In the early 19th century, the question of colour was a major issue in Jamaica. Early researchers have commented that in order to fully understand Mary Seacole’s achievements, her work must be measured against the time in which she lived and the restrictions under which she had to operate. In 1807, two years after her birth, Britain had abolished the slave trade, but the institution of slavery persisted. In order to enjoy civil rights, in Jamaican society at this time, colour was all important and throughout her childhood and for the rest of her life, Mary would have been aware of its relevance. Read more
Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole defeated all the odds to tend to wounded soldiers on both sides during the Crimean War; not only was she female but also of mixed race and, in the divisive days of slaves and free blacks, funded her own journey to the Crimea after being turned down by Florence Nightingale.
Having distinguished herself in the campaign for her medicinal skills and bravery, Seacole was honoured alongside Nightingale but was then forgotten for almost a century.
However, Trinidad-born Ron Ramdin has brought her back to life in his book Mary Seacole, now an e-book, brought to you by HopeRoad Publishing and in 2004 Mary was voted the Greatest Black Briton.
Such is the renewed popularity of Seacole that, following a vote taken by Lambeth’s planning application committee to allow a floodlit statue in the St Thomas’ Hospital garden, she will be the first black woman to have a named memorial in the United Kingdom.
As Ramdin himself says in the book: “Given that Victorian Britain was securely founded upon a combination of race, class and colour, it was incredible that Mary got as far as she did.”
Ramdin tells it as it is. He rightly reports she was a plain-speaking woman who lived an adventurous life. . . . This account contains important lessons for those of us who care, and demonstrates why she was voted the greatest black Briton in 2004. (Sarah Mullaly Church Times)