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Mary Seacole statue unveiled in London

Published:Friday | July 8, 2016 | 12:00 AMGeorge Ruddock
Baroness Floella Benjamin and Lord Soley of Hammersmith are in jubilant mood as the statue of Mary Seacole is unveiled in London.

The long-awaited memorial statue in honour of Jamaica-born nurse Mary Seacole was unveiled in London on June 30 in the grounds of St Thomas Hospital, Westminster, overlooking the River Thames. It is the first statue of a named black woman in the city and is in honour of her heroine work to save British soldiers during the Crimean War in 1854-56.

The statue's completion follows a 12-year campaign which raised half a million pounds, half of which came from donations from organisations, philanthropic individuals and ordinary people. The other half came from the Treasury after Chancellor George Osborne authorised a government contribution.

The statue was unveiled by actress and broadcaster Baroness Floella Benjamin, deputy lieutenant of Greater London, along with Lord Soley of Hammersmith, who headed the Trustees of the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal. Before unveiling the statue, Baroness Benjamin told the more than 300 guests how privileged she felt to be presenting the iconic figure.

Benjamin said: "Mary Seacole was no ordinary person, she felt a sense of duty and wanted to make a difference to care for her fellow human beings, and she did so with dignity and compassion. She lifted the spirits of those who she cared for, she comforted them mentality, physically and emotionally by being there for them in their hour of need.

"She was a strong, intrepid Caribbean woman who was not afraid to go where others feared to tread. Her legacy is a great gift to our children for them to believe in themselves and to face the obstacles in life and never think they are not worthy. Face the challenges with integrity and honesty and be the person others can trust. The soldier could trust Mary and they knew she would be there for them. I am unveiling the statue in recognition of her bravery, generosity of spirit, and her moral courage will inspire others to go on to do just," Benjamin concluded.

 

FIRST MEMORIAL STATUE

 

Also addressing the gathering was Emeritus Professor of Nursing Elizabeth Anionwu, vice-chair of the trustees, who said the unveiling was "extremely significant" because it was believed to be the first memorial statue of a named black woman in the UK.

"For somebody like myself, a nurse of mixed heritage - Mary was Jamaican-Scottish, I'm of Nigerian-Irish heritage - there's a link there. I have an eight-year-old granddaughter, and at last youngsters will be able to see a beautiful monument that they can identify with."

The significance of the statue is a testament to the contribution of black health-care professionals at all levels, remarked Sir Hugh Taylor, chairman of the Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

He said: "This will be a fitting tribute to a woman who was a pioneer for the generations of nurses and other staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who have served the NHS so well over the years.

"Mary Seacole is a positive role model for the current generation of nurses and other health-care professionals, speaking to the diversity of our local population, our patients and the staff who work here."

Jamaica's Acting High Commissioner Diedre Mills said Mary Seacole's legacy spoke of the undying support that humans have for each other and what she did will inspire others for generations to come.

"We are proud that a Jamaican-born icon will take pride of place in St Thomas Hospital grounds, but this could not have been done without the support of ordinary people who will continue to work in the community long after the unveiling to ensure that Mary Seacole's legacy will live on."

Also in attendance was Baroness Patricia Scotland, QC, Commonwealth secretary general.

She said: "As a black woman, Mary Seacole defied the expectations of her times, and it is right that her story continues to be told today as a reminder that one person can make a difference in the world."

The statue was created by sculptor Martin Jennings and stands 15 feet tall. It 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."

Mary Seacole's statue is the second in honour of a black person in Westminster. The other is a statue of South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, which stands in Parliament Square.