better be called a travel memoir, but is closer.

2. Your reference to Seacole’s “interest in caring for others” from before Nightingale was born. It is common for children to care for and cure dolls; Seacole was hardly exceptional in this.

3. Rushdie: we do not suggest that you should quote him on Nightingale being a whore, but question why you would quote him at all when he said that. There are thousands of books and articles on Nightingale and a substantial number on Seacole: why cite one by an author with no expertise in nursing, war, history or health, and one who has made preposterous and nasty statements about the major founder of nursing?

Racial prejudice is indeed a problem for nursing, but Rushdie is hardly the person to comment, nor is this the place to discuss the issue. Many qualified nurses could be cited if the point is to be pursued. The suggestion that Seacole was not selected because of her race misses the fact that she never applied properly, was old for nursing and lacked hospital experience. Had she applied, she might well have been rejected, but we can hardly know for what reason.

Further, the “companion” cited for rejecting her, called the “dominator hierarchy”, was not acting on Nightingale’s behalf or even knowledge. Seacole herself was cautious in her suggestion of prejudice, that “had there been a vacancy, I should not have been chosen to fill it” (Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, p 79), but the fact remains that there was no vacancy as all the nurses had left!

Seacole reports going to the Herbert house on her (belated) quest, and found many people there, including “flunkeys,” but no nurses. If she had gone in good time, she would have seen applicants arriving and leaving and even the pre-departure briefing of the second group, held on December 1. An accusation of racism is serious.

4. What evidence do you have that Seacole considered “listening to narratives to be important parts” of her care? Page number?

5. That she gave care to “Russians”: not wrong but limited to “several” on one day only, the battle of the Tchernaya, 16th of August 1855 (pp 166-7). She also snipped buttons from their greatcoats and accepted |plunder” and “trophies” from Russian churches (pp 167 and 173).

6. You again confuse officers with ordinary soldiers. Nightingale’s mission was to ordinary soldiers, Seacole’s business was for officers. Yes, her mother had a “boarding house,” and she sometimes attended “invalid officers and their wives,” meaning officers and their wives. Not soldiers, who could not have afforded the price, and were required to live in barracks, in any event.

7. “Some of Seacole’s treatments are no longer considered effective and we feel it is unrealistic to criticize 19th century caregiving based on modern standards.” Fine on your second point. But which Seacole treatments can be considered effective now and which not? She gave the ingredients for only one (p 31), which included toxic substances. Please be specific.

The fact remains that Seacole in prescribing, preparing and administering “remedies” was practising medicine and pharmacy, although without a licence in either field. This does not make her a nurse. Nightingale, at that same time, opted for a cautious approach to patients, and pointedly said that chemicals do not cure. She is the great source for reparative nursing, putting the patient in the best condition for nature to effect a cure. This is radically different from what Seacole did, and the two should not be linked together.

8. You should acknowledge that dehydration is deleterious to bowel patients, far from calling it “care and cure.”

9. Your proposed revision “While in London, she heard news reports of the terrible conditions” and went “immediately” to the War Office” is still wrong. Seacole’s memoir shows that she was motivated by “the fearful storm of the 14th of November” (p 74), news of which did not reach London until November 30 (“The Gale in the Black Sea,” 30 November 1854 Times 7A). If she had been motivated by the general bad conditions, she could have applied months earlier. But she did not – busy on her gold stocks.

10. We do not see any reference to “borrowed” money. Please give a page number. “Funds” hardly means a loan.

11. Your proposed revision “the traditional route of service was barred” yet again, implies discrimination. We have no way of knowing what would have happened if Seacole had applied. The “traditional route” might be considered the submission of the required application and letters of reference.

12. Scutari vs. Balaclava. Seacole and her business partner both knew the Crimea was the place for their business. He was already there and she was en route to join him. Her memoir states “I am bound for the front in a few days” (p 90). Yet she was fearful of finding her way to the ship at night where she was staying until departure, as she told Mrs Bracebridge. Balaclava was always her destination; it was not a last minute decision based on seeing the hospital.

13. Your revision continues to be false by its reference to “men” when her business was always for officers, a “mess-table and comfortable quarters.” Officers and soldiers do not mix socially; officers eat in separate “messes,” not with the soldiers. That the quarters were not built was a business decision, based on Soyer’s advice. See his memoir, on their meeting and his entering her hut: “No sooner had we entered than the old lady expressed her desire to consult me about what she should do to make money in her new speculation, in which she had embarked a large capital” (Soyer, Culinary Campaign 232). He advised her: “‘Lay in a good stock of hams, wines, spirits, ale and porter, sauces, pickles and a few preserves and dry vegetables–in short anything which will not spoil by keeping.’ ‘Yes,’ said she, ‘I mean to have all that.’”

The “early nursing” term continues to be misleading. Seacole NEVER identified herself as a “nurse.” Page number??? She did use “doctress” for herself often, and even, as noted earlier “doctress, nurse and ‘mother’” but “nurse” as such, no.

14. Finally, you state that your treatment of Seacole “in no way diminishes the contributions of Florence Nightingale.” Presumably not, but you do nothing to make them known. Sigma Theta Tau published a picture book of Nightingale, a very fine one, with apt, brief quotations, but to our knowledge nothing serious on her.

15. Your “expert views” are not experts but Seacole campaign boosters. Many leading nurses have joined in the campaign, but this does not make them experts? An evidence for their expertise? Peer-reviewed articles?

[ signed by 17 members of the Nightingale Society ]

To Ian Blatchford, director, The Science Museum

To: Ian Blatchford, director
Science Museum
November 13, 2016

re: Brought to Life: Exploring the History of Medicine. Mary Seacole (1805-81)

Dear Mr Blatchford

We are puzzled as to why a Science Museum would have even a short item on its web resource Exploring the History of Medicine on someone not known for any scientific achievement, Mary Seacole, fine person and celebrity that she was.

That this short entry should be laced with factual errors is astonishing. People expect a Science Museum to have a serious regard for research standards, at least basic fact checking, but your few correct points are surrounded by exaggerations and actual errors. As well, the visual chosen is misleading. It shows Seacole wearing medals she did not win, omitting that relevant point. Herewith evident factual errors.

1. You call her a “Nurse,” but Seacole did not do anything resembling nursing, nor ever claimed to have. She frequently used the term “doctress” as a descriptor, and once “doctress, nurse and mother” (in her Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, p 124). The term “nurse,” however, she reserved for Nightingale and her nurses.

2. You have her learning “medicine and nursing” from her mother, but she called her mother an “admirable doctress” (p 2), meaning a herbalist, and never mentioned learning nursing from her.

3. She “helped soldiers during the Crimean War.” Yes, but her main activity was a business serving officers, where she charged commercial prices for her fine food, wine, catering, etc. The first aid she gave to soldiers was confined to 3 days, post-battle, when she went onto the battlefield after selling wine and sandwiches to spectators. Your account makes it look like helping soldiers was her main activity.

4. Her husband was a “naval officer.” No, he was a merchant. The two ran a store together in Jamaica.

5. “She spent a lot of time nursing in Panama.” But if you look at her book, the “nursing,” was limited to outbreaks of epidemics. Her main work was a store.

6. “At the start of the Crimean War in 1853 she went to London to offer her services.” No, Turkey and Russia were at war with each other in 1853, but Britain only joined in March 1854, and the army reached the Crimea only in September 1854. Seacole went back to Panama on business after Britain declared war, and only went to London in September 1854, and that for business reasons (see her memoir, Chapter 8).

7. “Her application to join Florence Nightingale’s nursing team was turned down.” No. Nightingale had already left by the time Seacole decided that she wanted to go, too (pp 73-76). It is a bit much to say that she was turned down when she never handed in the necessary application and references. Instead, after Nightingale had left, Seacole dropped into various offices informally, seeking a post, but too late. The second team had left, too. There was no “team” to go with when she (informally) applied!

8. Instead of giving up, she went “at her own expense.” But why should anyone else pay for her? She and her partner had plans to open a business.

9. Their “roughly built hotel.” No, Seacole announced the intention of opening a “mess table with comfortable quarters” (p 81) for officers, but, on the advice of Alexis Soyer, kept the business to food, wine, catering, etc., no overnight stays. There was NO hotel.

10. The “popular canteen serving good food.” Really? Seacole’s book gives 3 chapters to the food and wine she served officers, but not a word as to what was served in the “canteen for the soldiery” (p 114).

11. “She would take mules with food, wine and medicines across country to the battlefield front lines.” Hardly: she did this on 3 occasions, dates given; you make it sound like a regular activity, when it was 3 times in a two-year war (she missed the first 3, major, battles of the war, busy in London on her business interests).

12. “She obtained special passes.” No, the day after the last battle, on the fall of Sebastopol, she got a special pass to enter the city. Once. Further, her memoir makes it clear that this expedition was largely social (p 173). She also picked up a fair bit of “plunder.” You do exaggerate!

13. She looked after “the wounded and dying on both sides.” On 3 occasions.

14. She went bankrupt by “debts run up by soldiers at the British Hotel.” No. Nor did she ever say so. They had leftover stock and could not sell it when the army returned to England. The debts at the business were unpaid bills by customers, i.e., officers and the war correspondent.

If you really wanted to pursue the “History of Medicine” theme, you might want to explore Seacole’s use of lead and mercury, her dehydration of bowel patients when rehydration is needed (not then known). She herself admitted making “lamentable blunders” in her remedies (p 31), a topic that would be worth pursuing but you do not even mention this.

Finally, the Bibliography cites only sources that praise Seacole, several of which give grossly exaggerated accounts of her work. More careful sources, which cite primary sources, are available. See Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014 and a website

Sincerely yours

[ 17 members of the Nightingale Society ]

To the Trustees of the Nightingale Museum

To: Natasha McEnroe, please forward to all Trustees
Dame Christine Beasley, chair
Professor Ian Norman, vice-chair
Jon Card
Colin Brough
Alastair Gourlay
Jonathan Rounce
Chloe Sheppard
Janet Vitmayer OBE
Baroness Mary Watkins

7 November 2016

Dear Dame Christine and Trustees

Lt Col Raugh, jr., and Major Robins have forwarded your response of October 26, 2016, to the rest of the co-signers. We appreciate your willingness to consider constructive criticism, and hence respond together, on two points.

1. The film with Helen Rappaport: none of us has been able to see it, but we question why a person would be chosen who has three publications on Nightingale/Seacole which all denigrate Nightingale, and one even accuses her of racism, and attribute false accomplishments to Seacole. Details below. Unless Rappaport apologized in the film, and retracted her published statements, we wonder why she would be given yet another platform. The fact that she is a member of the Crimean War Research Society does not absolve her from the responsibility of checking facts. Anyone can join the society, which includes many amateur historians.

2. We did not say that your material on Cavell and Soyer was inaccurate, but incomplete, omitting their significant connections, especially Soyer’s, with Nightingale. We would expect a Florence Nightingale Museum to make those interesting connections.

2001. Rappaport, Helen. An Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers. 2 vols. Santa Barbara CA: ABC Clio.

Nightingale is said to have “declined an invitation to join the London National Society for Women Suffrage in 1867″ (2:492), although she signed it, and many other petitions for the vote. (Helen Taylor thanked her for her prompt signature and Clementia Taylor sent her a receipt for her dues.)

Rappaport fell for Hugh Small’s erroneous account of Nightingale’s hospital having the highest death rates, without one table or chart or one firm statistic!. Rappoport took his speculation as fact: “But the reality of Nightingale’s sense of personal failure and despair is a far more compelling story, recently uncovered by Hugh Small.”

She is sarcastic that Nightingale was “supposedly sole pioneer of women’s nursing in Britain” (2:486-87), although Nightingale always gave great credit to other nurses, especially Mary Jones, Agnes Jones, Sarah Wardroper, A.L. Pringle and Florence Lees. Rappaport is mistaken on Nightingale’s religion, calling her Unitarian, when she was evangelical Church of England.

Rappaport’s item on Seacole in the same publication is wildly inaccurate in the other direction, “Seacole, Mary (1805-1881) Jamaica,” 2:631-3. There she credits Seacole with going to the Crimea “to pioneer the nursing of the sick and wounded during the war of 1854-1856,” Nightingale’s work! Seacole only went in the spring of 1855, to run a business.

There are unfounded statements: “For many years, Seacole’s unique contribution to the development of nursing and the treatment of tropical diseases lay buried.” What “unique contribution”? Her “remedy” for cholera included toxic substances and dehydrated the patient (WA 31).

Rappaport falsely stated that Seacole looked after “sick British soldiers at the military camp at Up-Park Town, near Kingston,” when she herself stated that she was asked to, but did not (WA 63).

False again, that, “When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, she realized her moment had come and immediately sailed for England, where she offered her services to the War Office.” Her own account shows that, when war was declared, she went back to Panama on business, went on to London in September 1854, and only began to seek a post as nurse after 2 months or more on business (WA 73-76). Hardly “immediately sailed”! A convenient Timeline is provided in a peer-reviewed article by McDonald, using sources just as available to Rappaport (“Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole on Nursing and Health Care.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 69,11 (November 2013):1436-44).

Rappaport, worse yet, portrays Nightingale as a racist who refused Seacole’s services, as had the War Office, but Seacole never properly applied: “Florence Nightingale (no doubt for the same reasons of racial prejudice) also declined her offer to join her band of nurses.” Yet Seacole’s own account shows that, when she met Nightingale, at Scutari, she asked for a bed for the night and got one; she was en route to the Crimea to start her business. The actual account, according to Seacole, reads: “‘What do you want, Mrs Seacole–anything that we can do for you? If it lies in my power, I shall be very happy’” (WA 91). Where is the racism?

Rappaport transmogrifies Seacole’s hut for serving food and wine, into a hotel with hospital: “Above the ground floor store and canteen [the canteen was in a separate hut] was a sick bay [non-existent] where she nursed the wounded, dispensed her own herbal medicines and introduced methods of nursing that emphasized cleanliness, plenty of ventilation and an abundance of her own home-cooked food.” But the food was for sale to officers, and the ventilation, in a hut!!! – it was Nightingale who emphasized ventilation. Cleanliness? Not mentioned in Seacole’s book, but there are 3 chapters on the food she sold to officers.

A picture has Seacole at the bedside of a soldier (2:632), but the only times she was at a bedside was when she was distributing magazines, Punch, to the local hospital, where Nightingale’s nurses did the nursing.

2005. “The Invitation that Never Came: Mary Seacole After the Crimea.” History Today 55,2 (February 2005):9-15.

This article has Seacole so important that the queen would want to invite her to a personal meeting, and that there could be only one rational explanation for the queen’s reluctance; someone must have turned the queen’s mind: “There is only one logical candidate to fit the latter argument: Florence Nightingale.” Rappoport invents: “At some stage the queen must, surely, have interrogated Nightingale about the celebrated Mrs Seacole.” There is not a shred of evidence for this bizarre suggestion.

It is sorry enough that the Florence Nightingale Museum did nothing to defend Nightingale when she was attacked as a racist by the BBC, but to give a platform to someone who repeated the accusation is troubling.

Detailed refutations of Hugh Small’s claims are available in peer-reviewed publications by Lynn McDonald, available on her academic website, Some years ago the director agreed to cross-link it with the Museum’s website. But this has yet to happen.

2007. No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War. London: Aurum.

In this book, Rappaport accords Seacole medals she never won, nor ever claimed to have won them (she wore them, but in her book is clear that she did not win any, and the picture of her on the cover shows no medals). Nightingale gets sarcasm: “Miss Nightingale Queens It with Absolute Power”; a picture shows the Crimean medal with 4 clasps (Alma, Balaclava, Inkermann and Sebastopol–for the siege); Seacole did not win the medal and was not even in the Crimea for the 3 battles listed, and missed the first half of the siege of Sebastopol. This is misinformation by picture, not history.

We would be happy to provide a briefing on the subject and/or to debate Rappaport or anyone else you wish at the Museum.

Sincerely yours
[signed by 17 members of the Nightingale Society]

To Dr Jeremy Farrar, director, Wellcome Trust

Dr Jeremy Farrar, OBE, FRS
director, Wellcome Trust
7 November 2016

Dear Dr Farrar,

Many years ago the Wellcome Trust sponsored research on the work of Florence Nightingale and produced some excellent material, still used by researchers. Sadly, it has done little since of use. Worse, it has now joined the ranks of the detractors, in the cause of promoting Mary Seacole. We do not at all object to celebrating Mrs Seacole’s remarkable life, or her excellent memoir, but do object strenuously to according her qualities and achievements she never had, nor ever claimed to have.

The blog post by Content Officer Julia Nurse, posted October 24 2016 on the Wellcome Library website, is wrong from beginning to end. Comments were invited and several of us posted critical comments, citing better sources. None of them has appeared.

As of midweek last week, it seems that the blog post has been withdrawn, with no information provided as to why, or for how long. We are concerned that it might be republished with only minimal changes — so much of the secondary material is plainly wrong, particularly when compared to Seacole’s own writing in Wonderful Adventures.

Herewith details of what is wrong with your material:

1. “Mary Seacole is hailed for her role in caring for sick and wounded British servicemen during the Crimean War”: but her business in the Crimea was selling food and wine to officers, and catering their dinner parties; her assistance to servicemen was scant in comparison, first aid on the battlefield for a few hours on three days (she missed the first three, major, battles of the war as she was busy in London on her gold investments). She also sold “remedies” over the counter to walk-in “patients,” but since we do not know the ingredients, cannot be sure if this was “care” or harm.

2. She made her way to the Crimea “independently … despite being refused passage by the Government of the time.” Since she never submitted an application to become an army nurse (they are at the U.K. National Archives, Kew), how could she have been accepted? She explains in her memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, why she waited for some 2 months, attending to her failing gold investments, while Nightingale and her team prepared to leave and left (pp 73-6). By the time Mrs Seacole decided she wanted to go, too, even the second group was off.

3. She had “no official” appointments to her name”: how could she have one, since she never applied and never worked as a nurse at all?

4. That “the majority” of her book is dedicated to her work in the Crimea,” yes, with a focus on the food and drinks she sold to officers, with short mentions of her first aid efforts.

4. Mrs Seacole’s father was a “Scottish lieutenant in the British Army”: she called him “a soldier of an old Scotch family” (p 1), no mention of his being a lieutenant.

5. According to her memoir, Seacole’s mother was an “admirable doctress” (p 1), but there is no mention of her teaching her daughter “traditional nursing skills.”

6. Mrs Seacole put these supposed “nursing skills” to use by “occasionally assisting at the local British army hospital.” False again; Seacole said nothing of nursing at any British Army hospital anywhere. Name one! Rather that she was asked, once, to get nurses for the local army hospital (p 63), but that she did not.

7. “She looked to the natural environment for simple curative solutions.” But in her memoir she admitted adding lead and mercury to her “remedy” for cholera, and acknowledged making “lamentable blunders” (p 31). Her “remedy” dehydrated bowel patients when the effective treatment is rehydration.

One might have thought that a medical research institution would have critically examined Seacole’s “remedies,” given that the wrong treatment for cholera – dehydration – is not merely ineffective but increases the death rate, an estimated 50 to 70%.

8. As claimed, there are references to Seacole in the London Times and the Illustrated London News, but they are not about nursing.

9. She was “refused safe passage when she volunteered her services,” a repeat error, for, by her own admission, she never properly applied, and her causal efforts were late.

10. Seacole offered “much needed care and sustenance” from her hut. Yes, there was “sustenance” for officers, wine, food, catering, at commercial prices; the “care” claim is an exaggeration as the worst of the siege was over when she arrived and set up shop, in late spring 1855, after the terrible winter from November 1854 to March 1855.

11. Elizabeth Anionwu’s statement is wrong that Mrs Seacole “was a nurse even before we had nurses.” Hardly, she ran a business and was proud of it; her business in Panama financed her trip to the Crimea. Mrs Seacole never once claimed to be a “nurse,” a term she reserved for Nightingale and her nurses. She did call herself “doctress, nurse and ‘mother’” (WA 124) not quite a job title.

12. Mention is made that Seacole rarely used opium, but none of the fact that she used lead and mercury (WA 31), which are toxic in any dose.

Further, the two visuals in the blog are misleading – both show Seacole wearing medals she did not win. (It was not then illegal to wear other people’s medals – it is now).

The “Lynne Macdonald” quoted in the blog is presumably Lynn McDonald – no source given – whose Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014, gives primary sources on these various points. For other errors on Seacole see

We urge that the blog entry be removed and an apology for circulating misinformation substituted.

Sincerely yours
[17 members of the Nightingale Society]