Victorian London - People - Mary Seacole


DAME SEACOLE was a kindly old soul, 
And a kindly old soul was she;
You might call for your pot, you might call for your pipe, 
In her tent on "the Col" so free.

Her tent on "the Col," where a welcome toll 
She took of the passing throng,
That from Balaklava to the front
Toiled wearily along.

That berry-brown face, with a kind heart's trace 
Impressed in each wrinkle sly,
Was a sight to behold, through the snow-clouds rolled 
Across that iron sky.

The cold without gave a zest, no doubt, 
To the welcome warmth within:
But her smile, good old soul, lent heat to the coal, 
And power to the pannikin.

No store she set by the epaulette,
Be it worsted or gold-lace;
For K.C.B., or plain private SMITH,
She had still one pleasant face.

But not alone was her kindness shown 
To the hale and hungry lot,
Who drank her grog and eat her prog,
And paid their honest shot.

The sick and sorry can tell the story
Of her nursing and dosing deeds.
Regimental M.D. never worked as she 
In helping sick men's needs.

Of such work, God knows, was as much as she chose, 
That dreary winter-tide,
When Death hung o'er the damp and pestilent camp, 
And his scythe swung far and wide.

And when winter past, and spring at last 
Made the mud-sea a sea of flowers,
Doghunt, race and review her brown face knew, 
Still pleasant, in sunshine or showers.

Still she'd take her stand, as blithe and bland, 
With her stores, the jolly old soul- 
And - be the right man in the right place who can - 
The right woman was Dame SEACOLE

She gave her aid to all who prayed,
To hungry, and sick, and cold:
Open band and heart, alike ready to part 
Kind words, and acts, and gold.

And now the good soul is 'in the hole,' 
What red-coat in all the land,
But to set her upon her legs again
Will not lend a willing hand ?

Punch, December 6, 1856

MR. PUNCH begs to lay before his innumerable readers the following letter. It will no doubt be remarked that the writer says many more than two words for him, and hardly one for herself; but Mr. Punch does not omit the former, because they are inseparably linked with the latter:- 
"MOTHER SEACOLE loves to acknowledge the kindness shown her by her sons, whether in black or red coats of a suffering army, and hastens to assure Punch that she has long felt a mother's affection for him. For she remembers a time when a word of cheer and encouragement from home broke like a ray of golden sunlight through the gloom of a suffering army, and that word Punch never failed to give her soldier sons. Nor has she forgotten how - as she walked through the wards of the hospital at Spring Hill, her arms laden with papers, the contributions of kind officers to their sick men, the sufferers would plead for a glimpse of Punch, which seldom failed to have a heart-stirring piece of poetry or a noble sketch in appreciation of their struggles. She has some of these numbers now, old and worn and frayed by many a strong hand brought low by the Russian bullet or pestilence. It shared the high popularity of the Illustrated London News, and remembering these old times, it stirs the heart of MOTHER SEACOLE like the sound of the old war-cry she may never hear again, to find her poor name noticed in the columns which cheered on England to a noble contest.
    "And more than this. MOTHER SEACOLE in this, her season of want - for the Peace which brought blessings to so many ruined her - feels that the notice of her good son Punch brings sunshine into the poor little room - not quite a garret yet, thank God, she has one more weary story to climb before her pallet rests so near the sky-to which she is reduced.
    "Not that the army's mother murmurs at her lot. She knows that she is not flung aside like -  like some of the brave men for whose blood there is no further need; and she believes there will yet be work for her to do somewhere. Perhaps in China, perhaps on some other distant shore to which Englishmen go to serve their country, there may be woman's work to do - and for that work if her good son Punch will cheer her on old MOTHER SEACOLE has a heart and hands left yet."
        "14, Solo Square, May, 8, 1857
    It will be evident, from the foregoing, that MOTHER SEACOLE has sunk much lower in the world, and is also in danger of rising much higher in it, than is consistent with the honour of the British army, and the generosity of the British public. Both will be disgraced if MOTHER SEACOLE, by reason of declining circumstances, should have to ascend into a garret. Although she has a heart and hands left yet to help herself, in case of opportunity, the opportunity may never arrive; in the meanwhile, has England no heart left to help her? Hands England has plenty to help her, it there are any hearts to move them, and put them into pockets containing more money than the proprietors thereof know how to employ for any praiseworthy purpose. Who would give a guinea to see a mimic sutler-woman, and a foreigner, frisk and amble about the stage, when he might bestow the money on a genuine English one, reduced to a two-pair back, and in imminent danger of being obliged to climb into an attic?

Punch, May 30, 1857