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Fundraising problems may delay Mary Seacole statue


A cash shortfall is threatening to delay the planned unveiling of a statue to commemorate nursing pioneer Mary Seacole this autumn.

Lord Clive Soley, chair of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal, has warned that funding is needed “urgently” to keep the project timetable on track.

“We are still £70,000 short of the necessary funds to ensure the unveiling goes ahead as planned this year”

Clive Soley

The statue is due to be unveiled in the grounds of St Thomas’ hospital in London, opposite the Houses of Parliament. It would be the first statue of a named black woman in the UK.

Lord Soley launched the long-running statue appeal back in November 2003.

He said: “I have found it very difficult to raise funds for a statue and I have been working at it with a dedicated group of trustees since 2003.

“We have raised over £400,000 in cash or kind since 2003, but we are still £70,000 short of the necessary funds to ensure the unveiling goes ahead as planned this year,” he said.

He noted that much of the money raised so far had come from small contributions, from individual nurses and others, suggesting that the project was suffering from a lack of more major donors.

“If we don’t get the outstanding amount within the next few weeks, work on the statue will come to a halt and delay the unveiling for at least six months and possibly longer,” warned Lord Soley in a statement issued on 14 May.

“We need contributions urgently,” he said. “Everything is in place for a truly memorable event in the early autumn.”

The planned design would see a bronze statue backed by a large bronze disc, standing on a plinth made of slate and Portland stone.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole was a contemporary of Florence Nightingale, though her work has often been overshadowed by the latter.

She went to the battlefields of the Crimea in 1855, where she set up the British Hotel close to the war zone.

From here she provided soldiers with food and nursing care, and was also known for riding to the frontline to treat the sick and wounded of both sides on the battlefields.


Readers' comments (3)

  • At the risk of being very unpopular, may I point out that Florence Nightingale is remembered for setting up her School of Nursing rather than her work in Crimea where the hospitals had high mortality rates.

    Mary Seacole did not, as far as I can see, promote the development of nursing or healthcare after the war ended.

    The difference in the public standing between the two is not based on colour of their skin

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  • I agree. The press often become confused over the facts. Miss Nightingale was not a nurse, she was a brilliant administrator and lobbyist with good contacts and got things done.
    In particular she introduced infection control and applied this to St Thomas Hospital design of wards, the Nightingale wards, and setting up the nursing school.
    Ms Seacole also did excellent work and was an enthusiastic comforter of souls. There are many versions of her methods not all approving but at least she looked after and cared for many soldiers when there was little else being done for them.
    Miss Nightingale refused to have Ms Seacole on her team to the Crimea so Ms Seacole went anyway. It is odd to have her statue at St Thomas' when I do not think she was there, although no reason not to recognise a pioneer in her time.
    I did train at the Nightingale school so had access to and was taught some of these facts about these 2 important women.

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  • The story on “Fundraising Problems” (18 May 2015) reproduces several of the key points of misinformation of the Mary Seacole campaign.
    1. The statue will hardly be the first of a “black woman” (see below on “black”), for there already is one of Seacole, in Paddington, near to where she lived.
    2. Her establishment, the “British Hotel” was for officers, effectively a club, for fine wines, champagne, sherry, meals, or a servant could go and pick up the same for the officer. This is all perfectly clear in her book.
    3. Seacole’s business included a “canteen for the soldiery,” which was not for food or nursing care. She did give care to walk-in “patients,” who could be either officers or soldiers, wanting her herbal remedies (ingredients unknown).
    4. The one remedy for which she specified the ingredients was for cholera, and it included lead acetate and mercury chloride, and other dehydrating substances--exactly the opposite for what is needed in cholera. “Nursing care”??
    5. Treating the “sick and wounded” on the battlefield? Again this is false. Mrs Seacole described going onto the battlefield on precisely 3 occasions, always post-battle. One time she mentioned helping “several” Russians. Yes, she was kind, no doubt! But why exaggerate? The “sick” in any event are not on the battlefield. Battles were over in a few hours, hardly any time to get sick. On battle days, according to her own memoir, Seacole spent most of her time selling food and wine to spectators. That was her business.
    6. Then there is the “black woman” problem: Mrs Seacole was three quarters white, had a white husband, white business partner and white clientele. She called herself “yellow” to indicate her fair complexion. Any time she referred to “blacks” in her memoir, they were other people. For example, her “good-for-nothing black cooks,” and her “grinning black” barber; her maid was black. Note also statement that if her skin “had been as dark as any nigger’s....”
    One of the comments on the article repeats misinformation about Nightingale, that she “refused” to have Seacole on her “nursing team.” Not so, nor did Seacole ever say so. In her memoir Seacole gave a cordial description of her one meeting with Nightingale, for about 5 minutes, when she asked her for a bed for the night and got one--she was en route to the Crimea to start her business. Her memoir also makes clear that Nightingale and her team had already left for the war before Seacole even decided to try to go.
    Should there be another statue of Seacole? Why not? She lived a remarkable, independent life and left a lively memoir of it still well worth reading. But she was not a nurse in any normal sense of the word, certainly she did not nurse one day in a hospital anywhere. She had nothing to do with St Thomas’ Hospital, home of the Nightingale School, the first nursing school in the world, and the source of the trained nurses that went out to establish the new profession in many other cities and countries.
    Where should a second Seacole statue be? Why not Brixton, where her Seacole relatives lived, that is, the family of her late husband, who was English. One of those relatives-by- marriage was a “Florence Seacole Kent,” born in 1861. The name suggests a happy association, as do all of Seacole’s references to Nightingale.
    For a fuller refutation of misinformation on Seacole, see (my) Lynn McDonald, Mary Seacole: The Making of the Myth, Iguana Publishing 2014. See also a website

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