By improving the conditions for the medical care of patients, she drastically lowered the death rate amongst the soldiers. Her family home was Embley Park (now a private school) near the New Forest so she is often thought of as a local here in Hampshire.
As I was wandering around some of my favourite parts of Winchester the other day, I went into a shop near Winchester College, one of England's oldest public schools, and there I found some postcards of a Crimean War nurse but not Florence Nightingale.
The nurse pictured on the postcard is Mary Seacole who, unlike Nightingale, is hardly known at all. Yet her contribution to the Crimean War was very similar and, because of her background, possibly even more remarkable.
Born Mary Jane Grant in Jamaica of a Scottish father and a Jamaican mother, she learnt about herbal remedies and nursing from her mother who she described as "an admirable doctress". By the age of 12 she was helping her mother in her duties.
She travelled widely, including to Cuba, London, and Central America. When the Crimean War broke out, she travelled again to London and offered her services as a nurse to help Florence Nightingale's venture. She was refused in spite of having letters of recommendation from doctors in Jamaica and Panama, but nothing daunted, she made her own way to the Crimea and set up the British Hotel to offer food and quarters for sick and convalescent soldiers.
Sketch of Mary Seacole's British Hotel in Crimea, by Lady Alicia Blackwood (1818–1913), a friend of Florence Nightingale who resided in the neighbouring "Zebra Vicarage"
She also went to the battlefields to tend the wounded, sometimes under fire, giving immediate help whereas the hospitals set up by Florence Nightingale were days' travel away.
After the war ended she returned to England penniless but her supporters raised money to help her. In spite of this help and publishing her memoirs, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands", available online through Project Gutenberg, she has never had the same recognition that Florence Nightingale had.
All has changed in recent years, and in 2004 she was voted the greatest ever black Briton. A fund has been set up for a permanent memorial for her which is being helped by the sale of the postcard I found above. The photo used for it was discovered at Winchester College. It was found in an album about the Crimean War and is an indication of her standing at the time - hers was the only non-combatant photo in the album. All funds from the sale of the postcard will be donated to the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal. The statue, designed by Martin Jennings, will stand in the grounds of St. Thomas Hospital, in central London near Big Ben.
Apart from the scanned picture of the postcard, all pictures are from Wikimedia and in the public domain.