To Michael Gentles and Lance Hylton, Postal Corporation of Jamaica

To Michael Gentles and Lance Hylton, Postal Corporation of Jamaica

Mr Michael Gentles, Postmaster General/CEO
Mr Lance Hylton, chairman
Postal Corporation of Jamaica
Central Sorting Office
6-10 South Camp Road
Kingston, Jamaica

Dear Mr Hylton and Mr Gentles

We are writing you with concerns about the stamps commemorating Mary Seacole. We do not at all oppose her being honoured with the issuing of commemorative stamps, but the inaccurate information on several of them. She should be celebrated for her own merits, but for some years now flagrantly false information has circulated about her. Several of the false statements are clearly contradicted by what she said herself in her memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, a commendable book still worth reading!

1991 two stamps. One is thoroughly wrong, depicting Seacole in a nurse’s uniform at the bedside of a soldier at the Scutari Barrack Hospital, the main hospital nursed by Nightingale and her team. Mrs Seacole in her memoir described visiting there one day, and having a brief (about 5 minutes) interview with Nightingale, when she asked her for a bed for the night, as she was leaving the following morning for Balaclava. (Her business partner was waiting for her there and their supplies were en route.) Nightingale found a bed for her and had breakfast sent to her. Seacole’s memoir records the encounter (pp 89-91), which clearly shows that she never nursed at that hospital (it is not a mistake in hospital name, but Seacole did no hospital nursing at all, nor ever wore a hospital uniform).

The reference work which reproduces the 1991 stamp, “Mary Seacole Nursing in Hospital in Scutari,” explicitly states that Seacole “did not participate in the care of any of the wounded soldiers in Scutari, as portrayed on the Jamaican stamp issued in 1991” (Susanne Stevenhoved, “Mary Grant Seacole,” Six Hundred Women and One Man: Nurses on Stamps 33).

It was Nightingale’s mission to provide care for ordinary soldiers; Seacole was a businesswoman running a restaurant, bar, takeaway and store for officers, with a “canteen for the soldiery” (Wonderful Adventures 114), function not specified, on the side. Mrs Seacole is known for her kindness to soldiers, which is praiseworthy, but should not be confused with providing nursing care, which she did not, nor ever said she did.

2005 four stamps. The $70 stamp has a portrait of Seacole by Challen, wearing 3 medals, with pictures of 4 medals beside it: the French Legion of Honour, the British Crimea Medal, the Turkish Order of the Medjidie, and the Jamaican Order of Merit, this last the only medal she was actually awarded (posthumously). The other 3 are myths. Seacole herself never claimed in her memoir to have won any medals, and the picture of her on the cover shows her without medals. She began to wear medals post-Crimea, for the first time at her bankruptcy court appearance in November 1856, presumably to attract sympathy. It was not then illegal in the U.K. to wear other persons’ military medals, although it has been since 1955. Seacole also had her portrait painted, photographs taken and her bust sculpted wearing medals, again not illegal. However to reproduce those depictions now without explanation is highly misleading.

The simple facts are that Seacole was not eligible for any of the 3 medals she is usually shown with, for she was not in the military. The Crimea medal was a service medal, for officers and soldiers only, present at particular battles (see John Horsley Mayo, Medals and Decorations of the British Army and Navy vol. 2 Crimea). The British Army sent in nominations for the Turkish and French medals, which were awarded by senior officers on behalf of those governments. They were then, in effect, military medals.

The $30 stamp, “Herbal remedies and medicines,” is innocently misleading. Seacole, as well as using herbal remedies, also added toxic substances such as mercury and lead, which she considered effective but which are now known to be harmful.

We would appreciate hearing from you why these erroneous portrayals were decided on. The stamps are history now, and cannot be undone, but we would ask you to modify your website to give an accurate account.

The Jamaican Order of Merit is inscribed, as can be seen on your $70 stamp, “He that does truth comes into the light.” We hope that you will agree with us that Jamaica owes Seacole both truth and light.

Yours sincerely