‘Contains important lessons for those of us who care, and demonstrates why she was voted the greatest black Briton’
Mary Seacole’s remarkable life began in Jamaica, where she was born a ‘free person,’ the daughter of a black mother and white Scottish army officer. Ron Ramdin – who, like Seacole, was born in the Caribbean and emigrated to the UK – tells the remarkable story of a woman celebrated today as a pioneering nurse. But Seacole’s time in the Crimea, for which she is best-known, was only the pinnacle of a life of adventure and travel.
Refused permission to serve as an army nurse, Seacole took the remarkable step of funding her own journey to the Crimean battlefront and there, in the face of sometimes harsh opposition, she established a hotel for wounded soldiers. Unlike Florence Nightingale – whose exploits saw her venerated as the ‘lady with the lamp’ for generations afterwards – Seacole cared for soldiers perilously close to the fighting.
Her short-lived fame back in Britain was the work of soldiers and the press who campaigned to have her exploits acknowledged. Her book, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, became a bestseller. Then she was forgotten, dying 25-years later in obscurity, and unjustly written out of history for over a century.
RON RAMDIN is a historian, biographer and novelist. His previous books include The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain (2017, Verso). He lives in London.