What is believed to be the first statue in the UK to a named black woman stands in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital overlooking the Houses of Parliament.
It’s slightly controversial, for the woman depicted is Mary Seacole, who set up a “British Hotel” during the Crimea War, and while generally accepted to be a good thing, some historians do question some of the story behind what she did.
Most historians do however accept the story that a Jamaican woman hearing about the suffering of the sick and wounded traveled to Crimea and set up her British Hotel, near Balaclava, which was to be “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers”
The Special Correspondent of The Times newspaper wrote approvingly of her work: “…Mrs. Seacole…doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle-field to aid the wounded, and has earned many a poor fellow’s blessings.”
While the tales of her medical work do seem to have been exaggerated, that so many soldiers set up a fund to support her when she was nearly bankrupt shows that convalescence isn’t just about bandages and splints.
She cared for the mind at a time when the medical profession dismissed such concerns.
In 2004 a fund was set up for a permanent memorial to her after she was named the Greatest Black Briton in a public survey, and when it looked to be stalling at the £500,000 mark, Chancellor George Osborne announced that £240,000 of LIBOR banking fines would be donated to the Appeal to pay for the installation.
The sculpture itself is by Martin Jennings, and was formally unveiled in June 2014. The blowing cloak giving her stride a strong purpose against the background which is said to reflect the smokes of the Crimean battlefield.
The base is inscribed with words written in 1857 by The Times’ Crimean War correspondent, Sir William Howard Russell: “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.”
At night a single lamp illuminates the statue. It certainly doesn’t look like a Death Star. Nope, not at all.