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Extra History: Season 11

Mary Seacole 2016

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  • 2016-01-09T16:00:00Z on YouTube
  • 10 mins
  • 20 mins (2 episodes)
  • United States
  • English
  • Animation, Documentary, History
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Mary Seacole and the Crimean War.

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2 episodes

11x01 Mary Seacole - A Bold Front to Fortune

  • Season Premiere

    2016-01-09T16:00:00Z — 10 mins

Mary Seacole treated soldiers during the Crimean War - but she took a long path to get there. She grew up in Jamaica, the daughter of a local hotel owner and a Scottish soldier. She admired her doctress mother and wanted to be like her, but she also yearned to travel and see the world. In 1821 she accepted a relative's invitation to visit London, and turned herself from a tourist to a businesswoman by importing Jamaican food preserves. She traveled with her business for several years before returning home to Jamaica, where she married a white man named Edwin Seacole and started a general store. Their venture failed, and disaster struck: fire destroyed most of Kingstown, and both Mary's husband and her mother died in 1843. Mary survived and rebuilt the hotel, but she set out to start a new life in Panama and was immediately greeted by a cholera epidemic. She helped contain it, and earned a reputation that helped her start her own business across the street from her half-brother's. When word reached her that the Crimean War back in Europe needed nurses, she left her business behind and went to sign up. Both the War Office and Florence Nightingale's expedition rejected her, but Mary determined to find her own way there.

Unable to find any official sponsors, Mary Seacole decided to send herself to the Crimea. She recruited her husband's cousin, a fellow business person, and the two of them set off for the war zone. Unlike London, where she'd met a chilly reception, Mary's help was welcomed by the overworked doctors and suffering soldiers. She built a new version of her British Hotel and invited officers to dine or shop there, using their money to buy medical supplies and creature comforts for the poorer soldiers. She had set herself up next to the army camp, and during battles she helped provide emergency care. But when at last the city of Sevastopol fell, Mary's medical services were no longer in much demand. She enjoyed a few months of prosperity as the soldiers celebrated their newfound time off, but in March of 1856, a treaty was signed and troops began returning home. Many of them left unpaid debts, and Mary could no longer sell her supplies, so she and her business partner were forced to return home to London and declare bankruptcy. When that news got out, the soldiers she'd cared for rallied to her aid, donating money to help pay her debts. Although Mary tried to continue serving soldiers in warzones, the government never recognized her and in the end, only her homeland of Jamaica remembered her contributions after her death. In the 2000s, her story came back to light in the United Kingdom and she was recognized in 2004 as the Greatest Black Briton.

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