About Martha Sarah Bidmead
Martha Sarah Bidmead (1862-1940), nurse, was born on 5 December 1862 at Guernsey, Channel Islands, daughter of Thomas Benjamin Bidmead, tobacconist, and his wife Anne, née Mason.
In 1885, after both parents had died, she migrated to South Australia with her four sisters, arriving on 30 April in the John Elder. Having decided on a nursing career, she began training at Adelaide Children's Hospital in July 1886 and was charge nurse there in 1887-89. For the next eight years she engaged in private nursing, then in 1898 was appointed staff nurse at Burra Burra District Hospital.
In 1899, when the South Australian government decided to send a detachment of nurses to the South African War, Sister Bidmead volunteered and was placed in charge of six nurses who sailed on 21 February 1900. The government paid their fares and guaranteed them a salary of 15s. a week. They were attached to the 2nd General Hospital at Winburg near Cape Town until June, and then transferred to the 10th General Hospital at Bloemfontein where the New South Wales Ambulance Corps was based. The nurses spent most of their time in tented medical wards tending cases of enteric fever and dysentery—diseases which accounted for a high proportion of casualties.
Sister Bidmead wrote regularly to members of the Nurses' Fund Committee describing her experiences; her letters, published in the Adelaide Observer, gave a vivid account of conditions in the improved hospitals and of the struggle against epidemics of contagious diseases. In March 1901 she became ill and after a fortnight's leave was assigned to light duties at the 5th Stationary Hospital, Bloemfontein. She later took charge of the 10th General Hospital and on 4 September was mentioned in dispatches. Late in 1901 she went to England in charge of the wounded on a hospital ship. On 10 December she was awarded the Royal Red Cross, the first South Australian to receive this decoration. She also received the Queen's and King's South African Service medals and in June 1902 was presented with the Devoted Service Cross, a decoration awarded by the South Australian Nurses' Association.
After the war Sister Bidmead engaged in private nursing until 1912 when she was appointed superintendent of the District Trained Nursing Society of South Australia, which provided home-nursing care for the poor. Much of the society's success was due to her administrative ability; she remained in charge until her retirement in 1926. She had been secretary of the South Australian branch council of the Australian Trained Nurses' Association in 1920-26.
Short in stature, with a bustling nature, Martha Bidmead was a born leader with an arresting personality, a positive character and a deep rich voice. In retirement she found time for her favourite hobbies: playing bridge and tending the garden at Guernsey Cottage, the home she shared with her sisters at Payneham. She died there of a chronic neurological disorder on 23 July 1940 and was cremated after a service at St Aidan's Anglican Church, Payneham.
Departure of the Nurses
The noble little band of nurses for the Transvaal took their departure from Adelaide by the Melbourne express on Monday afternoon. The send off they received was touching. It differed greatly from that tendered to the contingents on their departure, but its sincerity was shown by the large crowd which choked the railway station and the street in its vicinity. At about a quarter to 4 o'clock the dense throng in front of Parliament House parted to allow of the passage several nurses, whose red lined cloaks at once proclaimed their office. The ascended the steps of the building, and were met by the officers of the ladies' committee and the Chief Secretary, and escorted to a table, where they signed the agreement of service. At the conclusion of this formality lady Brown who has been a most enthusiastic worker right through, pinned in the dress of each of the ladies a buttonhole composed of "roses of England and violets of womanly modesty" - a happy combination. The six nurses chosen are Miss MS Bidmead, Miss AB Stephenson, Miss AM Glenie, Miss O'Shanahan, Miss AG Cock, and Miss E Watts.
They could not but be affected by the spontaneity of their farewell, or by the fervent "God bless you," which was showered on them from all directions. Every available nurse from the city and suburbs was present at Parliament House to from a guard of honour, and event these were marshalled by Colonel Madley, and arranged on one of the flights of stairs at the station, reserved for their use by the courtesy of the Chief Secretary. Shortly after 4 o'clock the nurses, preceded by the Mayoress (Mrs Ware, the president of the nurses' committee), and followed by Miss Ester Boas (secretary), Lady Brown (treasurer), and members of the committee, the Chief Secretary (Hon JG Jenkins), and a large number of legislators, moved off to the railway station amidst ringing cheers. The crowd in the station itself was immense, and when the nurses were escorted in their car the train was simply rushed. People in their excitement climbed through windows with bunches of flowers, boarded the train at the ends of the carriages with letters and parcels, and shouted "good-byes" over the heads of the intervening crowds. Numerous were the presents thrust through windows at the last moment, and amongst the gifts received by each of the nurses was a purse presented by the Mayoress. As the train moved slowly away from the platform cheer after cheer rang out, while sticks and handkerchiefs were whiled aloft. A number of nurses and ladies of the committee, determined to be the last to say farewell, went along the line and mounted some trucks a little distance down the station yard. As the train passed them these ladies, waving flags, sang "God save the Queen." Just before the train moved away Nurse Bidmead desired a representative of the "Advertiser" to thank the people of South Australia for the great kindness which had been shown to her and her companions. "This is only play, but I trust we shall be of service." That they will be, and that they will all return safe, was the single thought of the densely packed thousands who wished them farewell. At Aldgate Mesdames Corpe and Walder Duncan provided afternoon tea - a graceful act, much appreciated by the nurses.
From: Adelaide Chronicle, 24 February 1900, p. 19.
From the Boer War Memorial site SOUTH AUSTRALIAN NURSES
- Original strength: nine
- Commanding officer: Sister M. S. Bidmead
- Left for South Africa: mid February 1900 on Australasian
- Service: March 1900 - 1902 in Cape Colony, Free State, and Transvaal
- Fatal casualties: none
- Decorations: RRC (Bidmead)
- Returned to Australia: unknown
- Useful sources: files of nurses (State Records of SA, GRG24/6, 40/1900, and 52/1900), nurses’ letters in Adelaide Observer. 2 June 1900 p. 8, 9 June 1900 p. 7, and 21 July 1900 p. 43
Further searches show reference only to six nurses being sent from South Australia not nine as in the list above. Perhaps the other three were servants or assitants to ensure the nurses safety during travel to South Africa.
The following is taken from a much larger document titled "South Australian Nurses Bound for the Anglo - Boer War 1899 -1902 " written by Caroline Adams.
It was estimated that fares, salary and outfits for twelve months would cost £100 per nurse, to be met by public donations. The six nurses would have an allowance for outfits and be paid 15/ a week. Unlike other Australian colonial nursing in contingents bound for South Africa, it was supported solely by the community.
The Advertiser, 6 February 1900, p.6.
The six nurses chosen were announced on 10 February. Given that selection only began in early February and that the nurses had to be in Melbourne on the 21 February, to board the ship, there was very little time for outfitting and preparation.
All of the nurses were over 30 , the head nurse apparently about 34.
The nurses to go to South Africa, were as follows: Martha Bidmead, (trained at Adelaide Children’s Hospital and Miss Tibbits’ Hospital, charge nurse at Burra), Amelia Stephenson, (trained at the Adelaide Hospital, worked at Miss Tibbits hospital, before returning to the Adelaide hospital where she was charge nurse in theatre), A Glennie, (trained at North Adelaide Private Hospital and at Miss Tibbits’, ten years experience), Mary O’Shanahan (trained North Adelaide Hospital, charge nurse at the hospital), A Cocks, (trained at the Adelaide Hospital, nursing in association Miss Josling’s Nurses’ Home) and E Watts (works at Miss Tibbits Hospital for three years as charge nurse and also in charge of outpatients).
Lady Tennyson wrote to her mother in England describing the outfits:
... each nurse is only to be allowed ten pounds for her outfit. They are to have a blue serge gown and cloak lined with red, 3 blue line gown, 6 red twill aprons for when they can’t be washed, 6 white, bonnet, shady hat and helmet. ... On their arms they are to have a white band with the Red Cross, S.A.T.N - South Australian Trained Nurse, & the South Australian coat of arms.
Australia was soon to be federated but it was made clear, from their uniform that they were South Australian nurses.
The South Australian nurses were mainly stationed at Wynburg* (2GH) and Bloemfontein, where they worked in several different hospitals. Nurses Glenie, Watts and Stephenson were also stationed in Pretoria, early in 1901. Nurse Stephenson also appears to have served on a hospital ship, returning to England. Like the troops, the nurses received a chocolate box from Queen Victoria and service medals from the new King. Martha Bidmead received the Royal Red Cross and Devoted Service Cross), MA Glenie (DSC and King’ Medal), and nurses Cocks, O’Shanahan, Stephenson and Watts (KM). Nurses Watts need not have doubted - the nurses did indeed do South Australia great credit.
The rare Royal Red Cross, and Queen's South Africa Medal. Similar medals would have been issued to Marianne Rawson. But these were awarded to South Australian Sister Martha Bidmead. Only three Royal Red Crosses were awarded to Australian nurses in the Boer War.