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Genuine Heroines - Mary Seacole

I’m a writer of honest fantasy, genuine heroines and wellness wisdom.

Genuine heroines are women who are tough, yet kind, who can rescue themselves, yet welcome the support of friends. They don’t wear bikini armour and they don’t fight hordes of baddies after three days of no sleep and no food. Inspired by genuine heroines throughout history, I write female characters with depth, complexity and passion

Therefore, I’m continuing a new series of blog posts about historical female characters who I have found inspirational. There are explorers, adventurers, healers, rights activists and world changers. These are real world characters with exceptional stories that I’m excited to share with you.

This month it's Mary Seacole – heroine of the Crimean War.

Mary was born in Jamaica in 1805, the daughter of a Scottish Lieutenant in the British army and a free black woman who owned a boarding house. Mary’s mother was a doctoress who used Caribbean and African traditional herbalism. From her, Mary learnt about the importance of good hygiene, proper ventilation, hydration, nutrition, rest, kindness and care in a role that combined midwife, masseuse, nurse, doctor and counsellor.

Mary worked in her mother’s boarding house, looking after military officers recovering from illnesses and injuries. At that time, there was a large British naval presence to protect local merchant activity and many succumbed to tropical diseases.

In her twenties, Mary stayed with relatives in London for a year and travelled throughout the Caribbean, returning to Jamaica to marry Edwin Seacole in 1836. Sadly, Edwin died eight years later.

In 1850, Mary’s brother, Edward moved to Panama to set up a hotel on the route between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of America, and a year later, Mary joined him. Shortly after she arrived, there was an outbreak of cholera (a bacterial infection which causes diarrhoea) and Mary nursed many patients, even those who could not afford to pay her. She herself caught cholera, recovering after several weeks of rest.

In 1853, Mary travelled to England, wanting to support British efforts in the Crimean War. In Jamaica, she had nursed a number of the troops which were now being redeployed to the Crimean peninsular in the Black Sea where an alliance of the United Kingdom, France, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire were fighting against the Russian Empire. Conditions even at the start of the war were terrible, with outbreaks of cholera and other diseases claiming many lives. The hospitals for the ill and wounded were unhygienic and poorly resourced.

Mary applied to the War Office to go Crimea as a nurse but was refused, so she used her own funds to ship supplies and travelled out there as a volunteer. She built the British Hotel out of salvaged materials which offered sleeping quarters, meals and an assortment of supplies, as well as medical aid. Mary often went out on to the battlefield, tending to wounded soldiers and providing food, drink and comfort. Whilst wounded troops were waiting to be shipped to hospital, sometimes as many as two hundred a day, Mary provided hot tea, a vital boost to moral.

Her combination of kindness, care and consideration to all indiscriminately, alongside her skills as a healer, whilst being an independent black woman in the 1800’s made Mary Seacole the heroine of the Crimean War.

After the War ended in 1856, Mary returned to London and published her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, a year later. She lived in Jamaica in the 1860’s before moving back to London where she died in 1881.

Mary Seacole reminds me of Lowenna who is a healer in my Ethra Born series. Her core tenets are care, compassion and contemplation. She has skills not only in herbalism and the practical skills necessary for healing illnesses and injuries, but also understands that the patient is a whole being requiring good hygiene, nutrition and comfort alongside compassion, kindness and understanding. Like Mary, Lowenna treats poor and rich equally. Mary’s a real life inspiration for fictional characters who are generous, nurturing people.

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