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COMING HOME: Mary Seacole

4 January - 12 March 2021

Virtual loan
Brent Museums and Archives, London

Mary Seacole
by Albert Charles Challen
1869
NPG 6856

Mary Seacole was born in 1805 in Kingston, Jamaica, to a Scottish father and a Jamaican mother. She acquired a knowledge of traditional Jamaican medicine from her mother, and of European medical practices during a trip to England when she was still a young woman.

Following the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853, Mary funded her own trip to Crimea (now part of the Ukraine) where she established The British Hotel. This served as an officer’s club, a canteen for soldiers and a base for her medical practices. She also tended the wounded and provided refreshments to those on the battlefront. She became known as Mother Seacole.

Mary died in 1881 and was buried in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green. Despite the fame she had enjoyed during her lifetime, Mary was largely forgotten in Britain for almost one-hundred years, until her grave was rediscovered in the 1970s. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit (1991) and voted the greatest black Briton (2004). In 2016, a memorial statue of Mary Seacole was unveiled in the gardens of St Thomas’s Hospital; the UK’s first in honour of a named black woman.

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