by Albert Charles Challen
Mary Jane Seacole (née Grant) (1805-1881), Jamaican nurse, adventurer and writer
Mary Seacole is best known for her nursing work in the Crimean War, but before these events made her famous, she had already led an adventurous life. She was the daughter of a Scottish army officer and a free black woman who ran a boarding house in Kingston, Jamaica. In 1851 Mary journeyed by steamer, train and paddleboat to Panama to join her brother at his hotel nearby. Within a few months she had founded a lodging house of her own, the British Hotel. It was little more than a hut, but she transformed it into a restaurant for fifty diners. The town was on the overland route to the Pacific for men joining the Californian Gold Rush, and there was a steady stream of travellers passing through. She returned to Jamaica in late 1852; within two years she had arrived in London on her way to the Crimea.
On display in Room 23 at the
National Portrait Gallery
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