Letters: Myths about Crimea's Mary Seacole


The supporters of Black Voice and its petition do not seem to know much about Mary Seacole ("Don't consign Mary Seacole to history, Michael Gove is urged." 4 January).

She was a decent and kind woman, but a dubious "celebrated black historical figure" because she was three-quarters white, identified with her Scottish roots, not the "Creole", and never used the term "black" or "African" to refer to herself.

Mary Seacole was a mixed-race, middle-class property-owner. She married a white man, had a white business partner and a white clientele. She employed blacks, including "good-for-nothing black cooks". She travelled with two black servants.

Seacole did not in fact "care for soldiers on the front line" during the Crimean War, as is commonly said. She ran a restaurant/bar/store/takeaway, for officers. If you wanted champagne and tinned lobster, she had it.

Seacole's "post-war descent into bankruptcy" is also mis-stated. She and her partner did a roaring business after hostilities ended on 8 September 1855.

They brought in a lot of new stock and improved their premises, then were surprised when a peace treaty was finally signed on 30 March 1856.

The troops and officers were sent home as fast as possible after that. She was hardly a victim of circumstances beyond her control, but of a bad business decision. Officers rescued her with a fund to support her in her old age.

Finally, the picture of Seacole you show cuts off the three medals she wore for the sitting, medals she did not earn, a point omitted in coverage of her in the National Curriculum and by her supporters in general.

Dr Lynn McDonald

Professor Emerita, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada

We're back in the ugly age of forced labour

All major political parties now support forced labour for those claiming benefits. It is likely the real victims in all this will be well-paid employees, as forced labour will have a direct impact on the salary of every employed person in the UK.

Employment is subject to market forces, supply and demand. The introduction of forced labour means that millions of extra people will be working without any say in pay and conditions, and the salaries of all employees in the UK will fall as a result. Great news for big business because profits will soar. Bad news for every employee in the UK.

By buying into the rhetoric of people on benefits being lazy and workshy, we have condemned ourselves to a future of low pay for all.

Phillip David Jones

Hove, East Sussex

Ed Balls argues for those unemployed for two years or more to be given a guaranteed paid job. Trouble is, the job would only be for six months and would pay at the minimum wage.

People unemployed for not just months but years are seen by employers and the public as unemployable. Governments can introduce workfare and set stringent conditions for jobseekers; they cannot force companies to employ the long-term unemployed.

John Boylan

Hatfield, Hertfordshire

The Government's 1 per cent welfare benefits uprating ("Tories fear return of nasty party", 8 January) will significantly increase the financial burden on social tenants and suck much-needed demand out of struggling inner-city economies. Most tenants already subsist on low incomes: half have incomes below £10,400 per annum, with almost 90 per cent below the national median wage of £26,000.

Our research estimates that £3.5bn will be lost in purchasing power in social housing communities over the next three years as in-work benefits and stagnant earnings are eroded by inflation.

This comes in the wake of a £3bn loss of tenants' purchasing power since the credit crunch hit, resulting from above-inflation increases in necessities such as food, fuel and transport, which take up disproportionate amounts of tenants' incomes.

Other welfare cuts will remove a further £2bn from tenants' pockets by 2015. So, between 2008 and 2015, we calculate that social housing communities will have seen their real incomes fall by a total of £8.5bn.

This assault on the living standards of those at the bottom of the pile illustrates that we are definitely not "all in this together".

Kevin Gulliver

Human City Institute, Birmingham

Immigration bar will cost us dear

The Coalition proudly proclaimed its expectation that the result of its immigration policies would be a significant reduction in net migration during its mid-term review ("Coalition does what it says on the tin, declares Cameron", 8 January).

The Government has made gains in its efforts to reduce net migration, but the manner and long-term cost of these gains, largely achieved by limiting non-EU students, should be a cause of concern for everyone, not just universities.

International students contribute billions of pounds in tuition fees alone every year to the UK economy, and their presence makes for a culturally diverse academic environment, a significant benefit to domestic students expected to compete in a global marketplace upon graduation. Targeting them in pursuit of an arbitrary migration figure is ludicrous. During their studies they're education tourists, temporary visitors, and should be treated as such.

Eradicating the post-study work route; denying students the right to attend their own graduation ceremonies; the London Metropolitan debacle; and the very expensive process of securing a Tier 4 visa which, as of April, will involve an interview with UKBA: these serve to drive prospective students into the open arms of our global education competitors such as the US and Australia. They don't count international students in their net migration figures.

The Coalition should consider the true legacy of its ill-advised approach to net migration. Ucas releases the latest university application data this month. The UK higher education sector waits for the latest indicator of the damage done to the HE and international education sectors.

James Pitman


No safe speed to hit a child

Your leader on 20mph speed limits (2 January) raises interesting points, but omits a few.

Many cars are not economical at 20mph. Top gear cannot be engaged, and fuel consumption goes up. Speedometers are not designed for such a speed. They will not read dependably, and since local authorities are more interested in fines than speed (or parking) control, drivers will have to drive at 10 to 15mph to be safe.

Finally, we are telling parents that it is OK for children to be running about the street with this limit in force. There is no safe speed to hit a child.

Peter Rutherford

London NW6

Keith Peat of the Alliance for British Drivers ("Motoring groups warn of backlash on 20mph zones", 2 January) may be correct that drivers do drive to the speedometer in designated speed zones, but at least while they are doing so at 20mph, rather than at 30mph, their lack of concentration on the road is potentially less dangerous.

And are we to assume that these drivers never live in residential areas or have children, so have no interest in the roads being safer for their family members?

Pamela Gill


GPs need to try expensive drugs

GPs are damned if they do and damned if they don't ("Prescribe cheaper drugs, GPs told", 31 December). On the one hand we are encouraged to be entrepreneurial and innovative and provide patients with choice; yet on the other hand it seems we must practise like mindless clones.

Almost all drugs in the current list of cheap generics were once expensive branded products. Only because some GPs were prepared to try them, then prescribe them regularly, did they become widely accepted and thus attractive for a generic house to manufacture when the patent ran out. Without such interest from GPs, there would be no incentive for research.

Try telling that to someone with Parkinson's disease, or the carer of a dementia sufferer, hoping for effective treatment arising from research.

Dr Bill Hart

Everthorpe, East Yorkshire

From Falklands to Chagos

It's a pleasure to see the newly reiterated passion of the UK Government for the rights to self-determination of citizens of lands loosely connected to us by colonial history. It must also be music to the ears of the Chagos islanders, evicted by the UK from their land in 1971. But before they start packing their bags for the return trip, they must bear in mind that they were evicted at the behest of our good friends across the Atlantic. It seems that some colonial citizens are more equal than others.

Barry Butler


By the book

We are all given to understand that the complex shapes of snowflakes are such that no flake has ever been replicated (report, 5 January) but Professor Libbrecht says this is not surprising "if you consider that there's over a trillion ways you could arrange 15 different books on your bookshelf". You can't be serious. A quick check shows, however, that there are in fact 1,307,674,368,000 ways of arranging these 15 books. Re-arranging books on a shelf might be a useful alternative to counting sheep as a remedy for insomnia or perhaps could be used as a punishment for a refractory child.

David Ashton

Shipbourne, Kent

Pig ignorant

Many thanks to James Rampton for his article on the forthcoming Blandings adaptation (7 January), but why did he choose to tell us only Jennifer Saunders's age? Not only did he fail to tell us the ages of the male leads, he did not mention that of the pig, which, I assume from her name, the Empress, is female, like Ms Saunders. Is this discrimination or could he not Google the pig?

Nick Haward

Havant, Hampshire

Not an option

In her column of 7 January, Emily Jupp says: "Those who eat seven or more eggs a week are more likely to die than those who don't," and goes on to contrast this with advice on how eggs can help a good diet. The reality is that all people will die, seven eggs a week or not.

Tom Campbell


Wooden sound

Sorry, Mary Nolze (letters, 7 January) but in the 1950s we still had wooden radios. I still have one of them, and it works. None of your new-fangled, modern stuff for us.

H Kilborn

London SE12

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