[Many thanks to Veerle Poupeye for sharing this item via Critical.Caribbean.Art.] The full title of this article is “Mary Seacole—A Jamaican/British Face on a new 50-pound banknote; what better way to atone for Windrush indiscretions.” For full article go to Jamaica Global Online. Here are excerpts:
In the pantheon of Jamaican heroic figures, the name Mary Seacole is rarely, if ever mentioned. True, there is a hall of residence for ladies on the Mona campus, Jamaica of the University of the West Indies named after her and the front entrance of the Institute of Jamaica is graced with a plaque in her honour as well as housing the replica of a terra cotta bust said to be sculpted by Queen Victoria’s nephew Count Gleichen. The Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) memorializes her with a portrait on the outside wall of its Headquarters at 72 Arnold Road in Kingston and in 1963 acquired its own bust which rests in the foyer of its headquarters. Mary Seacole is remembered by the NAJ once a year when its members observe International Nurses Day alongside her nemesis that ‘other lady with the lamp’ Florence Nightingale. In 1991, Mary Seacole was awarded Jamaica’s third highest national honour, Order of Merit (0.M.) but otherwise remains on the fringes of Jamaican history.
Contrast that with the recognition given to Mary Seacole and the gratitude shown by her ‘second country’, Great Britain, beginning with the immediate years after the end of the Crimean War when she returned from nursing British soldiers at the battlefront, broke and penniless. Mary was not only feted with a 4-day fundraising gala attended by 80,000 persons, but was provided with a government pension for life. Since then, Britain has memorialized her by:
Erecting a statue in her honour mounted on the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital at Westminster, London. The statue looks towards the river Thames, facing the Parliament buildings. She is the first named black woman to be honoured with a statue.
- A blue identification plaque mounted on her home in London
- Having her portrait hung in the National Portrait Gallery
- Including Mary Seacole in the school curriculum ensuring that she is studied by every school child in Britain
- The Royal College of Nursing recognizing her contribution to British nursing by publicly declaring her to be on the same footing as Florence Nightingale.
- In a 2004 poll Mary Seacole was voted the greatest Black Briton of all time.
Mary Seacole might have achieved fame and recognition ‘in foreign lands’ but she was Jamaican to the core and proud of her Jamaican heritage. Professor Verene Shepherd of the University of the West Indies points out that Mrs Seacole never at any time denied her black heritage. Referring to her haughty and proud portrait that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, Helen Rappaport the leading researcher on the life and legacy of Mary Seacole, points to the red scarf she wears in the painting as signifying her pride in her Jamaican background. Mary Seacole’s skills as a healer were honed at the feet of her mixed-race Jamaican mother and her early experiences in tending to the ill and injured came from practicing at her mother’s lodging house and nursing home in Kingston.
According to Helen Rappaport:
“Mary’s skills and compassion as caregiver certainly define her in our modern-day terms as a nurse, but in fact in the Jamaican tradition from which she sprang, she was not a nurse but a physician cum pharmacist cum surgeon in the creole ‘eclectic’ herbal tradition”. (See: “The Creole Doctress of Jamaica” at https://helen rappaport.com/mary-seacole-black-victorian-history).
It must not be forgotten that born in 1805 when the majority of her countrymen and women still suffered under the yolk of slavery, Mary spent the first 45 years or the greatest portion of her life in Jamaica before starting out on her travels in 1851. Even after settling in England at the end of the Crimean war, Mary travelled regularly to Jamaica during the decade of the 1860s. It is against the background of what Britain has done to honour Mary Seacole that Jamaica’s efforts must be measured.
Mary Seacole Hall at the UWI is the one institution where the memory of Mary Seacole is not only sacred but is always present. As part of their initiation, all Seacolites learn about the proud legacy after whom their residence is named and the ladies who reside there are also constantly exposed to the qualities for which Mary Seacole was known and which they are expected to emulate as part of their character building experience. [. . .]