Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The black Florence Nightingale and the making of a PC myth: One historian explains how Mary Seacole's story never stood up

She was just a good-hearted woman who ran a bar

She is regarded as our greatest black Briton, a woman who did more to advance the cause of nursing - and race relations - than almost any other individual.

On the Crimea's bloody battlefields, she is said to have saved the lives of countless wounded soldiers and nursed them to health in a clinic paid for out of her own pocket.

Her name was Mary Seacole, and today she is almost as famous as that other nursing heroine, Florence Nightingale.

For decades after her death in 1881, Seacole's story was largely overlooked, but for the past 15 years her reputation and exploits have undergone a remarkable rehabilitation.

Schoolchildren are taught about her achievements and for many, Seacole, born in Jamaica in 1805 to a white Scottish officer called Grant and a Creole woman from whom Mary learned her 'nursing skills', is seen as a secular saint.

Numerous schools, hospitals and universities have rooms or buildings named after her, and shortly she will get her greatest tribute yet: an 8ft tall bronze statue is to be erected to her memory in the grounds of St Thomas's Hospital, facing towards the Houses of Parliament.

The £500,000 memorial - larger than the statue of Florence Nightingale near Pall Mall - will show Seacole marching out to the battlefield, a medical bag over her shoulder, a row of medals proudly pinned to her chest.

There's just one problem: historians around the world are growing increasingly uneasy about the statue, amid claims the adulation of Seacole has gone too far.

They claim her achievements have been hugely oversold for political reasons, and out of a commendable - but in this case misguided - desire to create positive black role models.

Now Seacole is at the centre of a new controversy with the news that the story of her life will no longer be taught to thousands of pupils.

Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove has decreed that instead they will learn about traditional figures such as Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill.

So is it unfair to reduce her standing in this way? Not according to several historians.

'The hype that has built up surrounding this otherwise worthy woman is a disgrace to the serious study of history,' declares William Curtis of the Crimean War Research Society.

His views are shared by Major Colin Robins, a Fellow of the Historical Society who recently wrote a paper for an academic journal stating that Seacole is the 'subject of many myths', arguing that numerous 'facts' concerning her life are simply untrue.

Indeed, Major Robins singles out the teaching of some of the stories about Seacole as 'irresponsible' and 'certainly not history'.

Meanwhile, leading the charge against the statue being placed at St Thomas's is Lynn McDonald, a history professor and world expert on Florence Nightingale, who feels Seacole is being promoted at the expense of Nightingale.  'Nightingale was the pioneer nurse, not Mary Seacole,' says McDonald.

'It's fine to have a statue to whoever you want, but Seacole was not a pioneer nurse, she didn't call herself a nurse, she didn't practise nursing, and she had no association with St Thomas's or any other hospital.'

So are these protests justified? Was the real Mary Seacole the heroine she has been made out to be?

Textbooks used for the current National Curriculum say that in her twenties, Seacole married a Jamaican merchant called Edwin Seacole and they travelled around the Caribbean, Central America and England until his death in 1844.

Seacole then set up a 'hotel' in the town of Cruces in Panama, where she is reputed to have treated cholera victims.

With the outbreak of the Crimean War later that year, Seacole was determined to offer her nursing services to the British and, when she was turned down, paid her way to the peninsula out of her own pocket.

Once she had arrived in the Crimea, Seacole tried to work for Florence Nightingale, who supposedly turned her away. Instead, she established her 'British Hotel' - part boarding house, part medical centre - from where she sold alcohol, hearty food and ran a daily clinic, as well as tending to the sick on the battlefield, even under bombardment. For all this, she was awarded the Crimea Medal.

After the war ended, Seacole returned to Britain, so impoverished she had to declare bankruptcy.

However, such was her reputation a benefit fund was established for her, which received the blessing of Queen Victoria. By the time she died in 1881, Seacole had retreated into obscurity and not until recently was she 'rediscovered' as a heroine of Crimea.

That is the version of events taught to schoolchildren in recent years. Unfortunately, many key details are either untrue or stretch credulity to breaking point.

Part of the problem is that much of the historical record concerning Seacole comes from her autobiography, which contains downright inventions, including meetings with people whom she could never have encountered.

Other key details have been embellished or invented by contemporary accounts. And although Seacole is championed as a black heroine - voted greatest Black Briton of all time in a 2004 poll - she was actually three-quarters white.

Her mother was mixed race and her father white. In her book, Seacole claims her skin is more 'yellow' than black, and she displayed more pride in her white Scottish ancestry than her black Jamaican heritage.

Furthermore, although one observer noted that she was 'a few shades darker than the white lily', her skin colour seems to have attracted remarkably little attention from those she helped in the Crimea.

However, today, Seacole's skin colour is seen as being vitally important - and stated as the reason the War Office rejected her offers of assistance.

Seacole did wonder whether she was a victim of racism: 'Did these ladies shrink from accepting my aid because my blood flowed beneath a somewhat duskier skin than theirs?' she asked.

But although race could have been a factor, Seacole was more likely to have been rejected because of her age - she was 50 when she volunteered - and the type of home-made medicine she practised, which was regarded as quackery by the medical establishment.

Seacole herself admitted that when she treated the sick in Panama she made 'lamentable blunders' so she 'lost patients which a little later I could have saved'. She even administered highly toxic lead acetate as an attempted treatment for cholera.

And she knew her lack of qualifications made the Army wary. 'I am not for a single instant going to blame the authorities who would not listen to the offer of a motherly yellow woman,' she wrote.

Another myth beloved of the politically correct telling of Seacole's story is that her offers of help were personally rejected by Florence Nightingale. Once again, this is untrue.

In her autobiography, Seacole says she was not interested in working at Nightingale's hospital at Scutari and instead only asked the celebrated 'Lady of the Lamp' for a bed for the night, which was duly granted.

Throughout her life, Seacole spoke warmly of Nightingale, although the feeling was not mutual. Nightingale regarded Seacole's British Hotel 'as something approaching a 'bad house'', and believed that although she was 'kind to the men .... and did some good', she 'made many drunk'.

'Anyone who employs Mrs Seacole,' Nightingale wrote, 'will introduce much kindness - also much drunkenness and improper conduct, wherever she is.'

Yet if the haughty Nightingale cared little for her, there is no doubt Seacole was a favourite among the men. Despite its high prices, her 'hotel' (more a glorified hut) was a popular place to eat, drink ..... and drink some more.

'All the men swore by her,' wrote one, 'and in case of any malady would seek her advice and use her herbal medicines, in preference to reporting to their own doctors.'

But the idea that she ran a clinic or some sort of hospital is a gross exaggeration.

There was no accommodation at the 'hotel', and although she may have dispensed herbal home-made medicines to alleviate symptoms of ailments such as diarrhoea, the idea that a single woman working alone and away from a hospital could have done anything to combat an illness as deadly as cholera is far-fetched in the extreme.

In truth, Mary Seacole was more of a mother figure to the officers and men. She was well-liked and she undoubtedly did at some point go onto a battlefield dispensing comforts such as wine and doing her best to deal with the odd injury.

It was her popularity that led to a benefit fund being set up for her when she returned bankrupted to Britain - much to the chagrin of Nightingale, who felt Queen Victoria had been misled into supporting the campaign.  'A shameful ignorant imposture was practised on the Queen,' she wrote privately.

And contrary to many historical accounts, Seacole was never awarded a Crimea Medal for her efforts. Although she often wore the medal, her name does not appear on any of the official rolls.

Although some would say she was morally deserving of recognition –- and indeed a statue - for her warm heart and personal courage, the story of Mary Seacole has been spun out of all proportion, her memory hijacked and her achievements embellished in order to provide a role model.  It may be good politics, but it is poor history.


It's no wonder the British public are losing faith as figures show some police officers would rather look after their own narrow interest than protect the public

By Dai Davies

When the Coalition embarked on its austerity programme to tackle Britain’s colossal fiscal deficit, Labour warned in doom-laden terms that cuts in police budgets would lead to soaring crime and public disorder.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, claimed austerity would lead to ‘Christmas for criminals’.

But the forecasts were wrong. Far from undermining the work of police, the cuts have in fact seen Britain become a safer place.

This just proves what I have always argued: in the fight against crime, the use of resources is more crucial than the size of the budget.

In my career, I served as head of the Royal Protection Squad and as Chairman of the Police Superintendents’ Association in London.

And that experience taught me the importance of efficiency over mere numbers. That is why I believe the Coalition is right to press on with reform of our police forces.

As the Home Office figures imply, there is far too much waste and inefficiency, reflected in outdated working practices, enfeebled management and excessive bureaucracy.

Some police have lost sight of their central purpose: to protect the public. Instead of serving those who pay their wages, they can end up looking after their own narrow interests.

The publication of the figures yesterday has thrown the focus once more on the running battle between government and police, which exploded into life in the Plebgate affair that cost Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell his job.

He was, of course, accused of swearing at officers in Downing Street and calling them ‘plebs’. After a month of intense pressure, the Police Federation got their scalp.

But last week it emerged that an email giving an eye-witness account of the confrontation came from a police officer who hadn’t even been present: round two to the Government.

Over the weekend damaging stories have emerged which can only give further impetus to reform. The revelation that 23,000 police staff have second jobs does not surprise me. Time and again, I have come across officers with second jobs in the ‘pseudo-security’ business.

What raises my eyebrows is that some seem to think they can combine police work with being undertakers or pole dance teachers.

This eagerness to take on extra jobs shows how under-worked some personnel are.

When I was in the force, I worked up to 12 hour days, sometimes six days a week. I was too exhausted to take on any other duties.

But I wouldn’t have thought it right to serve another master: policing is meant to be vocation, not just a job. A job on the side is bound to interfere with an officer’s commitment – indeed, there are suspicions that shift patterns are being organised in some stations to accommodate moonlighting staff.

Outside employment can mean staff are not available for sudden emergencies. Nor is there any justification for it: police enjoy reasonable pay, pensions, holidays, career progression and conditions which are the envy of those in the private sector.

Just as worrying is a study which shows police are ‘visible and available to the public’  just 11.8 per cent of the time. The rest of the working day is taken up with paperwork, meetings, court appearance, and backroom duties.

It is a huge misuse of resources, and a prime reason why the public is losing faith in police is that they rarely see bobbies on the beat.

The retreat to the station is all the more reprehensible when forces now employ a huge support army to take away the bureaucratic burden from front-line officers.

The vast expansion of support staff seems to have done nothing to free up more officers to go out on patrol.

This is partly because of the disastrous introduction by the Labour Government of Police Community Support Officers.

With just a fraction of the powers of sworn constables and little of the experience, these ‘plastic bobbies’ have been a hopelessly inadequate replacement.

Just as regrettably, the growing reliance on PCSOs encourages a spirit of self-importance among officers who are taught to believe daily patrolling is beneath them.

The police must bring back their traditional ethos of serving the public, not themselves. Too much of the Police Federation’s rhetoric smacks of naked self-interest.

When the Metropolitan Police was created in 1829, the first Commissioner Sir Richard Mayne said the force had to demonstrate ‘absolute impartial service to the law’, and must retain the support of the public at all times.

‘The police are the public and the public are the police,’ he said, stressing the ideal of policing by consent. That ethos should be as relevant today as it was nearly two centuries ago.


We’ve brought back fairness to welfare in Britain

No longer will hard-working taxpayers have to pay for Labour’s benefits profligacy, says Iain Duncan Smith

Labour’s legacy on tax credits tells a sorry story of dependency, wasted taxpayers’ money and fraud. At the most basic level, Labour used spending on tax credits as an attempt to gain short-term popularity. It knew what it was doing – this was a calculated attempt to win votes. Tax credit payments rose by some 58 per cent ahead of the 2005 general election, and in the two years prior to the 2010 election, spending increased by about 20 per cent.

Yet pumping up welfare transfers not only increased people’s dependency on the state – worse still, it pushed the public finances almost to breaking point. Between 2003 and 2010, Labour spent a staggering £171 billion on tax credits, contributing to a 60 per cent rise in the welfare bill.

Far too much of that money was wasted, with fraud and error under Labour costing over £10 billion. Small wonder really, given that the system was wide open to abuse. In 2008 Gordon Brown increased the income disregard in tax credits to £25,000. That meant any claimant could claim they had increased their earnings by an additional £25,000 – a substantial amount by anyone’s standards – before their award would be reassessed. It will come as no surprise therefore that fraudsters from around the world targeted this benefit for personal gain.

Little attempt was made to clamp down on potential fraudsters. In the year before the last general election, only 34,000 checks were carried out on what were deemed high-risk awards. In the DWP today, we carry out around 30,000 checks a month on what we consider ''high-risk claimants”.

Even for those in genuine need of support, tax credits were not fit for purpose. They were haemorrhaging money while at the same time trapping people in a system where those trying hard to increase the amount of hours they worked weren’t necessarily better off. What sort of a message does that send to someone who is trying to get on?

The system I inherited punished hard-working taxpayers and was in need of reform. Welfare spending had increased by a massive 60 per cent under the last government, rising even before the recession hit.

By 2010 this was costing every household in Britain an extra £3,000 a year. That is too much to ask from Britain’s hard-working majority.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday, it is not cruel to expect people to work; getting people into work is vital not just for them, but for all of us.

This Government is returning fairness to the welfare system. We are taking 2.2 million people out of tax and getting public spending under control, in a way that helps the poorest into work. Universal credit is designed to make work pay at each and every hour – 1.5 million people will keep more money as they increase their working hours, on average seeing an extra 14 pence in their pocket out of every single pound earned.

This is a dynamic reform, which will benefit hard-working people across the country.

As a result of the last government racking up such huge debts, taxpayers have had to foot the bill. This Government is on the side of hard-working taxpayers, the people across the country working in the private and public sectors who have seen their pay frozen or cut, as businesses have struggled to keep them in work. And all the while these people have watched those on tax credits or benefits see their income rise, outstripping their earnings.

Hard-working people have felt the impact of an economic mess left by the last government, and do not deserve to be hit twice – having to pick up the bill for ever-increasing welfare spending at the same time. The sad truth is that despite leaving Britain with its worst deficit in living memory, Labour is now voting against the measures this Government is bringing forward to reduce our debts. Labour voted against the benefit cap, against reducing the cost of housing benefit, against universal credit and now Labour will vote against the Uprating Bill in the new year.

Labour’s argument – it doesn’t think it’s fair. It would rather see benefits increase more than wages.

What we get from Ed Miliband now is merely platitudes; he says Labour would try to bring the welfare bill under control. The question every taxpayer should ask Ed Miliband is this: what is fair about making taxpayers who, in a time of growth, paid for Labour’s extravagant welfare system, now pay for further rises to benefits? The answer Mr Miliband, is nothing.


Australia: How did the wrong man get mistaken for a mental health patient?

Easy if you know the full facts and not just the politically correct ones:  Because he was an Aborigine.  "Itinerant" is a common euphemism for an Aboriginal street-dweller.

Aborigines are very complaisant:  They tend to say what they think you want to hear.  So he answered to the name that they called him by and went along with them generally.  That the W.A. police did not recognize that shows how ignorant they are.  There is a special technique for getting a straight answer out of an Aborigine:  Give NO indication of the expected answer.

There is a large Aboriginal presence in W.A. and the police often lock them up, sometimes controversially so you would think that they would use that technique routinely.

ALL the facts below fall into place if you know Aborigines.  A pity the the W.A. police don't

Details surrounding the wrongful detainment of a man who was administered with powerful antipsychotic drugs when mistakenly identified as a patient who had absconded from Graylands Hospital have been revealed.

The insight into the incident comes as the Mental Health Minister Helen Morton admits the incident could instigate changes in policies and procedures.

The 22-year-old man who was wrongly detained has since been in contact with police and the health system and tests have revealed that he is no longer being affected by the wrongly administered drug, Clozapine.

Mrs Morton said the man was in a public place at 3am and was behaving in an unusual manner.  "That gave rise to suspicions that he was the man," she said.

While Mrs Morton also said there were other circumstances at the time that gave "a very clear suggestion that he had recently absconded from a hospital" she would not provide details of these circumstances.

She said while the wrongly detained man and the man he was mistaken for had "completely different names" at times, he responded to the involuntary patient's name.

"He responded to his name with "yes" and also he was asked if he would like to go back to the hospital and he said "yes."

Mrs Morton said a photograph was not provided to police on this occasion when looking for the man.

She said after the man was administered Clozapine in tablet form, he was then taken to the absconded man's room.

"It was in the process of being taken to his room that it became known to the staff that he wasn't the patient," Mrs Morton said

"It was recognised that he was not the patient by both another member of staff who recognised him and he was also unaware of where his room was in the hospital,  and given that he'd been there for a number of months or the involuntary patient had been, staff became quickly aware that they had the wrong patient.

"He had an adverse reaction [to the antipsychotic medication] and within two hours of being back at Graylands he was admitted to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital."

The wrongly detained man, who is understood to be itinerant has since been offered accommodation, which he has declined.

Mrs Morton said the clinical review that was currently being undertaken and would be completed by January 4 would show whether the fault lay with the policies and procedures or with the people implementing them.

"There are some amazingly stringent processes and procedures that are required both when a person is being admitted and when a person is being administered schedule four drugs and those policies and procedures are currently being reviewed in light of this and also whether those policies and procedures were followed correctly by the people concerned," she said.

Mrs Morton reiterated her comments that she would consider compensation for the man.  "On the face of it, there is every suggestion that this is a compensable case," she said.

As well as a clinical review, there are two other reviews being done which could see changes made to procedures and policies.

Mrs Morton said the state government would provide support to the man to "take the matter further" but would not say whether that would include providing legal advice.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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