Mary Seacole - George Street, London, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 30.960 W 000° 09.798
30U E 696816 N 5711023
Quick Description: This green plaque, placed by the City of Westminster to Mary Seacole, is attached to a building on the south east side of George Street near to Edgware Road.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 6/23/2014 10:57:40 AM
Waymark Code: WMKZRJ
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member Norfolk12
Views: 1

Long Description:

The plaque, placed by the City of Westminster, tells us:

City of Westminster

Mary Seacole
1805 - 1881
Jamaican nurse
heroine of the
Crimean War
lived in a house
on this site

The Portman Estate

The Spartacus Educational website tells us about Mary Seacole:

Mary Grant was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. Her father was a Scottish army officer and her mother a free black woman who ran a boarding house in Kingston. Mary's mother also treated people who become ill. She was a great believer in the herbal medicines. These medicines were based on the knowledge of slaves brought from Africa. This knowledge was passed on to Mary and later she also become a 'doctress'.

On 10th November 1836 she married, in Kingston, one of her mother's resident guests, Edwin Horatio Seacole, but she was soon widowed. According to her biographer, Alan Palmer: "With her sister, Louisa, she ran the family boarding-house for several years, supervising its reconstruction after Kingston's great fire in 1843. She nursed cases of cholera and yellow fever in Jamaica and at Las Cruces in Panama where, for more than two years, she helped her brother manage a hotel. On returning to Jamaica she was briefly nursing superintendent at Up-Park military camp."

In 1850 Kingston was hit by a cholera epidemic. Mary Seacole, used herbal medicines and other remedies including lead acetate and mercury chloride. She also dealt with a yellow fever outbreak in Jamaica. Her fame as a medical practitioner grew and she was soon carrying out operations on people suffering from knife and gunshot wounds.

Mary loved travelling and as a young woman visited the Bahamas, Haiti and Cuba. In these countries she collected details of how people used local plants and herbs to treat the sick. On one trip to Panama she helped treat people during another cholera epidemic. Mary carried out an autopsy on one victim and was therefore able to learn even more about the way the disease attacked the body.

In 1853 Russia invaded Turkey. Britain and France, concerned about the growing power of Russia, went to Turkey's aid. This conflict became known as the Crimean War. Soon after British soldiers arrived in Turkey, they began going down with cholera and malaria. Within a few weeks an estimated 8,000 men were suffering from these two diseases. At the time, disease was a far greater threat to soldiers than was the enemy. In the Crimean War, of the 21,000 soldiers who died, only 3,000 died from injuries received in battle.

Mary Seacole travelled to London to offer her services to the British Army. There was considerable prejudice against women's involvement in medicine and her offer was rejected. When The Times publicised the fact that a large number of British soldiers were dying of cholera there was a public outcry, and the government was forced to change its mind. Florence Nightingale, who had little practical experience of cholera, was chosen to take a team of thirty-nine nurses to treat the sick soldiers.

Mary Seacole's application to join Florence Nightingale's team was rejected. Mary, who had become a successful business woman in Jamaica, decided to travel to the Crimea at her own expense. She visited Florence Nightingale at her hospital at Scutari. Unwilling to accept defeat, Mary started up a business called the British Hotel but others referred to as “Mrs Seacole’s hut” a few miles from the battlefront. Here she sold food and drink to the British officers and a canteen for the soldiers.

Alan Palmer has argued: "Her independent status ensured a freedom of movement denied the formal nursing service; by June she was a familiar figure at the battle-front, riding forward with two mules in attendance, one carrying medicaments and the other food and wine. She brought medical comfort to the maimed and dying after the assault on the Redan, in which a quarter of the British force was killed or wounded, and she tended Italian, French, and Russian casualties at the Chernaya two months later."

Lady Alicia Blackwood wrote in A Narrative of Personal Experiences and Impressions during a Residence on the Bosphorous throughout the Crimean War (1881): "She (Mary Seacole) had, during the time of battle, and in the time of fearful distress, personally spared no pains and no exertion to visit the field of woe, and minister with her own hands such things as she could comfort, or alleviate the sufferings of those around her; freely giving to such as could not pay, and to many whose eyes were closing in death, from whom payment could never be expected."

William H. Russell, wrote in The Times: "In the hour of their illness, these men have found a kind and successful physician, a Mrs Seacole. She is from Kingston (Jamaica) and she doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battlefield to aid the wounded, and has earned many a poor fellow's blessing." However, Lynn MacDonald points out: "The medical treatment she gave to soldiers is easily exaggerated - her patients were all relatively healthy walk-ins. The most serious cases went to the general hospitals, the less serious to the regimental hospitals."

Whereas Florence Nightingale and her nurses were based in a hospital several miles from the front, Mary Seacole treated her patients on the battlefield. On several occasions she was found treating wounded soldiers from both sides while the battle was still going on. However, most of her time on battle days went to selling food and drink to officers and spectators.

After the war ended in 1856 Mary Seacole returned to England where she opened a canteen at Aldershot, a venture that failed through lack of funds. By November she was bankrupt. She was encouraged to write an autobiography, published by Blackwood in July 1857 as the Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole. It sold well and lived in some comfort during her final years. Mary Seacole died of apoplexy in London on 14th May, 1881.

Blue Plaque managing agency: City of Westminster

Individual Recognized: Mary Seacole

Physical Address:
147 George Street
London, United Kingdom

Web Address: [Web Link]

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