Mary Seacole voted the greatest Black
Nurse is greatest Black Briton
Ignored by history books, Mary Seacole wins survey to celebrate UK's black
Tuesday February 10, 2004
A little-known nurse who tended soldiers alongside Florence Nightingale in
the Crimean war has been voted the greatest black Briton.
Mary Seacole's contribution was ignored by the history books but recognised
yesterday when she was named the winner of a survey to celebrate the UK's
black heritage, beating stars such as Naomi Campbell, Lennox Lewis and Ms
The internet vote was organised by Patrick Vernon in response to the absence
of black people in the top 100 of the BBC's Greatest Briton poll.
"Mary Seacole is one of black history's unsung heroines," he said. "She made
her way independently to nurse soldiers in the Crimean war, despite being
refused passage by the government.
"Her contribution to nursing is as important, if not more so, than Florence
Nightingale's, but very few people have ever heard of her."
Seacole was born to a Scottish father and Jamaican mother in Kingston in
1805, and came to England in the 1850s after building her reputation as a
When she heard of the plight of the soldiers in the Crimean war she volunteered to help, but was turned down.
Undeterred, Seacole made the journey and was eventually awarded a Crimean
medal for her work. She died in obscurity in 1881.
Speaking after the award ceremony at the National Army Museum in London,
the president of the Royal College of Nursing, Sylvia Denton, said: "This is
wonderful news. Mary Seacole stood against prejudices and discrimination
against all the odds.
"We believe that Mary deserves a statue in London to commemorate her important place in nursing history."
Mr Vernon said the poll was part of a campaign to provide role models for
black Britons of all ages, particularly children. "We have been here since
the Roman times and there are many positive role models which are overlooked
in the history taught at schools," he said. "It is vital that important black Britons be given a more prominent standing in teaching if history is
going to accurately reflect the past."
One surprise candidate was St George of England, who was born in Turkey and
is of African descent. Mr Vernon said: "Many people are not aware of the
fact that St George was black. Most paintings depict him as white."
Lee Jasper, the policy director for the London mayor and race advisor to the
Metropolitan police, who came 57th on the list, said it was important to
reflect the long, rich and varied histories of black people in the UK.
"We are often acknowledged for excelling in sports and music, so it's interesting that the top 10 nominees also stem from the worlds of
politics, literature, medicine and religion," he said.
The website hosting the survey, found at www.100greatblackbritons.com,
received more than a million hits, and 10,000 people voted over three
months, making their choices from a selection of present day and historical
1. Mary Seacole Nurse in the Crimean war
2. Wilfred Wood First black bishop
3. Mary Prince First black female author to be published
4. Olaudah Equiano Political activist
5. Queen Phillipa Wife of Edward III
6. Courtney Pine Jazz saxophonist
7. Sir Bill Morris Union leader / Sir Trevor McDonald Newsreader
8. Dame Shirley Bassey Singer
9. Bernie Grant Labour MP
10. Professor Stuart Hall Sociologist