Rt Hon George Osborne, PC, MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer
November 30, 2015
Dear Mr Osborne
The massive grant to the Mary Seacole statue is misplaced in three important respects: (1) Seacole was not a nurse, let alone a “Pioneer Nurse,” nor ever claimed to be one (in her book, “nurses” are Nightingale and her nurses); (2) the place is wrong, as St Thomas’ Hospital was for more than a century the home of the Nightingale School of Nursing, the first professional training school in the world, from which pioneers went out to bring the standards of the new profession to other countries. (3) It was Nightingale, not Seacole, who prepared briefs for committees, wrote and met with MPs and Cabinet ministers to press for reforms in nursing and health care.The process was flawed from the beginning. The Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust promised consultation on the statue, then made its decision without any (or consultation with an expert), behind closed doors. The high-circulation journal of the Royal College of Nursing, the Nursing Standard, does not permit articles critical of claims made by the campaign.
Mrs Seacole was an admirable, generous businesswoman, who deserves celebration. She should not, however, be credited with the work of another person. You should insist on a different site for the statue. Mrs Wendy Mathews, a Lambeth resident and former governor at St Thomas’ made a proposal at the Lambeth planning committee meetings.
How well she represents “black Britons” will likely be seriously challenged in coming years. She was three quarters white and proud of her Scots heritage; she had a white husband, white business partner and white clientele. She called herself a “yellow doctress,” not a “black nurse.” She employed blacks: two cooks, her porter and maid.
The Memorial Garden is a fine idea. However, it should not be associated with Seacole, who ran a business for officers, for profit, during the Crimean War, not a hospital for British soldiers, as is often incorrectly claimed. Did she put herself in “harm’s way”? According to her memoir, she went onto the battlefield three times during the war (she missed the first three battles as she was busy in London attending to her gold investments). The dates are in her book, as are the details of her sales of wine and sandwiches to spectators. Her forays onto the battlefield were post-battle, as noted by the Times correspondent, who was also on the battlefield, post-battle, to write up his stories.
Mrs Seacole was an honourable person who does not deserve to made a laughing stock. The statue as currently conceived will become known as a “History Hoax,” site for the giving out of History Hoax awards.
[14 members of the Nightingale Society]