Influential women through history-Mary Jane Seacole 1805 – 14 May 1881

Let’s take a look and delve into the history behind another amazing influential woman. Mary Seacole born in Jamaica and was the daughter of James Grant, a Scottish Lieutenant in the British Army.

Mary Seacole

Mary’s mother was a healer and had a vast knowledge of tropical diseases and a Doctors skill at treating illness and injuries.

Mary gained her nursing skills at Blundell Hall in Kingston, Jamaica; and had learned from her mother and the Army Doctors in treating and healing people. Mary was proud of both her Jamaican and Scottish ancestry.

On the 10th November 1836 Mary married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole. They moved to Black River where they opened a provisions store; this failed to make them any money and they returned to Blundell Hall in the early 1840s.

Unfortunately Mary had a difficult time during 1843 and 1844. The family suffered a house fire in which their boarding house was destroyed and in October 1844 Mary’s husband died, followed by her mother. The boarding house was re built and Mary took control and managed the hotel herself. Blundell Hall had many European military visitors and Mary was well known and respected among them.

The Cholera epidemic of 1850, killed 32,000 Jamaican people. Mary had treated people and thought there was a link between the Cholera outbreak and a steamer, that had arrived from New Orleans.

In 1851 Mary took a trip to see her brother in Cruces; shortly after she had arrived the town was struck by cholera. Mary, having seen and managed this disease previously, was able to help care for the people. In fact Mary cared for the first person with Cholera during this outbreak; and they lived; gaining Mary a reputation for being able to heal patients with Cholera.

Mary did not charge the poor for treatment but did charge the rich. Towards the end of the epidemic Mary contracted Cholera and had to rest for a significant period of time.

Mary arrived back in Jamaica in 1853 and soon after her arrival the medical authority asked for her help with the outbreak of yellow fever. Mary reported that there was not much success in treating these sick people and many died.

In 1854 Mary Seacole had read reports in newspapers on the outbreak of war. Mary decided she would travel to England and volunteer as a nurse.

The Crimean War lasted from October 1853 until 1 April 1856 and was fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the United Kingdom, France, the Kingdom of Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire.

Mary’s offer of help to nurse the sick soldiers was repeatedly turned down and in the end she used her own resources to travel to the Crimea and opened the British Hotel in March 1855.

In 1855, William Howard Russell, a correspondent of The Times, wrote that Mary was “a successful doctor” and “cured men”. Mary was always seen in attendance on the battlefield tending to the injured soldiers. Mary’s peers soon discovered that Mary and her knowledge of healing had good success rates.

The war ceased in March 1856 and Mary was as in a difficult financial position. Mary sold what she could and the expensive items were auctioned, fetching lower than value prices; Mary then returned to England.
On returning to England Mary was bankrupt and in poor health; Queen Victoria’s nephew supported her by fund raising on her behalf. The British press highlighted Mary’s plight and a fund was established for people to donate money.

In 1867, due to Mary’s financial needs, the Seacole fund was re-started. The patrons included the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Cambridge, and many other senior military officers. This fund enabled Mary to buy land in Kingston, Jamaica, near New Blundell Hall; where she built a home and a property to rent out.

Mary moved back to London in 1870 and in 1881 Mary died, whilst boarding at a property in Paddington, London.

Mary Seacole Memorial

Mary left an estate valued at more than £2,500. Mary had written a Will, her sister being the main beneficiary, along with some legacies. Mary was buried in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London.

Even though Mary Seacole died without owning any property she knew the importance of making a Will, however even in 1881 there was a form of inheritance tax on legacies and gifts of residue, which was dependent on who received the gift.

This legacy tax as it was called ranged from 1% to 10% on anything over £20, which equates to approximately £2500.00 in today’s money.

Mary’s total estate of over £2500.00 in 1881 would be over £306,000.00 in 2020, which if she had died in 2020 meant that there would be no inheritance tax to pay; but in 1881 the duty due would be at best 3% of the estate paid to the Crown.

Inheritance Tax is not an option but by making a Will incorporating estate planning the total amount due to HM Treasury can be limited especially inheritance tax is payable at 40%, in certain circumstances.

For further details please contact us at:

Avalon Legal


© Colin & Karen Wells – May 2020

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