Faking history: this picture shows Mrs Seacole as a young nurse in a nurse's uniform--she never wore one as she was never a nurse

Faking history: this picture shows Mrs Seacole as a young nurse in a nurse’s uniform–she never wore one as she was never a nurse

There are (at least) twelve books available on the life of Mary Seacole geared to children. All of them are wildly wrong on the facts, while not lacking in enthusiasm or praise for their subject. Most have vivid illustrations, but again these typically relay the mythical Mary Seacole, notably as a uniformed hospital nurse. Several have good context in them, but fail on the core material as to what Seacole actually did. Here is a brief overview, in alphabetical order, of what is wrong with the available resources for teaching on Seacole:

Castor, Harriet. Mary Seacole. New York: Franklin Watts 1999.
This book has an especially dishonest cover, depicting a young Seacole in a blue and white nurse’s uniform, looking after a wounded soldier at his bedside (not something she ever claimed to have done in her book). The fictions continue with Seacole searching “the battlefields for wounded and dying men, even while the guns were still firing,” again quite beyond her own description of aid offered (on three occasions, to be precise).
The book credits both Seacole and Nightingale with saving “many soldiers’ lives,” but regrets that Nightingale became more famous, the result of her being white and rich, not the scale of her contribution, according to Castor, who did not acknowledge any significant work that Nightingale did.
Collicott, Sylvia. Mary Seacole. Aylesbury Bucks: Ginn 1992.

Hospital nurse fake: here Mrs Seacole is shown nursing a soldier in a hospital--which she never did--nor did she ever wear a hospital uniform. She was a businesswoman with a restaurant/bar, not a nurse.

Hospital nurse fake: here Mrs Seacole is shown nursing a soldier in a hospital–which she never did–nor did she ever wear a hospital uniform. She was a businesswoman with a restaurant/bar, not a nurse.

(See comments on her 2003 book)
Collicott, Sylvia L. The Story of Mary Seacole. London: Macmillan Education 2003.
This is one of the most erroneous children’s books, although it claims, on the inside cover, to tell the “true story” of Mary Seacole. Nightingale is not mentioned in it, but her work is attributed to Seacole. It makes Seacole out to be a reformer, travelling to many countries to make things better. There is no mention of her acknowledging “blunders,” but she is constantly referred to as a good nurse. The tale has officers in London turning Seacole down for a nurse’s job (not her story, or one for which there is any evidence).
The book has Seacole in the Crimea building a kitchen “so that she could cook good for the soldiers,” then a place where they “could eat their food,” although she herself described a hut that served as a restaurant/bar/catering service for officers, not soldiers, who could not have paid her prices. Nor did ordinary soldiers socialize with officers.
Next Collicott has Seacole (fictionally) building “a hospital near her kitchen so that she could treat the soldiers’ wounds and diseases.” Seacole herself is portrayed as young and slim–just the thing for a hard working nurse, but she was middle-aged and stout in reality, as a restaurant proprietress and cook would often be.

Another fake: Mrs Seacole is wearing a nurse's uniform like that worn (later) by Nightingale nurses, but she never wore a uniform as she was not a nurse.

Another fake: Mrs Seacole is wearing a nurse’s uniform like that worn (later) by Nightingale nurses, but she never wore a uniform as she was not a nurse.

Cooke, Trish and Axworthy, Anni. Hoorah for Mary Seacole. Franklin Watts 2007.
The book cover shows Seacole on the battlefield, wearing a white, nurse’s type hat (not her usual bonnet with ribbons), with an apron, giving water to a bandaged soldier, not a scene she ever described in her own memoir.
Godwin, Sam. Mary Seacole: A Story from the Crimean War. London: Hodder Wayland 2001.
This book likens Seacole to Nightingale. It shows Seacole as a nurse, wearing a white bonnet looking after a soldier on the battlefield.
The book is purely fictional, with an invented child, Omar, who is befriended by Seacole, but it has the trappings of being a history book by beginning with a Timeline, which is largely correct, and a Glossary, which is correct, but the story in between is mainly (not all) invented!
Harrison, Paul. Who Was Mary Seacole? London: Wayland 2007.
Seacole’s kindness to soldiers is yet again exaggerated into feats of bravery on the battlefield. Her hut, which served food and drink to officers, became “a boarding house, canteen and a general store where troops could buy supplies.” A picture has Seacole at the bedside of a soldier, although she never worked in an army hospital. While, after the war, Nightingale was invited to Balmoral Castle to meet Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Harrison has Seacole meeting them, indeed becoming friends and meeting often!
Huntley, Eric L. Two Lives: Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. London: Bogle-L’Ouverture 1993.
The book (erroneously) puts Seacole in charge of medical staff in Jamaica when the yellow fever broke out in 1853. The errors continue into the Crimean War and go on to have her being awarded three medals after the war.
Lynch, Emma. The Life of Mary Seacole. Oxford: Heinemann 2006.
This book fictionalizes Seacole in many respects, having her run “a shop, a restaurant and a small hospital ”where she “nursed the soldiers from 5 a.m. until midday, ”after which she worked in the store until 8 p.m.” It also has her working with doctors, and names W.H. Russell, the war correspondent, as a doctor. Seacole is said to have given “food and drinks to soldiers on their way into battle,” not a claim she ever made.
The fictions continue post-Crimea, to Seacole raising the status of nursing, work which Nightingale did. Lynch only gave passing mention to Nightingale as “a famous British nurse who helped in the Crimean War.” It shows a picture of “the first training school for British nurses,” Nightingale’s, but does not say it was hers!
Malam, John. Mary Seacole. London: Evans Brothers 1999.
Businesswoman Seacole becomes “one of the first true nurses” in this book. Seacole is said to have been given medals in London for her war work, but was unfortunately left out of the Crimean memorial in Waterloo Place (the statues of Florence Nightingale and Sidney Herbert are there).
Moorcroft, Christine and Magnusson, Magnus. Mary Seacole 1805-1881. London: Channel Four Learning Ltd 1998.
This book has some excellent historical background, but mythologizes Seacole from the cover on (which has her in a blue and white nurse’s uniform, at the bedside of a wounded soldier). The fictional story of her going to London to volunteer is told, but she is turned down. What she did in the war is greatly embellished, up to the false claim of medals being awarded to her for her work. There is a picture of two medals, but she won none.
Nightingale gets a mention as “a well-known nurse who was also in the Crimea.”
Ridley, Sarah. Mary Seacole: and the Crimean War. London: Franklin Watts 2009.
The book cover shows a Seacole photograph wearing three medals. It is in the series History Makers. Apart from numerous petty errors, the book incorrectly asserts that Seacole “sold food, useful goods and hot meals, and rented rooms to people. She nursed the soldiers’ wounds and treated their illnesses” (15). It does not disparage Nightingale’s role but embellishes Seacole’s: “Mary treated the sick wherever she could. Sometimes she packed up food and medicines and went to the battlefields to care for wounded soldiers.” A picture of nuns on the battlefield (they were not) states that Seacole “like these nuns,” nursed wounded soldiers on the battlefield. It has her serving “Christmas lunch” to soldiers at her business (19), when in fact her meals were for officers, and at a high price.
Vincent, Denis and De la Mare, Michael. Mary Seacole. London: Macmillan Education 1990.
Seacole is featured on the cover wearing a blue and white nurse’s uniform. There are such errors of fact as misdating the Crimean War (the British and French declared war in March 1854 and invaded in September; the book starts the war in 1853). Seacole’s hut becomes a place where ordinary soldiers could get free food and medicine and inpatient care (ignoring the obvious constraint that the British Army had over 20,000 men in the Crimea). Seacole even prepares special food for the ill (actually something done in Nightingale’s Extra Diet Kitchens). Seacole is described as “often” being on the battlefield, treating Russians as well as the allies (she gave examples of “several” Russians assisted, on one day only). The book errs in having Seacole allowed “sometimes” to go into the hospitals to nurse, although she herself made it clear that the doctors did not allow her inside (except that anyone could visit). While officers raised money for Seacole’s retirement, the book credits ordinary soldiers. It has her dying in Jamaica, when she died in London (her last years were comfortable, thanks to the money raised by officers).
Williams, Brian. The Life and World of Mary Seacole. Oxford: Heinemann 2003.
This author has since published a second edition of the book (next below). The cover of this book has a fine portrait of Seacole proudly wearing three medals, none of which she won.
Williams, Brian. Mary Seacole. Harlow: Heinemann 2009.
There is some good background in this book, but a lot that is simply dead wrong. Seacole did not write to the war minister (the author also makes Mr Herbert into Sir Sidney) for a job, and never submitted the required written application. She did not pack and take ship when she heard about the war, but proceeded to Panama on the gold business. The book is off about soldiers having to steal their food as the army did not provide it–the army did, however not nutritious food–a matter Nightingale worked to change. Seacole’s hut was for luxury items for officers, for sale at prices ordinary soldiers could not afford. Seacole did not hand out food and drinks to soldiers as they marched off to battle (she missed the three most important ones), but sold food and drinks to spectators (at three later battles). The book frequently shows Seacole wearing medals she did not win, and explicitly says, incorrectly, that she won three.