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By Anna Despotopoulou


Mrs. Mary Seacole
(Late of Kingston, Jamaica),

Respectfully announces to her former kind friends, and to the
Officers of the Army and Navy generally,

That she has taken her passage in the screw-steamer “Hollander,” to start from London on the 25th of January, intending on her arrival at Balaclava to establish a mess table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers.

The above business card arrived at the Crimea ahead of Mary Seacole, the Jamaican nurse and businesswoman, who left Jamaica and subsequently England for the Crimea in early 1855 and almost immediately opened the establishment she called the “British Hotel” in an area near Kadikoi at the battlefront. Her hotel offered both meals and supplies to officers and soldiers during the Crimean War, while also offering hospitality and nursing to wounded and convalescing soldiers. This was the third hotel business for Seacole, who had already run two hotels in central America, one of which also offered barber services:

“… my barber attracted considerable custom to the British Hotel at Cruces. I had a little out-house erected for his especial convenience; and there, well provided with towels, and armed with plenty of razors, a brush of extraordinary size, and a foaming sea of lather, José shaved the new-comers. The rivalry to get within reach of his huge brush was very great.”

“Let me, in a few words, describe the British Hotel [at the Crimea]. It was acknowledged by all to be the most complete thing there. It cost no less than £800. The buildings and yards took up at least an acre of ground, and were as perfect as we could make them. The hotel and storehouse consisted of a long iron room, with counters, closets, and shelves; above it was another low room, used by us for storing our goods, and above this floated a large union-jack. Attached to this building was a little kitchen, not unlike a ship’s caboose—all stoves and shelves. In addition to the iron house were two wooden houses, with sleeping apartments for myself and Mr. Day, out-houses for our servants, a canteen for the soldiery, and a large enclosed yard for our stock, full of stables, low huts, and sties. Everything, although rough and unpolished, was comfortable and warm; and there was a completeness about the whole which won general admiration. The reader may judge of the manner in which we had stocked the interior of our store from the remark, often repeated by the officers, that you might get everything at Mother Seacole’s, from an anchor down to a needle.”

“Some three weeks before the Crimea was finally evacuated, we moved from our old quarters to Balaclava, where we had obtained permission to fit up a store for the short time which would elapse before the last red coat left Russian soil. The poor old British Hotel! We could do nothing with it. The iron house was pulled down, and packed up for conveyance home, but the Russians got all of the out-houses and sheds which was not used as fuel. All the kitchen fittings and stoves, that had cost us so much, fell also into their hands. I only wish some cook worthy to possess them has them now.”

From Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, edited by W. J. S. London: Blackwood, 1857

Project Gutenberg:

Seacole - Challen.jpg

Albert Charles Challen, Mary Seacole (c. 1869)

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