Mary Seacole statue unveiled at London ceremony
Culmination of 12-year campaign to recognise Mary Seacole’s work during the Crimean War
More than 200 years after her birth and 12 years after a campaign started to recognise her achievements, a statue to nurse heroine Mary Seacole has been unveiled in London.
To applause and loud cheers the permanent memorial to Mrs Seacole was unveiled in the garden of St Thomas’ Hospital on the banks of the River Thames.
The Jamaican-born nurse set up the British Hotel near Balaclava to provide soldiers with food and care during the Crimean War.
More than £500,000 was raised for the bronze statue, created by sculptor Martin Jennings, which is the first statue to a named black woman in the UK.
Guests at the private ceremony included England’s chief nursing officer Professor Jane Cummings, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and Baroness Floella Benjamin, who unveiled the statue.
Interview: Professor Jane Cummings
Interview: Simon Stevens
Baroness Floella Benjamin told a crowd of more than 300 people: ‘She was no ordinary human being.
‘She felt a sense of duty. She wanted to make a difference and to care for her fellow human beings.’
Mrs Seacole, who was born in 1805 and died in 1881, nursed victims of cholera outbreaks in Jamaica and Panama in the 1850s, cared for victims of a yellow fever epidemic in 1853, and supervised British Army nursing services in Jamaica.
She was named the greatest black Briton in a 2004 poll.
The Times’ Crimean War correspondent Sir William Howard Russell wrote the following words about Ms Seacole’s service during the conflict, which have been inscribed on a memorial disc at the back of the statue:
‘I trust that England will not forget one who nursed her sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead.’
Courage and determination
Sir Hugh Taylor, chair of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, which runs St Thomas’ Hospital, said: ‘We are proud to be hosting this statue of a remarkable woman. She was a person of courage and determination.’
The lengthy campaign for the statue faced a number of challenges, according to Professor Elizabeth Anionwu, vice-chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal.
Interview: Professor Elizabeth Anionwu
Professor Anionwu, emeritus professor of nursing at the University of West London, said a ramping up of fundraising was hampered by the recession.
Construction costs also rose by £180,000 last year.
Professor Anionwu said: ‘It has taken 12 and a half long years. It has probably aged us at times.
‘There was one day I must have looked really old. I was talking with my granddaughter who posed this question to me: “did you nurse with Mary Seacole?”
‘At times it felt that I was on the battlefields.’
Angelina Kennedy, a nurse and midwife at St Thomas’ said: ‘It is a very poignant statue. The fact the statue is here, it will always be a reminder to us working in St Thomas’.’
A new charity, the Mary Seacole Trust, is to be established to promote the nurse’s legacy in schools and communities.
A commemorative book, detailing the campaign and the creation of the statute, will also soon be available here.