WARTIME PI­O­NEERS

Be­hind the bat­tle­fields, jour­nal­ists, chefs and sur­geons were mak­ing their mark

History of War - - CONTENTS -

MARY SEA­COLE THE HEROIC BAT­TLE­FIELD NURSE 1805-81 JA­MAICA

Born in Kingston, Ja­maica, to a Scot­tish sol­dier and a mixed-race pro­pri­etress of an of­fi­cer’s board­ing house, Sea­cole (née Grant) had an ob­scure early life. It is known that she ac­quired nurs­ing skills through her mother based on Cre­ole med­i­cal tra­di­tions that largely in­volved herbal treat­ments. She mar­ried Lord Nel­son’s god­son, Ed­win Ho­ra­tio Sea­cole, but was soon wid­owed. Sea­cole ran the fam­ily board­ing house for sev­eral years while treat­ing cases of cholera and yel­low fever. Af­ter briefly serv­ing as a nurs­ing su­per­in­ten­dent at Kingston’s Up-park Mil­i­tary Camp, Sea­cole sailed to Eng­land upon the out­break of the Crimean War.

She at­tempted to join Florence Nightin­gale’s first group of Crimean nurses but her ap­pli­ca­tion was de­clined. De­ter­mined to pro­vide her ser­vices, Sea­cole sailed to the Crimea at her own ex­pense and ar­rived at Bala­clava in Fe­bru­ary 1855. Af­ter meet­ing her hus­band’s kins­man Thomas Day, who was lo­cally in­volved in ship­ping, the pair set up the ‘Sea­cole and Day Ho­tel’ be­tween Bala­clava har­bour and the Bri­tish mil­i­tary head­quar­ters. The ho­tel housed a club for Bri­tish of­fi­cers and a hy­gienic can­teen for troops. Day re­mained at Bala­clava while Sea­cole man­aged the fa­cil­i­ties.

This in­de­pen­dence al­lowed Sea­cole to carry out solo nurs­ing mis­sions on the bat­tle­field. By June 1855 she was a fa­mil­iar fig­ure who rode for­ward with two mules car­ry­ing medicine, food and wine. Sea­cole pro­vided com­fort to the wounded and dy­ing af­ter as­saults on Sev­astopol and her care was not just ad­min­is­tered to Bri­tish sol­diers. Af­ter the Bat­tle of Chernaya in Au­gust 1855, she tended to French, Ital­ian and even Rus­sian ca­su­al­ties as well as pro­vid­ing lunch for nearby Bri­tish reg­i­ments.

Much-loved by Bri­tish sol­diers who called her ‘Mother Sea­cole’, her ex­ploits were pub­li­cised by jour­nal­ist Wil­liam Howard Rus­sell and she be­came fa­mous in Bri­tain. Al­though the Crimea left her fi­nan­cially ru­ined, she wrote a best­selling au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and her ser­vice was even­tu­ally recog­nised by the ‘Sea­cole Fund’. With pa­trons in­clud­ing the Prince of Wales, the fund al­lowed Sea­cole to live com­fort­ably in Lon­don un­til her death.

Al­though Sea­cole was largely for­got­ten dur­ing the 20th cen­tury, her heroic rep­u­ta­tion has been re­stored by re­vi­sion­ist his­to­ries. Many nurs­ing cen­tres are named af­ter her and her story is taught along­side Florence Nightin­gale’s in the Bri­tish school cur­ricu­lum.

“AF­TER THE BAT­TLE OF CHERNAYA IN AU­GUST 1855, SHE TENDED TO FRENCH, ITAL­IAN AND EVEN RUS­SIAN CA­SU­AL­TIES”

Sea­cole was posthu­mously awarded the Ja­maican Or­der of Merit in 1991 and she was voted as the great­est Black Bri­ton in 2004

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.