Homeopathy Papers

Mary Jane Seacole (1805-1881) Heroine of the Crimean War

Sue Young
Written by Sue Young

Homeopathy historian par excellence Sue Young, shares her biography of Mary Jane Seacole, a Jamaican Scottish nurse and homeopath.

Originally Published in ARH journal Spring 2020 – Reprinted courtesy Sue Young

Mary Jane Seacole[1] (sometimes known as Mother Seacole or Mary Grant) was a Jamaican Scottish nurse best known for her involvement in the Crimean War. Reclaimed and championed by the modern British Black community who believe she was overshadowed because she was a coloured woman, the real story is more complicated. She was also a homeopath, and we are now fully cognizant that modern historians would obscure her history for this long before they noticed her ethnicity! Mary Jane has achieved a retrospective fame as the alternative heroine of the Crimean trenches, much loved by the soldiers, but somewhat condemned by Florence Nightingale for running a ‘Bawdy House’ of ill repute.

Mary Jane was taught herbal remedies and folk medicine by her Caribbean mother, who kept a boarding house for disabled soldiers and sailors; a healer who used traditional Caribbean and African herbal remedies[2] to treat her many guests and visitors. Mary Jane was also an advocate of homeopathy[3], which she learnt from her relative Amos Henriques (1812-1880)[4] a British Jewish orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy and became a Surgeon at the Hahnemann Hospital at 39 Bloomsbury Square. Amos had many business interests in the Caribbean, and in 1826 Mary Jane had visited London and stayed with her Henriques relatives. Mary Jane was also an advocate of cross dressing[5], something she identified with Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894)Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919)[6] and Frances Elizabeth Caroline Willard (1839-1898)[7]. This shows her to have been a very modern young woman, abreast of all the new health trends on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean at that time.

In 1849, she travelled to Cruces in Panama to visit her brother, but shortly after her arrival the town was struck by cholera, which had reached Panama in 1849. American homeopaths had rushed to Panama to treat this cholera epidemic, and so Mary Jane was on hand to treat the first victim, who survived, establishing her reputation and bringing her a succession of patients as the infection spread. The rich paid, but she treated the poor for free.  This was the homeopathic way, and echoed the practice of Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), the founder of homeopathy!

As a result, when Mary Jane came to London, she was befriended, supported and funded by the British homeopathic community. She became a friend of Henry Robinson Montagu 6th Baron Rokeby (1798-1883)[8], who was an ardent supporter of homeopathy and a friend of Frederick Hervey Foster Quin (1799-1879)[9], a British orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy to become one of the very first homeopaths in Britain, and the founder of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. Mary Jane was also supported by George Augustus Frederick Paget (1768-1854)[10] the son of Henry William Paget 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854) who had led the charge of the heavy cavalry during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and who had lost a leg in that campaign. Much tormented by phantom limb pain, Henry William Paget 1st Marquess of Anglesey was finally cured by Samuel Hahnemann in Paris. Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925)[11], Queen of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Empress of India from 1901 to 1910 as the consort of Edward VII (1841-1910), was Mary Jane’s friend and also her patient, and also a staunch supporter.

In 1854 Mary Jane turned her back on the frightful cholera epidemic in England to travel to the Crimea to set up her famous ‘boarding house’, which rivalled the austere hospital set up by Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)[12], the orthodox heroine and founder of modern British nursing. Mary Jane set up and operated a boarding house in the Crimea to treat the sick and wounded men from the battlefield. Florence Nightingale insinuated that Mary Jane had kept a ‘… bad house… ‘ in the Crimea, and she had been responsible for ‘… much drunkenness and improper conduct…’ Some years later Florence Nightingale wrote ‘… I will not call it a ‘bad house’ – but something not very unlike it – in the Crimean War […] She was very kind to the men &, what is more, to the Officers – & did some good – & made many drunk…[13]However, Mary Jane was much loved by the military at all levels, and Prince Victor of Hohenlohe Langenburg (1833-1891) a German British Royal Naval officer and a sculptor, and a nephew of Queen Victoria, who as young Lieutenant had been one of Mary Jane’s customers in Crimeamade a marble bust of her in 1871, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy summer exhibition in 1872.

It is little known that Mary Jane was funded and supported throughout her Crimean Campaign and for the rest of her life by the Homeopathic community in Britain. Alfred Duke of Edinburgh (1844-1900)[14] was the spearhead contributor to the funds for the support of Mary Jane in 1867 and 1870. Augusta Duchess of Cambridge (1797-1889)[15] and her husband Adolphus 1st Duke of Cambridge (1774-1850) were also contributors, as was Henry Pelham Pelham Clinton 5th Duke of Newcastle under Lyme (1811-1864)[16] amongst many others. Enough money was raised to enable her to buy property in Kingston in Jamaica, where she built a new bungalow, and another, larger house she could rent out to support her for the rest of her life. Well done Mary Jane! Well done Homeopathy!

Copyright © Sue Young Spring 2020


[1] http://sueyounghistories.com

[2] Ferguson, Nine Black Women: An Anthology of Nineteenth-century Writers from the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and the Caribbean, (Psychology Press, 1998). Page 68 onwards.

[3] Duberly, Mrs Duberly’s War: Journal and Letters from the Crimea, 1854-6: Journal and Letters from the Crimea, 1854-6, (OUP Oxford,  2007).

[4] http://sueyounghistories.com

[5] Greenberg, Manifest Manhood and the Antebellum American Empire, (Cambridge University Press, 2005). Page 214.

[6] http://sueyounghistories.com

[7] http://sueyounghistories.com

[8] http://sueyounghistories.com

[9] http://sueyounghistories.com

[10] http://sueyounghistories.com

[11] http://sueyounghistories.com

[12] http://sueyounghistories.com 

[13] Bostridge, Florence Nightingale: The Woman and Her Legend, ( 2015, Penguin Books).

[14] http://sueyounghistories.com

[15] http://sueyounghistories.com

[16] http://sueyounghistories.com

About the author

Sue Young

Sue Young

Sue Young obtained a degree in psychology from City University London and subsequently studied homoepathy at CPH and also trained with Robert Davidson. She has been a practicing homeopath for over 20 years and says she owes her life and health to homeopathy. Sue also studied history and archaeology at Birbeck College, which fueled her deep interest in the past. These days she spends much of her time researching and writing fascinating biographies of homeopaths throughout history. You can see the fruits of her labor here : http://sueyounghistories.com/

Leave a Comment