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Mary Jane Seacole (Grant)

Also Known As: "Mother Seacole"
Birthplace: Kingston, St. Andrew Parish, Jamaica
Death: May 14, 1881 (75)
Paddington, London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom (Apoplexy)
Place of Burial: Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Lt. James Grant and Rebecca Grant
Wife of Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole
Ex-partner of Col. Bunbury
Mother of Sally Seacole
Sister of Eliza Louisa Smith
Half sister of Edward Ambleton

Occupation: Pioneer Nurse, Hotelier, Boarding House Keeper, Author, World Traveller
Managed by: Kenneth Kwame Welsh, (C)
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Mary Seacole

Mary Jane Seacole was a Jamaican woman who set up the British Hotel behind the lines during the Crimean War. She described this as "a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers", and provided succour for wounded servicemen on the battlefield. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004 she was voted the greatest black Briton.

Mary Jane Seacole was a mixed-race British nurse. Born in Jamaica, she operated boarding houses in Panama and Crimea while simultaneously treating the sick. Seacole was taught herbal remedies and folk medicine by her mother. Always of a nomadic disposition, on hearing of the terrible conditions of the Crimean War and certain that her knowledge of tropical medicine would be of use, she travelled to London and volunteered as a nurse. Although an expert at dealing with cholera, her application to join Florence Nightingale's team was rejected. She then borrowed money to make the 4,000 mile journey alone. On arrival she distinguished herself, treating the wounded on the battlefield. On many occasions treating wounded soldiers from both sides while under fire whereas Florence Nightingale and her nurses were based in a hospital in Turkey. Following the cessation of hostilities in 1856 she found herself stranded and almost destitute, and was saved from penury by the Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces Lord Rokeby who organized a benefit.

Seacole was lauded in her lifetime, alongside Florence Nightingale, but after her death was forgotten for almost 100 years. Today she is noted not only for her bravery and medical skills but as "a woman who succeeded despite the racial prejudice of influential sections of Victorian society" Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), a vivid account of her life and experiences, is one of the earliest autobiographies by a black woman.

Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica as Mary Grant, the daughter of a white Scottish officer in the British Army and a free Jamaican Creole woman. Seacole's mother was a "doctress", a healer who used traditional Caribbean and African herbal remedies. She ran Blundell Hall, a boarding house at 7 East Street in Kingston, at the lower end of the road closer to the harbour, and, at the time, one of the best hotels in Kingston. Many of the residents were invalid Europeans, particularly soldiers and sailors, often suffering from the endemic yellow fever caught soon after their arrival in the tropics. Here Seacole acquired her nursing skills. She records early experiments, imitating her mother by ministering to a doll, progressing to domestic pets, before finally helping her mother to treat human beings.

Seacole was proud of her Scottish ancestry, calling herself a "Creole", a term which at the time was used most commonly either in a racially neutral sense or to refer to the offspring of white settlers. Legally, she would have been classified as a " mulatto", a person of mixed race with limited political rights. Robinson speculates that she may technically have been a " quadroon". Seacole emphasises several times her personal vigour, distancing herself from the contemporary stereotype of the "lazy Creole". However, she also proclaims to be "proud of [her] relationship" with black American slaves demonstrated by the "few shades deeper brown upon [her] skin". ( Cont. Wikipedia ). ( no longer exists, (


History is written by those in power at the time. Once Mrs. Seacole's supporters and admirers died, there was no one to keep her name alive. On the other hand, Florence Nightingale had a school named after her and left behind a large body of literature including her Notes on Nursing which was almost a bible for nursing well into the 1900s. These things helped to perpetuate her memory. It was a strange coincidence that these two women who were motivated by the same need to serve were contemporaries. Unfortunately for Mary Seacole, Florence Nightingale fitted the Victorian idea of a heroine better than she did. One could ask whether it is more important to be a doer or a thinker, or in this case, an administrator or a bedside nurse. Mary Grant Seacole rose about the barriers of racial prejudice and demonstrated determinism, compassion, and caring and is a fitting role model for both blacks and non-blacks. There is much to admire in both of these women who had different roles in nursing but the same goal. Although forgotten for many years, Mrs. Seacole has been rediscovered

According to one article she met her husband who was a guest in her mother's home. They were married 8 years before her husband died. Her mother was also of mixed race. According to the article she had a sister also who worked with their mother.


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Mary Seacole's Timeline

November 23, 1805
Kingston, St. Andrew Parish, Jamaica
Kingston, Jamaica
May 14, 1881
Age 75
Paddington, London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom