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St Thomas’ Hospital

Perhaps the most flagrant source of misinformation is the statement issued by the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, “Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Update,” described as “Status: A Paper for Information” (written by Karen Sorensen, head of Policy and Strategy, presented by Steve McGuire, director, Capital Estates Facilities and IT&T, for a meeting of the Board of Directors 20 July 2011). Its most inaccurate statements are:

2.0 Mary Seacole - History

"Mary looked after the victims of a yellow fever epidemic in 1853 and the British army asked her to supervise nursing services at their headquarters in Kingston” (no references given) and the statement is at the least an exaggeration; Seacole described her work on the yellow fever epidemic in dismal terms of inability to help, stating only that she was “sent for by the medical authorities” to a camp near Kingston, Up-Park, that she did her best, “but it was little we could do to mitigate the severity of the epidemic” (WA 63).

The “History” is wrong also on the Crimean period, stating that “In 1853 war broke out in the Crimea” (in fact the French and British armies invaded the Crimea in September 1854), “and the following year Mary set up the British Hotel” (it opened in March 1855). “Here she provided soldiers with accommodation, food and nursing care.” However, the British Hotel did no such thing, nor did Seacole say it did. Her original intention was to provide a “mess table” and store for officers (WA 81, for which she gave many details in Chapter 14), and a “canteen” for soldiers (WA 114); it provided accommodation for no one. Seacole never claimed to have provided nursing care at it, but met “patients” at her store to sell them her herbal remedies (WA 125).

Further, “In acknowledgement of her courage and compassion during the war, she received four medals, including the Crimean Medal and the Légion d’Honneur.” Seacole, however, received no medals, nor did she claim to have received any. Biographer Jane Robinson looked for documentation of the awarding of any medals, and could find none. She concluded that “it is more likely that Mary ‘distinguished’ herself” (Robinson 2005 167). Seacole we know wore the medals,, but there was nothing illegal in wearing other people’s medals at that time (there is now)..

The decision to accept a Seacole statue on the grounds of the hospital was made unilaterally, without consultation with those most connected with the site, such as nurses trained at the Nightingale School, current nurses, doctors and other employees, Friends of the Florence Nightingale Museum, and visitors to St Thomas’ from around the world who associate the hospital with Nightingale as the founder of nursing. Nor were persons knowledgeable about Nightingale’s and Seacole’s very different roles and connection with St Thomas’ consulted.

The chair of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ board at the time, Patricia Moberly, promised to keep the board informed as discussions with the Seacole statue campaign proceeded, but did not. Decisions were made behind closed doors, without due process. Letters sent to the current chair of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation, pointing out these errors, go answered. (See Correspondence on the Seacole statue.)

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