Dear Mayor and Lambeth Councillors
Re: Site Preparation for Mary Seacole Statue at St Thomas’ Hospital
We have written earlier with concerns about this statue, not about there being one, but its placement and message that someone other than Nightingale was the “Pioneer Nurse” at St Thomas’ Hospital, where her school led in the introduction of professional nursing throughout the world.
Our first question now concerns legal responsibility. Since the money has not all been raised, yet work is going ahead, who will be responsible for paying any missing amount? Lambeth ratepayers? Or will the NHS be expected to reallocate health care money for it?
Has any consideration been given to liability for graffiti, damage, etc? We would expect that the statue, if installed there, would for a time be a place to celebrate “diversity,” as is the plan.
But truth will out. Mrs Seacole was a fine person and worthy of being celebrated, but she was only one quarter black, and never identified herself as black or African. Indeed, she praised her (three quarters) Scottish heritage and disparaged her Creole. “Blacks” and “niggers” in her writing are always other people. See for example, 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) and other not so nice references.
Her business was never a hospital, as is so often claimed, but was in effect an officers’ club. When a writer visited the Crimea years after the war he recalled seeing 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). What happens if the statue site becomes a site for drinking and drunkenness? Who is liable?