History hoax on a banknote? Letter to Westminster MPs

Dear MP

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?

Yours sincerely
[members of the Nightingale Society]