Honouring her fearless determination to care for wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War in the 19th Century, campaigners can now breathe a huge, satisfied sigh. Britain has finally recognised the contribution made by black and ethnic minority people throughout British history in the bronze tribute to Mrs. Seacole, which was unveiled by actress and broadcaster Baroness Floella Benjamin.
It stands in a place of prominence opposite the Houses of Parliament in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital. Created by sculptor Martin Jennings, the bronze also features a memorial disc, inscribed with words written in 1857 by The Times’ Crimean War correspondent, Sir William Howard Russell:
“I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.”
Lord Clive Soley, Chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal said, “We are very grateful to everyone who has supported the statue. We look forward to finally granting Mary Seacole the acknowledgement she deserves for her selfless support of British soldiers. The statue will be a fantastic new landmark on the South Bank providing much needed recognition of the contribution black and ethnic minorities have made throughout British history and a celebration of the UK’s diversity.”
Mary Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805 to a Scottish soldier and a Jamaican mother, who kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers, and from whom she learnt her nursing skills.
She married Edwin Seacole in 1836, who died 8 years later, prompting her to travel widely and live briefly at 14 Soho Square in the 1850s. Whilst there, she offered her services to the War Office to be sent to Crimea as an army nurse. She was refused, but made her way to the Front anyway. Once there, she set up the “British Hotel” to help sick and convalescent officers. She soon became known as Mother Seacole, as she also nursed the wounded on the battlefield, sometimes under the hail of gunfire, and earned a reputation which rivalled that of Florence Nightingale. She eventually died in 1881.
In the lead up to today’s historic event, a small group of Florence Nightingale experts and fans protested Seacole’s tribute being placed in the grounds of the hospital where Nightingale established her nursing school, fearing that it deflected attention from its rightful place – on The Lady of The Lamp. They also protested her reputation, claiming that she doesn’t deserve to be called a nurse or a British icon at all. The claims were given credence by The Daily Mail. It is true that Seacole never worked at the hospital. But, Nightingale has a statue at the Crimean War memorial near Buckingham Palace.
Ex-Education Minister and the man who thinks he should be PRIME Minister, Michael Gove, attempted to remove Seacole from the national curriculum in 2013, but was forced to back down. This possibly led to George Osbourne pledging £240,000 from the Treasury raised from Libor banking fines to help pay for the installation, last November.
Sculptor Jennings is immensely proud of his work, and said, “Her expression is determined and energetic. She was a strong person and I wanted to express that in her statue… I’d encourage people to come and see it at dusk, when it is illuminated and the circle of the bronze disc behind her echoes the circle of the clock on Big Ben.”
You heard the man! We can can all make sure it becomes a tourist attraction one of these days.
Congratulations to all involved.
Words by @