Peter Kay has forwarded a story about another step in the deification of Mary Seacole. Please say if you agree to co-sign the following two letters:
(1) to all MPs, and (2) to the Governor of the Bank of England. We have written the MP who first proposed Seacole for the banknote–no answer received.
If you wish to co-sign, simply send an email in return saying yes to both, or which.
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?
Mark Carney, governor
Bank of England
London EC1R 8AH
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.
- “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.
- “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.
- 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.
- 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.