CHOLERA: an infectious disease of the small intestine that results in diarrhoea, vomiting, and cramps. It is spread through contaminated water and food.
CRIMEAN WAR: a military confrontation between 1854 and 1856, in which England, France, and Turkey declared war on Russia over a conflict of the Holy Land. Fighting took place in the Crimean Peninsula just to the north of the Black Sea.
DYSENTERY: an infectious disease which causes inflammation of the large intestine, resulting in severe diarrhoea, vomiting, and cramps. It is generally spread through contaminated water and food.
YELLOW FEVER: an infectious disease, spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can result in death
In 1871, Count Gleichen, the nephew of Queen Victoria, carved a bust sculpture in Mary Seacole’s honour.
Caribbean Icons in STI Volume 2
Mary Seacole was a dedicated nurse and a great humanitarian. Though less famous than Florence Nightingale, she was a heroine who risked her life to treat soldiers in the Crimean War, as well as victims of cholera and yellow fever in the Caribbean and Central America.
Mary Grant was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. She got her love of nursing from her mother, who was knowledgeable about folk medicine and cures, and had built Blundell Hall in Kingston, where she nursed arm officers and yellow fever patient. From the age of 12, she began to help her mother. As a teenager, she travelled to many countries, collecting information on plants and herbs used as medicine, and developed her own cures.
In 1836, she married Edwin Seacole. In 1843, fire destroyed Blundell Hall. Although it was rebuilt, this was followed by a greater tragedy when Seacole’s husband and mother passed away the following year. Seacole took charge of the new Blundell Hall and continued her mother’s nursing mission.
During a cholera outbreak in Jamaica in 1850, which killed over 32,000 people, Seacole saved many lives using simple herbal medicines, and became highly respected for her treatments. She also treated cholera victims in Panama and yellow fever patients in Jamaica and Cuba. On hearing about the Crimean War in which many soldiers were dying from cholera and dysentery, she applied to join Florence Nightingale’s contingent, but was rejected because of the racial prejudice at the time. In 1855, at age 50, she used her own resources to open the British Hotel in Crimea to treat injured soldiers. The hotel, which was built in two months, became a refuge for soldiers on both sides of the conflict. So courageous and committed was “Mother Seacole” that she often went onto the battlefield to attend to the wounded.
At the end of the war, Seacole returned to London deeply in debt, but the British Commander-in-Chief of the Crimean forces, in gratitude for her humanitarianism, helped her financially. Seacole’s outstanding work earned her great recognition. Several buildings in the UK and Caribbean have been named to honour her, and the Government of Jamaica awarded her the Order of Merit.
Mary Seacole died in England on 14th May, 1881 at the age of 76.