Mary Grant in 1805 in Kingston, Jamaica
MARY JANE SEACOLE was
a heroine of the Crimean War and a Jamaican nurse. She was born Mary Grant in 1805 in
Kingston, Jamaica. Her father was a Scottish military officer and her mother a Jamaican. Her
mother was also a healer and ran a boarding house for the recovering officers.
Mary was well educated and she was a skilled nurse. When the Crimean War broke out, she
traveled to London and applied to go to Crimea to tend to the wounded soldiers but she was
not granted an interview by the British War Office. She then applied to Elizabeth Herbert,
the wife of the secretary of state for war who was recruiting nurses for the war effort, but
was again denied an interview and after some time received a letter of rejection. Britain,
apparently, was not ready to welcome a black nurse.
Not one to give in
easily, Mary travelled on her own initiative and in 1856 established the British Hotel near
Balaclava, using her own monies in order to provide ‘mess-table and comfortable quarters for
sick and convalescent officers’. She spent many hours on the battlefield attending the
After the war, Mary
Seacole was bankrupt, but her story was carried by the British press and money was raised by
subscription to pay off her debts.
In 1857, she published The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. The book was
a great success and Mary Seacole became a popular figure. She spent the rest of her life
travelling and working between London and Kingston. She was awarded the Crimean Medal, the
French Legion of Honour and a Turkish medal.
Mary Seacole died in 1881.