Archive for September, 2016

To the Chief Executive, English Heritage

Chief Executive, English Heritage
September 2016

Your Blue Plaques information on Mary Seacole is flagrantly wrong, from beginning to end, grossly overstating her achievements. By contrast, your very brief statement on Nightingale is an understatement of what she did.

Profession Nurse, Reformer of nursing organisation (yes, but Nightingale was the major founder of the profession, not merely a reform of nursing organisation — what organisation was there to reform before her? she was also a hospital reformer and pioneer in statistical presentation, the first woman fellow of the Royal Statistical Society).

Seacole, Profession Nurse, but she was a boarding house keeper, restaurant and bar owner, caterer; it is the current propaganda that she was a nurse, but where and when did she nurse? She never claimed to have in her memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, 1857.

Category: Medicine. Mrs Seacole called herself “doctress, nurse and mother” (p 124). However, the only remedy for which she gave the ingredients show that she used toxic substances (lead and mercury) and dehydrated bowel patients (p 31), when they need rehydration. No doctor in the Crimean War ever let her into any army hospital. Her memoir includes a letter from a late medical officer of the West Granada, Gold mining Company (p 77). Doctors’ memoirs from the Crimea refer to her in positive terms, for her store and restaurant — some were her customers — but not as a medical colleague or nurse.

2. Pioneer Nurse and heroine? What did she pioneer? Heroine? Again, this is an exaggeration of her 3 excursions onto the battlefield, all post-battle (she missed the first 3, major, battles of the war as she was busy with her gold mining stocks in London when it started).

3. More details. Medical Experiences? What? Daughter of a Scottish army officer? Her memoir only says that her father was a soldier (p 1). Her husband claimed to have been a godson of Lord Nelson, but was he? Any evidence? Biographer Jane Robinson tried to document this, unsuccessfully (Mary Seacole, Charismatic Black Nurse, pp 30-31).

4. The picture you use shows Seacole wearing medals, without any explanation that they were not hers. Misleading.

5. The Crimea. Seacole did not leave for England from the Caribbean “on hearing of the outbreak of the Crimea War.” She was in Panama, with a business for men going to the California Gold Rush. She left for London months later to attend to her (failing) gold stocks, and spent 2 months there on this, as she explained in her memoir. Nightingale and her team left on October 20 1854, the second team on December 2. Mrs Seacole missed both departures.

6. Reports of “her tending the wounded while under fire” are again exaggerations. She was seen by the Times correspondent, W.H. Russell, meaning that he, too, was on the battlefield getting stories, also post-battle.

7. Seacole’s “outstanding stocks” was the result of a bad business decision, on her part and that of her business partner’s, neither claimed otherwise. They were doing well after the last battle, on 8 September 1855, so that officers had plenty of time for dining out and excursions, which she catered.

8. That Seacole ”mixed increasingly with royalty” is entirely unfounded. She may or may not have been a masseuse to the Princess of Wales — there is no evidence that she was. She was sculpted by Count Gleichen, and the Queen contributed to the fund to support her, but there no evidence of socializing with any members of the royal family, unless you found some?

9. Her Wonderful Adventures is a fine memoir. Consulting it would set you straight on the above errors. Further details on common errors on the portrayal of Mrs Seacole can be found in Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole, The Making of the Myth, 2014, and

Sincerely yours (co-signed by 16 members)

From Dame Christine Beasley, Chair, Florence Nightingale Museum

Dear Professor McDonald,

Thank you for your letter, which the Board and I read with interest. We always welcome constructive criticism from members of the Nightingale community, or indeed from any of our visitors.

To answer a few of your points:

The museum shop:

We offer a changing range of books, which usually includes those of FN’s own writings which are available and in print, Notes on Nursing and Notes on Hospitals are especially popular. We do not sell any DVDs and have not for five years – in general, people don’t use DVDs anymore, tending to use digital formats instead.

The Workhouse exhibition:

The reason for having this exhibition was specifically because of FN’s wonderful work with pauper nursing. I am surprised you found no Nightingale associations when you visited this exhibition. Nightingale’s work on workhouses and also on statistics are areas of particular interest to our visitors.


We offer a free lecture on FN and her life weekly, something we find very popular with our visitors, as well as guided tours and talks for booked groups. Our changing events programme tends to be themed, so this summer has focussed on the collaboration with Great Ormond Street, another major London hospital with a fascinating collection of Peter Pan memorabilia. Our next season is examining male identity of soldiers in the Crimean war through their facial hair. You might like to look at the website for details.

Thank you in particular for your comments of suggested alterations and additions on the website. You will have realised the website is new, we launched it in April this year, and re-writing and tweaking is still ongoing. I am sure you realise that with a small team, who have many calls on their time, this can be a slow process.

I note that the Nightingale Society posts up its correspondence on their website. The Board of Trustees and I are very happy for this reply to be added alongside your original letter, if you think this would be of interest.

Best wishes, and we hope to welcome you and your colleagues at the museum when you are all next in the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Dame Christine Beasley
Natasha McEnroe, Director

To Florence Nightingale Museum trustees

Dame Christine Beasley, chair
Professor Ian Norman
Jonathan Card
Colin Brough
Alastair Gourlay
Jonathan Rounce, CA
Chloe Sheppard
Janet Vitmayer, OBE
Baroness Mary Watkins
copy: Natasha McEnroe, director

Dear Florence Nightingale Museum Trustees

We write with concerns about the poor coverage of Florence Nightingale at the Museum and its trend of becoming a Mary Seacole Museum. We understand the difficulties, with Sir Hugh Taylor avidly promoting the Mary Seacole myth, and the Museum being dependent on the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust for its space. Nonetheless, it is a Nightingale museum for charitable status purposes; people have given money, time and effort to set it up and maintain it.

Herewith some specifics, beginning with Nightingale:

The FN Museum website. Edith Cavell is on the Museum’s website, but with no mention of her connection with Nightingale (she trained at a hospital whose matron Nightingale mentored; she was night superintendent at one where Nightingale not only mentored the matron, but got professional nursing started and a better building built).

Alexis Soyer is also on the Museum’s website, but with only passing mention of Nightingale, yet he worked with her nearly every day for a year on improving nutrition, and wrote much about her in his memoir.

Since this is a Nightingale museum, should not the connections be made?

The bookstore. Last checked, the only book by Nightingale it had available was a bad edition (the only bad edition) of her Notes on Nursing, nothing on her very strong later work. The bookstore has in the past (is it now still?) even sold the BBC film that badly misrepresented her (even opposing the vote for women, when she supported it). Nightingale did excellent work, which deserves to be celebrated – why fall for the cheap shots?

Children’s presentations: some trivialize Nightingale–“my house had 14 bedrooms”; the BBC “documentary,” which portrays Nightingale as a racist (so fallacious the BBC Trustees required it to be removed) has been shown as entertainment. Instead, the Museum should have protested it! It should not sell or use anti-Nightingale material. If you can come up with legitimate, negative, material, do say what.

Exhibitions: understandably, the Museum has to put on numerous exhibitions and they will not all concern Nightingale. However, when the subject does concern Nightingale, no mention is made. The Workhouse exhibition the Museum put on did not mention Nightingale at all, yet workhouse reform generally, and workhouse infirmary nursing reform particularly, were major Nightingale causes, and she was enormously successful. This is part of NHS history. Why not be proud of it?

Lectures: a lot feature Seacole supporters. When was Nightingale last featured? What plans are there for Nightingale material now?

Website on Seacole: it has much material that is simply, factually, wrong, and can be seen to be wrong by consulting Seacole’s own fine memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. It credits her with a cure for cholera, but fails to mention that she added lead and mercury to her “remedies” and admitted “lamentable blunders” (see WA, 31). Her “remedies” indeed would have made bowel patients worse off: emetics, purging and blistering all dehydrate, when cholera and other bowel patients need rehydration.

Your website claims that Seacole had a successful cure for yellow fever, with picked medical herbs; any evidence for its success? What was it?

She stated in her memoir that she was asked to provide nurses to the army hospital at Kingston, but she did not. So why credit her with doing something she did not do?

Nor was she “often in attendance at sick wharf.” She generously and kindly did go to the wharf and gave hot tea to soldiers waiting transport, but that was only while she was waiting for her huts to be built (she was living on a nearby boat). She did not continue this when her business opened.

Your website states: “She stayed in Balaclava as long as the troops were there.” No, nor a claim she made; Nightingale stayed at her hospital until the last soldier was discharged.

You have Seacole giving away “any profit she made,” a total fiction, nor did she ever say this. (Where?) She and her business partner both acknowledged a business error–they restocked lavishly expecting the troops (and the officers, their customers) to stay longer in the Crimea. “My restaurant was always full” (p 178), as Mrs Seacole put it. When the peace treaty was signed, the army went home. They lost their officer customers and the Russians would not buy the stock.

We would be happy to meet with you to provide a briefing on Nightingale and Seacole. We would be happy to debate with Seacole issues any Seacole supporters you care to name: Sir Hugh Taylor, Martin Jennings, Lord Soley! How about it?

Sincerely yours

[14 members of the Nightingale Society]

To Mosby/Elsevier Publishing

September 6, 2016


We write with concern over errors in three books of yours so extreme that they amount to historical falsification. They concern the portrayal of Jamaican businesswoman Mary Seacole as a pioneer nurse and war heroine, in effect the equal of Florence Nightingale, who was, in fact, the major founder of the modern nursing profession and an important contributor to statistics, public health and hospital reform. Mosby is a major, and highly respected, publisher of works in nursing and healthcare, which makes errors of this sort even more regrettable.

The most egregious errors are in a chapter in Cherry and Jacob’s Contemporary Nursing: Issues, Trends and management, 6th edition 2013 and a 7th planned for 2017, and Kindle, Amelia Broussard and Elaine E. Ridgeway’s “The Evolution of Professional Nursing,” 1-11 and Jacob’s “The Evolution of Professional Nursing.” The book also gives too much credit to Nightingale in some places (details available, if desired).

Unit 1 p3: “Important Events in the Evolution of Nursing. 1854: During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale transforms the image of nursing. Mary Seacole nursed with Nightingale in the war.” Nightingale changed more than the “image of nursing.” Seacole is the only other person listed, as if she were the second most important nurse in the world, although she did not nurse with Nightingale, or with anyone else during that war. Name one! Rather, she ran a business, selling food, wine and catering for officers (described in 3 chapters in her book).

An ill-informed source is cited, Carnegie, who seems never to have seen Seacole’s own book on her life. Carnegie was an eminent American nursing leader, but not a historian.

P 11: Mary Seacole, “Mary Seacole, a black nurse from Jamaica, British West Indies, also played a major role in the Crimean War. After being denied the opportunity to join Nightingale’s nursing brigade, Seacole built and opened a lodging house with her own money. Seacole had extensive knowledge and experience in tropical medicine and believed she could make a contribution to the control and cure of the cholera epidemic. She arranged the rooms on the upper floor of her house into a hospital ward where she kept medicines that she formulated from herbs and natural plants (Carnegie, 1991).

At the end of each day, after caring for sick and wounded soldiers, Seacole then would walk to the Barracks Hospital and volunteer her nursing services to Nightingale. The two nurses worked side by side, each with a lamp in hand, giving care and saving lives. Seacole was honoured by the Jamaican government and the British Commonwealth for saving the lives of countless soldiers wounded in the Crimean War and the lives of thousands of others with cholera, yellow fever, malaria and diarrhea (Carnegie, 1991).”

The section is entirely wrong. Professor McDonald sent an email to Dr Cherry 11 August 2016 outlining the errors (see below). She responded with concern about accuracy, but so far, without either acknowledging the errors or answering with adequate sources. The section is so bad as to require retraction, with an explanation in the preface that it was based on faulty sources.

2. Current Issues in Nursing edited by Perle Slavik Cowen and Sue Moorhead, in numerous editions (2006 to 2014) and Kindle. The late Dr Cowen was and Dr Moorhead is a respected academic, but they are wrong.

Seacole, a Jamaican businesswoman, did not travel from Jamaica to England to volunteer as a nurse, but was in England to see to her unsuccessful gold-mining stocks (she had been running a business in Panama). She did not have letters of support from British army doctors, nor ever claimed to have (in her book, she cited one from a gold-mining company doctor (WA, 77). She did not practise with any doctors, also clear in her book. Name one!

Florence Nightingale did not turn her down twice to be a nurse. Seacole described one, brief, friendly, meeting between them (p. 91) when she was en route to the Crimea to start her business. She was turned down in her casual applications to various offices in London, but then she never submitted the required written application, with references, and she had had no hospital experience.

Nightingale had already left for the war when Seacole started to look for a post. The second team had likely already left, too. Seacole frankly describes being occupied, for two months at least, with her gold stocks (p. 74).

Mrs Seacole did not open a restaurant and clinic for soldiers. Her restaurant was for officers only. There was no second floor “health care clinic.” Huts don’t have second floors. She made it clear that no one stayed over night, and the business closed Sundays.

For her medicines she admitted adding lead acetate and calomel (mercury chloride) to her cholera “remedy” (p. 31), deleterious substances.

Seacole could not have worked every night at Nightingale’s hospital, which was 300 miles away across the Black Sea. Her own account is rather tame. Her store by evening was filled with “customers wanting stores, dinners and luncheons, loungers and idlers making conversation and amusement.” At 8 o’clock she closed it, “and I could sit down and eat at leisure … Anyone who came after that time came simply as a friend” (p. 145).

Nightingale neither turned her down as a nurse, nor worked with her as a nurse; Mrs Seacole did first aid work on the side, post-battle, on precisely three occasions. Her main function, which was greatly appreciated, was as the proprietress of a restaurant/bar/store/takeaway/catering service for officers.

See Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, 2014, for better sources, and for other problems in the Seacole literature, see

3. There is a lesser erroneous section in Lillian DeYoung, Dynamics of Nursing.

14: “Over the years little or nothing was known about nurses other than Miss Nightingale who served in the Crimean War. Jamaica’s national heroine in that war was Mary Seacole, who died in London in 1881.” This is to accept as fact that Seacole served as a nurse in that war, when, by her own account, she ran a business for officers, selling wine, foods, and catering dinner parties.

“With her own funds went to the Crimea to serve. Florence Nightingale kept her waiting 40 minutes, so Mary Seacole went about visiting the sick and wounded. Miss Nightingale rebuked her as one who was “interfering.” Any source for this? Nightingale was busy running the nursing of the hospital and getting in needed supplies.

According to Seacole’s own book, she asked to meet with Nightingale after visiting men she knew in Jamaica (WA, 88). She recorded an amicable meeting with Nightingale, far from a rebuke: “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). What is the source for “interfering”?

“A historian of the war wrote in 1902” (which of the two authors and illustrator was the historian?) “Even in an enlightened century Mother Seacole stands out preeminent and cannot be passed over.”

The passage goes on to state: “She had the secret of a recipe for cholera and dysentery, and liberally dispensed the specific.” However, the ingredients she gave in her book, show her adding lead and mercury to the “remedy,” already heavy on emetics, purging and blistering, or dehydrating bowel patients. Exactly the wrong thing to do: oral rehydration therapy keeps the death rate low. Seacole herself acknowledged “lamentable blunders” (WA, 31).

Seacole was careful in describing her suspicions about racial discrimination playing a role in her being “rejected,” since she was well aware that she had missed the boat: Nightingale and her team had left in October 1854 and she only began her (informal) applications after November 30. “Deprived of services”? But she never submitted an application. The business plan she formed was not for “the sick” in general, or soldiers, but “to establish a mess table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers” (WA, 81).


[14 members of the Nightingale Society]

To Sir Hugh Taylor, chair, NHS Foundation Trust

Sir Hugh Taylor, chair, NHS Foundation Trust
September 2, 2016

Dear Sir Hugh

We are concerned about your statement at the Mary Seacole statue unveiling on June 30 2016, not only because of your demeaning treatment of two adult women – Seacole and Nightingale – to whom you referred by their first names, but to the still unexplained “pioneer” status you accord to Seacole. What did she pioneer? How is her work relevant to nurses or other health professionals, as you claim? We have asked several times.

A new problem. You state that the Seacole charity is “educational” in its “primary purpose” and that it will be “working closely with the Florence Nightingale Museum.” However, since the Seacole campaign is responsible for much misinformation on the subject, we do not see how it can contribute anything “educational.” Are you requiring the Museum to change its terms of reference to add Seacole propaganda? It is supposed to support research on Nightingale.

Until and unless you or they can state clearly what Seacole actually contributed to nursing, we have to assume propaganda is the goal, not education. To our knowledge, Seacole did not nurse one day in her life in any U.K. hospital, or in any hospital in Jamaica, Panama or the Crimea for that matter. She did not write one book or paper on nursing, did not teach or mentor one nurse. How then can she be taught along with Nightingale at the Museum?

Yours sincerely

[16 members of the Nightingale Society]