‘Greatest ever black Briton’ Mary Seacole celebrated with Google Doodle

14 Oct 2016

Mary Seacole statue in London. Image: David Holt/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Once forgotten nurse Mary Seacole is being honoured with a Google Doodle for her efforts to help wounded soldiers during the Crimean War in the face of racial prejudice.

When Mary Seacole was named the ‘greatest ever black Briton’ in a 2004 online poll, it marked an incredible turnaround for a historical figure who was once cast aside for nearly a century, simply because of the colour of her skin.

Born in 1805 in Jamaica to a Scottish father, Seacole would later become a nurse who used herbal medicine developed from African and Caribbean recipes. She travelled through Central America and set up the British Hotel restaurant in Panama.

Future Human

The woman behind the lady with the lamp

Seacole is perhaps best known for her part in the Crimean War of the mid-1800s, whereby she felt compelled to travel across the world to aid in the treatment of injured soldiers.

However, while Florence Nightingale is still revered as the woman who helped the sick and wounded during this period, becoming the ‘lady with the lamp’, the British Army refused to allow Seacole treat the soldiers.

Not taking this decision lightly, Seacole used her own resources to travel from England to Crimea to open another British Hotel, this time far behind the front lines near the town of Balaclava.

Once up and running, the makeshift hospital soon became very popular with the troops and officers who travelled there, to the point that she became widely known as ‘Mother Seacole’.

Also to make ends meet, Seacole sold anything and everything that soldiers might want, with the British Hotel quickly becoming the department store for a war zone far away from the homes of these British soldiers.

Mary Seacole Doodle

Image: Google

‘Legacy as an empowered healer’

Despite this, she returned to Britain after the war, practically destitute and living in poor health having largely survived on donations from veterans of the Crimean War who fondly remembered her service to them.

Dying in 1881, it is only in the last 20 years or so that she has been recognised as one of the most revered black Britons of all time, with a number of portraits and plaques donning the walls of art galleries and her home in London.

Seacole, however, does have a number of critics within the field of medicine who dismiss her abilities as a nurse, saying she was someone who comforted troops rather than healed them.

Yet she has been quoted as saying in the past: “The grateful words and smiles which rewarded me for binding up a wound or giving a cooling drink was a pleasure worth risking life for at any time.”

Now, in Britain and Ireland, she has been honoured with a Google Doodle for as an ode to her “legacy as an empowered healer and humanitarian, which will continue to live on and inspire”.

Mary Seacole statue in London. Image: David Holt/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic