I hope the reader will give me credit for the assertion that I am about to make, viz., that I enter upon the particulars of this chapter with great reluctance; but I cannot omit them, for the simple reason that they strengthen my one and only claim to interest the public, viz., my services to the brave British army in the Crimea. But, fortunately, I can follow a course which will not only render it unnecessary for me to sound my own trumpet, but will be more satisfactory to the reader. I can put on record the written opinions of those who had ample means of judging and ascertaining how I fulfilled the great object which I had in view in leaving England for the Crimea; and before I do so, I must solicit my readers’ attention to the position I held in the camp as doctress, nurse, and “mother.”
[Pg 125]I have never been long in any place before I have found my practical experience in the science of medicine useful. Even in London I have found it of service to others. And in the Crimea, where the doctors were so overworked, and sickness was so prevalent, I could not be long idle; for I never forgot that my intention in seeking the army was to help the kind-hearted doctors, to be useful to whom I have ever looked upon and still regard as so high a privilege.
But before very long I found myself surrounded with patients of my own, and this for two simple reasons. In the first place, the men (I am speaking of the “ranks” now) had a very serious objection to going into hospital for any but urgent reasons, and the regimental doctors were rather fond of sending them there; and, in the second place, they could and did get at my store sick-comforts and nourishing food, which the heads of the medical staff would sometimes find it difficult to procure. These reasons, with the additional one that I was very familiar with the diseases which they suffered most from, and successful in their treatment (I say this in no spirit of vanity), were quite sufficient to account for the numbers who came daily to the British Hotel for medical treatment.
That the officers were glad of me as a doctress and nurse may be easily understood. When a poor fellow lay sickening in his cheerless hut and sent down to me, he knew very well that I should not ride up in answer to his message empty-handed. And although I did not hesitate to charge him with the value of the necessaries I took him, still he was thankful enough to be able to purchase them. When we lie ill at home surrounded with comfort, we never think of feeling any special gratitude for the [Pg 126]sick-room delicacies which we accept as a consequence of our illness; but the poor officer lying ill and weary in his crazy hut, dependent for the merest necessaries of existence upon a clumsy, ignorant soldier-cook, who would almost prefer eating his meat raw to having the trouble of cooking it (our English soldiers are bad campaigners), often finds his greatest troubles in the want of those little delicacies with which a weak stomach must be humoured into retaining nourishment. How often have I felt sad at the sight of poor lads, who in England thought attending early parade a hardship, and felt harassed if their neckcloths set awry, or the natty little boots would not retain their polish, bearing, and bearing so nobly and bravely, trials and hardships to which the veteran campaigner frequently succumbed. Don’t you think, reader, if you were lying, with parched lips and fading appetite, thousands of miles from mother, wife, or sister, loathing the rough food by your side, and thinking regretfully of that English home where nothing that could minister to your great need would be left untried—don’t you think that you would welcome the familiar figure of the stout lady whose bony horse has just pulled up at the door of your hut, and whose panniers contain some cooling drink, a little broth, some homely cake, or a dish of jelly or blanc-mange—don’t you think, under such circumstances, that you would heartily agree with my friend Punch’s remark:—
I tell you, reader, I have seen many a bold fellow’s eyes [Pg 127]moisten at such a season, when a woman’s voice and a woman’s care have brought to their minds recollections of those happy English homes which some of them never saw again; but many did, who will remember their woman-comrade upon the bleak and barren heights before Sebastopol.
Then their calling me “mother” was not, I think, altogether unmeaning. I used to fancy that there was something homely in the word; and, reader, you cannot think how dear to them was the smallest thing that reminded them of home.
Some of my Crimean patients, who were glad of me as nurse and doctress, bore names familiar to all England, and perhaps, did I ask them, they would allow me to publish those names. I am proud to think that a gallant sailor, on whose brave breast the order of Victoria rests—a more gallant man can never wear it—sent for the doctress whom he had known in Kingston, when his arm, wounded on the fatal 18th of June, refused to heal, and I think that the application I recommended did it good; but I shall let some of my patients’ letters, taken from a large bundle, speak for me. Of course I must suppress most of their names. Here are two from one of my best and kindest sons.
“My dear Mamma,—Will you kindly give the bearer the bottle you promised me when you were here this morning, for my jaundice. Please let me know how much I am to take of it. Yours truly,
“F. M., C. E.”
You see the medicine does him good, for a few days later comes another from the same writer:—
It was a capital prescription which had done his jaundice good. There was so great a demand for it, that I kept it mixed in a large pan, ready to ladle it out to the scores of applicants who came for it.
Sometimes they would send for other and no less important medicines. Here is such an application from a sick officer:—
“Mrs. Seacole would confer a favour on the writer, who is very ill, by giving his servant (the bearer) a boiled or roast fowl; if it be impossible to obtain them, some chicken broth would be very acceptable.
“I am yours, truly obliged,
“J. K., 18th R. S.”
Doesn’t that read like a sick man’s letter, glad enough to welcome any woman’s face? Here are some gentlemen of the Commissariat anxious to speak for me:—
“Arthur C——, Comm. Staff Officer, having been attacked one evening with a very bad diarrhœa at Mrs. Seacole’s, took some of her good medicine. It cured me before the next morning, and I have never been attacked since.—October 17th, 1855.”
“Archibald R. L——, Comm. Staff, Crimea, was suffering from diarrhœa for a week or more; after taking Mrs. Seacole’s good medicines for two days, he became quite well, and remained so to this day.—October 17th, 1855.”
Here is Mr. M——, paymaster of the Land Transport Corps, ready with a good account of my services:—
And some of the men shall speak for themselves:—
“Stationary Engine, December 1, 1855.
“I certify that I was severely attacked by diarrhœa after landing in the Crimea. I took a great deal of medicine, but nothing served me until I called on Mrs. Seacole. She gave me her medicine but once, and I was cured effectually.
“Wm. Knollys, Sergt., L.T.C.”
“This is to certify that Wm. Row, L.T.C, had a severe attack of illness, and was in a short time restored to health by the prompt attention and medical skill of Mrs. Seacole, British Hotel, Spring Hill, Crimea.”
Many of my patients belonged to the Land Transport and Army Works Corps. The former indeed were in my close neighbourhood, and their hospital was nearly opposite to the British Hotel. I did all I could for them, and have many letters expressive of their gratitude. From them I select the following:—
“Head-Quarters, Camp, Crimea, June 30, 1856.
“I have much pleasure in bearing testimony to Mrs. Seacole’s kindness and attention to the sick of the Railway Labourers’ Army Works Corps and Land Transport Corps during the winters of 1854 and 1855.
“She not only, from the knowledge she had acquired in the West Indies, was enabled to administer appropriate remedies for their ailments, but, what was of as much or more importance, she charitably furnished them with [Pg 130]proper nourishment, which they had no means of obtaining except in the hospital, and most of that class had an objection to go into hospital, particularly the railway labourers and the men of the Army Works Corps.
“Inspector-General of Hospitals.”
I hope that Mr. P——, of the Army Works Corps, will pardon my laying the following letter before the public:—
“Dear Mrs. Seacole,—It is with feelings of great pleasure that I hear you are safely arrived in England, upon which I beg to congratulate you, and return you many thanks for your kindness whilst in the Crimea.
“The bitter sherry you kindly made up for me was in truth a great blessing to both myself and my son, and as I expect to go to Bombay shortly, I would feel grateful to you if you would favour me with the receipt for making it, as it appears to be so very grateful a beverage for weakness and bowel complaints in a warm climate. With many kind regards, believe me, dear madam, your obliged servant,
“Late Superintendent Army Works Corps.”
Here is a certificate from one of the Army Works’ men, to whose case I devoted no little time and trouble:—
“I certify that I was labouring under a severe attack of diarrhœa last August, and that I was restored to health through the instrumentality and kindness of Mrs. Seacole.
“And I cannot leave the Crimea without testifying to the kindness and skill of Mrs. Seacole, and may God reward her for it.
“5th Division Army Works Corps.”
Here are three more letters—and the last I shall print—from a sailor, a soldier, and a civilian:—
“This is to certify that Wm. Adams, caulker, of H.M.S. ‘Wasp,’ and belonging to the Royal Naval Brigade, had a severe attack of cholera, and was cured in a few hours by Mrs. Seacole.”
“I certify that I was troubled by a severe inflammation of the chest, caused by exposure in the trenches, for about four months, and that Mrs. Seacole’s medicine completely cured me in one month, and may God reward her.
“Charles Flinn, Sergt. 3rd Co. R.S.M.”
“Upper Clapton, Middlesex, March 2, 1856.
“Dear Madam,—Having been informed by my son, Mr. Edward Gill, of St. George’s Store, Crimea, of his recent illness (jaundice), and of your kind attention and advice to him during that illness, and up to the time he was, by the blessing of God and your assistance, restored to health, permit me, on behalf of myself, my wife, and my family, to return you our most grateful thanks, trusting you may be spared for many years to come, in health of body and vigour of mind, to carry out your benevolent intention. Believe me, my dear madam, yours most gratefully,
[Pg 132]And now that I have made this a chapter of testimonials, I may as well finish them right off, and have done with them altogether. I shall trouble the patient reader with four more only, which I have not the heart to omit.
“Sebastopol, July 1, 1856.
“Mrs. Seacole was with the British army in the Crimea from February, 1855, to this time. This excellent woman has frequently exerted herself in the most praiseworthy manner in attending wounded men, even in positions of great danger, and in assisting sick soldiers by all means in her power. In addition, she kept a very good store, and supplied us with many comforts at a time we much required them.
“Adjutant-General of the British Army in the Crimea.”
“July 1, 1856.
“I have much pleasure in stating that I am acquainted with Mrs. Seacole, and from all that I have seen or heard of her, I believe her to be a useful and good person, kind and charitable.
“C. A. W——,
“Lt.-Gen. Comm. of Sebastopol.”
The third is from the pen of one who at that time was more looked to, and better known, than any other man in the Crimea. In the 2nd vol. of Russell’s “Letters from the Seat of War,” p. 187, is the following entry:—
“In the hour of their illness these men (Army Works Corps), in common with many others, have found a kind and successful physician. Close to the railway, half-way [Pg 133]between the Col de Balaclava and Kadikoi, Mrs. Seacole, formerly of Kingston and of several other parts of the world, such as Panama and Chagres, has pitched her abode—an iron storehouse with wooden sheds and outlying tributaries—and here she doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle-field to aid the wounded, and has earned many a poor fellow’s blessings.”
Yes! I cannot—referring to that time—conscientiously charge myself with doing less for the men who had only thanks to give me, than for the officers whose gratitude gave me the necessaries of life. I think I was ever ready to turn from the latter to help the former, humble as they might be; and they were grateful in their way, and as far as they could be. They would buy me apples and other fruit at Balaclava, and leave them at my store. One made me promise, when I returned home, to send word to his Irish mother, who was to send me a cow in token of her gratitude for the help I had been to her son. I have a book filled with hundreds of the names of those who came to me for medicines and other aids; and never a train of sick or wounded men from the front passed the British Hotel but its hostess was awaiting them to offer comforts to the poor fellows, for whose suffering her heart bled.
Punch, who allowed my poor name to appear in the pages which had welcomed Miss Nightingale home—Punch, that whimsical mouthpiece of some of the noblest hearts that ever beat beneath black coats—shall last of all raise its voice, that never yet pleaded an unworthy cause, for the Mother Seacole that takes shame to herself for [Pg 134]speaking thus of the poor part she bore of the trials and hardships endured on that distant shore, where Britain’s best and bravest wrung hardly Sebastopol from the grasp of Britain’s foe:—
Reader, now that we have come to the end of this chapter, I can say what I have been all anxiety to tell you from its beginning. Please look back to Chapter VIII., and see how hard the right woman had to struggle to convey herself to the right place.