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)