Martha Sarah BIDMEAD RRC, MiD

BIDMEAD, Martha Sarah

Service Number: Nurse
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Sister
Last Unit: SA Nursing Sisters
Born: Guernsey, Channel Islands, 5 December 1862
Home Town: Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Nurse
Died: Natural causes, Payneham, South Australia, 23 July 1940, aged 77 years
Cemetery: West Terrace Cemetery (General)
Memorials: Keswick South Australian Army Nurses Roll of Honor
Show Relationships

Boer War Service

1 Oct 1899: Involvement Sister, SA Nursing Sisters
21 Feb 1900: Embarked Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Sister, SN Nurse, SA Nursing Sisters

"Best that Adelaide can furnish"


The six nurses who have been selected to go to South Africa have been described as the best that Adelaide can furnish. Miss M. S. Bidmead, who will probably take charge until the nurses report themselves in Cape Town, has been a probationer and charge nurse in the Adelaide Children's Hospital for three years, where she passed the examinations according to the regulations of the training school for nurses in connection with that institution, and was awarded a certificate of the first order of merit. She has had one year's training in surgical and medical work at Miss Tibbits's Hospital, and has acted as nurse for the patients of Drs. J. C.Verco and T. K. Hamilton, from both of whom she received excellent testimonials. Dr. Hamilton-wrote "I have never given a testimonial with greater pleasure than I now give this to Miss Bidmead. She has given me the utmost satisfaction in the way she has discharged her duties here. She is a most capable and well trained nurse; and possesses to a marked degree all the requisite qualifications to make her successful in carrying out her duties in whatever capacity she be called to act." Miss Bidmead is now a charge nurse in the Burra Hospital.

The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide) Saturday 10 February 1900 page 4


Nurse Bidmead returns on RMS Omrah


Nurse Bidmead, who left this State in February, 1900, in charge of five other nurses, namely, Misses O'Shanahan, Cocks, Watts, Stephenson, and Glenie, who volunteered their services in connection with the South African war, returned to Adelaide by the R.M.S. Omrah on Monday. When interviewed yesterday she said;

"We were soon sent on to Bloemfontem, while we were attached to the No. 10 General Hospital, the headquarters being Grey College, in that town. All public buildings in the place were reserved for hospitals. When we arrived the New South Wales Hospital Field Brigade were just vacating the Artillery Barracks for the front. All the South Australian nurses were placed in sole charge of the place, and there we remained together for about five months. Enteric fever was raring badly during that period, and we were kept busily engaged for a long time; too busy, in fact, to be able to make many enquiries about the progress of the war. There were a number of wounded Boer prisoners, including Commandant Banks, in our hospital. They were of a rather sullen disposition. I always refrained from entering into any conversation referring to the disputes that led up to the war, and everything passed off amicably at the hospital. Two Irish Americans, who had fought on the side of the Boers, were rather frank in their expressions, but very good-natured, and nothing said was taken amiss.

"In a house hear our hospital 11 Boers were arrested while in the act of cleaning their rifles. During the time we were at the Artillery Barracks we had 500 cases under our charge, and out of these only 27 deaths occurred. Nearly all the deaths resulted from enteric fever, and very few from wounds. I can tell you we felt proud of our splendid record'. "We gained a wonderful experience. At first we were short of some necessary articles for our work, hut that was not to be wondered at, considering the crowded state of the hospitals in such a short time, and that there was only one railway for forwarding everything required from Cape Town. In fact, it is surprising how such splendid arrangements could have been made in so short a period of time. I had only a small knife for spreading the poultices, and as every minute was precious to me I used a bayonet, for the work. It acted , so efficiently that I continued to use it afterwards. "The soldiers were very grateful for anything that was done for them, and wanted to make some presentations in return. I protested, saying they should cake them to those nearer and dearer to them. One man who was wounded in an engagement had his badge discolored by the missile which injured his arm. He asked me to accept the badge as a reward for my kindness. But I refused it. However, he persisted, and said, 'It's no good me taking chat home, as the old woman would only throw it outside.' "Although I stoutly refused to take some presents I found that I had to accept them after all, as they were left addressed to me."

Nurse Bidmead showed a shield, on which was displayed a large number of badges, including those of the Black Watch, the Staffordshire Regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders, the Royal Horse Artillery, and the Seventeenth Lancers, or the "Death or Glory Boys." Continuing her narrative, she said:— "The shield was made by a number of soldiers, who were convalescent. They were in high spirits, and consequently rather noisy. For the sake of the other patients I hit upon a plan to keep them quiet. I suggested that they, should make the shield, and they willingly undertook the task. They spent two days over it, and criticised each other's work as to the proper arrangement of the badges. At the end of the five months we six South Australian nurses were separated. One was sent to Pretoria, another to Harrismith, and a third to Modder River. I went to the headquarters of the No.10 General Hospital at Gray College, and remained there till the end of last year, when I proceeded to London. When I was there it made my blood boil to hear some of the false, charges against the British for their treatment of the Boers in the concentration camps. Although I had not been in the camps, I had spoken to friends who had, and I knew that the statements circulated were incorrect. I was asked when in London if I would go back to South Africa again, but declined, as I knew that my services were not so much needed as at the beginning of the war. Nurses O'Shanahan, Cocks, and Watts are still in South Africa. Nurse Stephenson returned to South Australia at the end of last year, and Nurse Glenie just recently." Nurse Bidmead has a number of interesting relics of the war, besides the shield, to which reference was made, including, a salt cellar and hell made of pom-pom and Mauser cartridges.

The Express and Telegraph Wednesday 18 June 1902 page 3


Death Of Sister M. Bidmead

Sister Martha Bidmead, whose death is announced, was one of the most prominent figures in nursing circles in South Australia. She received her training at the Adelaide Children's Hospital, and was later engaged in private nursing. She became a staff nurse at Burra Hospital, where she remained for about two years. In 1900 Sister Bidmead was chosen to take charge of the staff of nurses sent from South Australia to the South African War. She was placed in charge of No. 10 Military Hospital and occupied that position for some time. Sister Bidmead was the first South Australian nurse to receive the Royal Red Cross. She was general secretary and superintendent of nurses of the council of the District Trained Nursing Society for many years. She resigned from that position in 1926.

The Advertiser Saturday 27 July 1940 page 12


Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

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.