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  • Writer's pictureHayley Jackson

Famous Brit of the Week #82 - Mary Seacole

This week's Famous Brits Assemblies can only be about Mary Seacole, who was a British-Jamaican nurse, healer and businesswoman. Mary set up the "British Hotel" behind the lines during the Crimean War, which she described as "a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers", and nursed many of them back to health. She had met the most famous nurse in history Florence Nightingale for 5 minutes during the Crimean War. Mary showed "compassion, skills and bravery while nursing soldiers during the Crimean War", through the use of herbal remedies. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991.

Mary Seacole relied on her skill and experience as a healer and a female doctor from Jamaica. Schools of nursing in England were only set up after the Crimean war, the first being the Florence Nightingale Training School, in 1860 at St Thomas' Hospital in London.

Mary wanted to help with nursing the wounded on the outbreak of the Crimean War, Seacole applied to the War Office to be included among the nursing contingent but was refused, so she travelled independently and set up her hotel and tended to the battlefield wounded. She became popular among service personnel, who raised money for her when she faced destitution after the war.

In 1858 a four-day Fundraising Gala took place on the banks of the river Thames, to honour Mary Seacole. Crowds of about 80,000 attended, including veterans, their families and Royalty.

After her death she was largely forgotten for almost a century, but was subsequently recognised for her success as a woman. The erection of a statue of her at St Thomas' Hospital, London, on 30 June 2016, describing her as a "pioneer", has generated controversy and opposition from Nightingale enthusiasts, as they say she wasn't officially a nurse.

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