To Martin Jennings, designated sculptor of the Seacole statue
Dear Mr Jennings
We are writing with concern about the placement of a Mary Seacole statue, of your design, at St Thomas’ Hospital, with the designation of Seacole as “Pioneer Nurse.”
We note the fine statue of Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras Station, your work, with the claim that he “saved this glorious station,” which he no doubt did. The situation for Seacole, however, is quite different. We do not disagree with honouring her, and a statue by you would be a fine tribute, but she was not a pioneer nurse, nor ever claimed to be a nurse at all. Rather she was a businesswoman. She ran a boarding house for years in Kingston, Jamaica, and the “British Hotel” in the Panama, in fact a restaurant and store for men en route to the California gold rush, and for a year the British Hotel in the Crimean War, again a restaurant, store and takeaway service for officers, not a hotel. It did not provide nursing care or accommodation for soldiers.
Seacole called herself a “doctress,” meaning a herbalist, although what was in her remedies is not known in any detail. She did act with kindness and compassion to ordinary soldiers, in voluntary work, pro-bono, but this hardly saved “thousands” of lives as is now claimed.
Nor did Seacole win the medals claimed for her by the Seacole campaign, which you state she was “proud” to wear. She did not mention them in her Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, and the picture of her on the cover shows no medals–evidently she wore them in London later. It was not then a criminal offence to wear military medals not your own, although it would be now.
We wonder what information you were given when you prepared your design and wrote up your description.