BHM – Mary

Our Cardiff Black History Month postbox shows a portrait of pioneering nurse, Mary Secole

Throughout Black History Month, we’re celebrating our amazing former and current black colleagues as well as notable black Britons, both past and present, who have appeared on our Special Stamps.

Our four special edition postboxes, honouring black Britons, are currently on show in each UK nation. The Cardiff postbox, which is located at King Edward VII Avenue in the heart of the civic centre, celebrates renowned nurse and businesswoman Mary Seacole, who featured on a set of stamps released in 2006 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the National Portrait Gallery.

The daughter of a Scottish soldier and Jamaican mother, Seacole was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805. She began learning nursing skills from her mother, who kept a boarding house for invalid soldiers. She was a keen traveller, visiting other parts of the Caribbean, as well as Central America and Britain. On these trips, she complemented her knowledge of traditional medicine with European medical ideas.

In 1854, Seacole travelled to England and approached the War Office, asking to be sent as an army nurse to the Crimea where there was known to be poor medical facilities for wounded soldiers. She was refused. Undaunted, Seacole funded her own trip to the Crimea where she established the British Hotel near Balaclava to provide 'a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers'. She also visited the battlefield, sometimes under fire, to nurse the wounded, and became known as 'Mother Seacole'. Her reputation among soldiers rivalled that of Florence Nightingale.

After the war, Secole returned to Britain ill and destitute. In July 1857, a fund-raising festival for her attracted thousands of people, including many VIPs, and raised substantial funds. This newspaper article describes the event. She was awarded the British Crimean medal, the Turkish Medjidie and the French Legion of Honour.

In February 2004, Secole was voted by the public as the greatest black Briton of all time.

Pictured is the only known portrait of Seacole, which went on display at the National Portrait Gallery in February 2015 after not being seen for several decades. The artwork dates from around 1869 and was painted by London artist Albert Challen. It shows an older Seacole wearing the three medals she was awarded for her service during the Crimean War.

13 Oct 2020