Dr. Mike Hinton, Crimean War Research Society The UKAHN Bulletin
  Volume 7 (1) 2019

This essay was prompted by the chance finding of a letter hidden away in a large box of un-indexed letters and reports in the National Archives at Kew. It was written on 23 March 1855 by Thomas Day, the business partner of Mrs Mary Seacole, to Major General Richard Airey, the Quarter Master General (QMG). Day, who at the time was resident on the schooner Nonpareilin Balaklava harbour, had arrived in the Crimea before Seacole and it was he who selected a potential site at Spring Hill for what developed into the commercial complex known as the British Hotel or ‘Mrs Seacole’s’. He sought and obtained permission from the military authorities to proceed with this initiative; and this letter, together with some other correspondence provide an interesting insight into the early development of the hotel.

An illustration of Mrs Seacole’s ‘Hotel’ – ‘Mrs Seacole’s from the southeast’ (Blackwood,1881, facing page 252)

Thomas Day’s Letter

I respectively solicit your consideration of the subjoined statement and proposals. I have recently,arrived from England with a cargo of goods adapted for the supply of necessaries and comforts to Her Majesty’s forces now before Sebastopol (sic), and there being no accommodation at this port for warehousing goods, I have no alternative but to land and convey them some distance inland. With this object, I have inspected the line of communication between Balaklava and the camp, and having from various sources acquired the necessary,information, I have satisfied myself that as regards the recent settlement at Kadikoi, the coming summer will develop many inconveniences, among which the deficiency of water for man and beast will be severely felt; and I am therefore desirous of proceeding further along the line of railway to what appears to me a more salubrious locality, which possess moreover the advantage of greater proximity to the troops whose wants my establishment is intended to supply; namely a site near the stationary engine, about a mile beyond Kadikoi in the vicinity of a rill of clear water, which is my principal inducement for selecting the spot.I have purchased from Lieut. Colonel [C.R. Sackville-West], Lord West, [commanding the 21st Regiment], an iron house and am in treaty for two more with the supercargo on the Ann Mclean,the purchase depending upon the result of my application for leave to erect them on the place described above. I have, in the first instance applied to [Lieutenant] Colonel [F.P.] Harding [AQMG and Commandant at Balaklava] and learning from him that his authority to license the erection of houses does not extend beyond Kadikoi I now respectively submit for your consideration the following proposals, viz. That I shall be allowed to erect, upon such unoccupied ground in the locality pointed out, as may not be required for government use, three iron houses, one to be occupied as a store, one as an hotel, and the other as a dwelling house with such wooden outhouses, stabling, etc. as may be required as appurtenances to the main buildings. That I shall be allowed to enclose for the purpose of making a vegetable garden an area to the rear of the buildings not exceeding half an acre. That my tenure of such ground shall be limited by such conditions as rental, removal, or otherwise, as under the circumstances of occupation may be deemed expedient. I have the honour to enclose two circulars, one detailing the particulars of my,own goods, and the other relating to the hotel my friend Mrs Seacole wishes; to establish [These documents have yet to be found].

Comments by the Army Staff

Following receipt of the letter at Headquarters the following comments were written on the same sheet of paper. The passages underlined were marked by Airey with a double line in the right margin.

General Airey to C.G.: This man will probably be ruined. Lord Raglan can only decide whether such an establishment is desirable. Show Colonel [T.M.] Steel [Military Secretary at Headquarters].

Lord Raglan: I think he had better come higher up. Report if there are any possible objections in his squatting on the line of march.

General Airey: Referred for opinion of M[ajor] Gen[eral] [H.D.] Jones [commanding the Royal Engineers]. I don’t know that I see any. He may attract fire. Altogether I am opposed to his application. I see no advantage in a house of call [public house]. Men get drunk.

Major General Jones, CRE, 1 April 54: There does not appear to any objection to a sutler [a civilian merchant who sold provisions to army personnel on a commercial basis] under proper regulations establishing himself within the lines, it would be very desirable if sutlers would be found to be attached to and follow each Division: and be a component part of such Division. Permission may be given to Mr Day to establish himself without consenting to all he asks for with respect to such houses, gardenas these are matters of detail which will require to be addressed whenever a site has been selected.

General Airey to C.G.: Inform Mr Thomas Day that he may put up his proposed establishment but he must run all risks of being dispossessed on military grounds at any moment. He must take care in selecting his site; that he will not interfere with railway, the Director General of Transports, or any other department.

Final note: Letter written April 3.

Ann Maclean

This 540-ton barque was chartered by Charles Stuart, the 12th and last Lord Blantyre. totake goods for sale to the troops at ‘prime cost [in order to] take the wind from the sails of those trafficking harpies who have made rich on the necessities of our soldiers’ (Glasgow Herald, 1855). The vessel sailed from Glasgow on about 9 December and docked in Balaklava on 15 February 1855 (Journal of Operations, 1854–1855).

Further developments

Mary Seacole arrived at Balaklava on 19 March 1855 on board Albatross, a cattle transport, which she boarded in Constantinople after her voyage from England on Hollander(Margrave, 2015). On the following morning: ‘Mr Day, appraised of my arrival, came on board the Albatross and our plans were laid’ (Seacole, 1999, p91).

Mr Darnley Stewart, Lord Blantyre’s agent based on the Ann Maclean, wrote to Major [R.N.] Kingscote [Scots Fusilier Guards and an ADC on Raglan’s personal staff]on 4 April informing him that he had had an offer from Mr Day of the Nonpariel for two iron houses on condition that he can find transport for them ‘to the site sanctioned for their erection by Lord Raglan.’ The letter continued: ‘I have seen Mr [J.] Beattie [sic: Beatty, who was the chief engineer responsible for the construction of the railway which conveyed ammunition and stores to the front from Balaklava; See Cooke, (1997)]upon the subjectwho at once expressed his readiness to serve me, but is unable to do so being under the direction of the government. He recd [received] instructions from Sir S[amuel Morton] Peto to assist me in the above, and Lord Blantyre writes Robertson and Lister [a Glasgow-based firm] have sent two iron houses which may sell at Constantinople if not at Balaklava. Mr Peto’s engineer will give skilled labour to assist putting them up if required. If you obtain Lord Raglan’s permission for the above that I may not lose the sale of the houses I shall esteem it a great favour.’

The letter was annotated ‘Answered April 8’; presumably in the affirmative.

An assemblage of buildings identified as ‘Mrs Seacole’s hut’ was depicted in the background of Lady Alicia Blackwood’s sketch of Major Cox’s hut and the Zebra vicarage [the residence of the Revd Charles Josiah Hart, MA] (Blackwood, 1881, facing p252). No close-up image of the British Hotel has yet been found, though its location has been identified (Jones 2013, 2015). It is possible that the purchase of the two iron houses was never finalized because Seacole’s description of the premises suggests that only the hut erected was that obtained from Lord West: 

‘The hotel and storehouse consisted of a long iron room […] attached [to which] was a little kitchen. […] In addition to the iron house were two wooded houses, with sleeping apartments .for myself and Mr Day, outhouses for our servants, a canteen for the soldiery, and a large enclosed yard for our stock, full of stables, low huts and sties’(Seacole, 1999, p110). Shortly before she left the Crimea Seacole noted:‘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 outhouses and sheds which were not used for fuel. All the kitchen, fittings and stoves that had cost us so much, fell also into their hands’ (Seacole, 1999, p185).

There is no evidence in Seacole’s autobiography to suggest that the British Hotel offered overnight accommodation, as would be expected in a hotel today, or part of the premises was ever used as hospital, (For further discussion see Robins 2011; McDonald 2012a, 2012b), or comprised more than a single storey, as has been suggested (Scotland and Hays, 2013, p237). It wasdescribed as ‘a perfect Omnibus Shop, which was greatly frequented’ (Blackwood, 1881, p262) and seemingly did brisk trade for about nine months. Ultimately it proved a financial disaster, as Airey had predicted. However, this was not the fault of Day and Seacole. Rather it was the result of a serious loss of trade precipitated by the rapid withdrawal of the troops from the Crimea after the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 30 March 1856.The partners were declared bankrupt on their return to England as evinced by the following notice: ‘Whereas a petition for adjudication of bankruptcy, filed the 27thday of October, 1856; hath been presented against Mary Seacole and Thomas Day the younger of No. l, Tavistock Street, Covent-garden, and of No. 17, Ratcliff Terrace, GoswellRoad, both in the County of Middlesex, and late of Spring-hill and Balaklava, both in the Crimea, provision merchants, traders, dealers and chapmen [brokers]’(London Gazette,1856). 

The partners’ bankruptcy, and its sequelae, are outwith the scope of this essay; suffice it to state that the first hearing was held at the Bankruptcy Court on November 1856, and this, and other appearances were reported in The Times and regional newspapers. Analyses on this topic can be found in commentaries by Robinson (2005, pp160-88) and Austin (2013, 2014).


Mary Seacole was obviously an ebullient and colourful personality, and this comes across strongly in ‘Wonderful Adventures’. Her account contains relatively few references to Day, a seemingly ‘mild and unassuming man who remained a cipher in her journal’ (Rappaport, p183). Little is known of their business relationship, although it is probable that she took all responsibility for day to day catering. Nevertheless, it was Day who obtained the necessary agreement to develop the British Hotel in the first place. Given the nature of the times the military authorities would have regarded him as the senior partner, although, as has been suggested his precise role in the whole enterprise has yet to be discovered.


I am grateful to Douglas Austin for helpful advice and comments.


Primary sources

Thomas Day’s letter to Major General Richard AireyIn Reports and Papers, Quartermaster General, Part 3 (1854-1856), WO 28/194. The Quartermaster General’s Index of Correspondence recorded its receipt on 23 March 1854;WO 28/140.

Glasgow Herald(1855), 5 March, 5. For additional details see Liverpool Mercury (1854) ‘War items’, 8 December, 11 and Daily News(1854) ‘Supplies for the Crimea’, 9 December, 8.

Journal of Operations, December 1854–June 1855, The National Archives, WO 28/141.

London Gazette (1856), 28 October, p3256.

Secondary Sources

Austin, D.J. (2013) ‘The Mary Seacole funds’. The War Correspondent [The journal of the Crimean War Research Society], 30, 4,26–29.

Austin, D.J. (2014) ‘More on the Seacole fund’. The War Correspondent, 31, 4, 6.

Blackwood, Lady Alicia. (1881) Narrative of Personal Experiences and Impressions during a Residence on the Bosphorus throughout the Crimean War. London: Hatchard.

Cooke, B. (1997)The Grand Crimean Central Railway. 2nd Ed. Knutsford: Cavalier House.

Jones, D.R. (2013) ‘Location of the British Hotel at Spring Hill’. The War Correspondent, 30, 4, 23–5.

Jones, D.R. (2015), Forgotten Places in the Crimea. Raleigh, USA: Lulu, 73–6.

McDonald, L. (2012a) ‘Nursing’s Bitter Rivalry’. History Today, 62, 9, 10–66.

McDonald, L. (2012b) ‘The Real Mary Seacole?’ The War Correspondent, 30, 2,36–8.

Margrave, T. (2015) ‘How and when did Mary Seacole get to the Crimea’. The War Correspondent, 32, 2, 13–9.

Rappaport, H. (2007) No Place for Ladies. London: Arum Press.

Robins, C (2011), ‘Myths Relating to Mary Seacole and her Work in the Crimean War’, Journal of the Society of Army Historical Research,84, 90–1.

Robinson, J. (2005) Mary Seacole. The Charismatic Black Nurse who Became aHeroine of the Crimea. London: Constable.

Scotland, T and Heys, S (2013) Wars, Pestilence and the Surgeon’s Blade. Solihull: Helion.

Seacole, M (1999). The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands.(London: Black Classics.). The book was published first by James Blackwood in 1857.