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Seacole, Mary Jane (1805 –1881)

Mary Jane Grant Seacole was an early nurse in the British Empire during the 19th Century. Born in Kingston, Jamaica as Mary Grant, she was the daughter of a Scottish officer and a black mother. Mary’s mother ran a hospital/boarding house in Kingston and she, after a brief period as a servant, returned to her family home and worked alongside her mother. It was during this period that Marys skills as a nurse were first recognised and she spent a good deal of time travelling throughout the Caribbean providing care.  Mary Jane Grant married Edwin Seacole in 1836 but he died eight years later.

In 1850, Mary Seacole resided briefly in Panama with her half brother, Edward, where they ran a hotel for travelers bound for Gold Rush California. Seacoles reputation as a nurse grew as she provided care for these mostly American travelers during several outbreaks of cholera.

In 1853, when Great Britain declared war on Russia, initiating the Crimean War, Seacole traveled to England to offer her services. The British government and the Crimean Fund initially rejected her offer of assistance. An old friend and distant relative, Thomas Day, however, provided Seacole with the necessary funds to travel to the Crimea and set up a hospital and boarding house for convalescing officers.  In the 1850s Crimea was part of the Russian Empire.  After the break up of the Soviet Union, it became part of Ukraine and only in 2014 was it annexed to Russia again.

On arrival in Turkey, Seacole sought out Florence Nightingale and offered her services. Nightingale refused but Seacole continued on to the Crimea despite having no official support.  When she arrived in the Crimea she constructed her hotel near the British lines surrounding Sevastopol out of driftwood and packing crates and opened its doors in March 1855. The “British Hotel” as it was called, soon thrived.

Nightingale continued her unfriendliness to Seacoles efforts.  She later described the hotel as no better than a brothel because Seacole, without outside funds, sold alcohol

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