(Mary) Josephine Bedford, 1891.

‘Dr. Cooper is bringing out a motor car but nothing will ever be to me what a horse is.’ Mary Bedford in a letter quoted in the Queenslander, 7 January 1905, p. 6.

Two notable residents of George Street in the early twentieth century were (Mary) Josephine Bedford and Dr Lilian Cooper.

Born in England in 1861, the niece of Admiral Sir Frederick George Denham Bedford GCB, Governor of Western Australia 1903-1909, Josephine Bedford arrived in Brisbane in 1891 with her long-time friend, Dr Lilian Cooper, the first registered female doctor in Queensland. During the course of the next sixty years, as well as assisting Cooper, Bedford would pursue an interest in improving the welfare of Queensland’s women and children.

Josephine Bedford had an early involvement in many organisations we now consider long-established. She was a committee member of the Queensland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty. She was associated in 1905 with the establishment of the Queensland branch of the National Council of Women, becoming its first provisional secretary. In the years before women had the right to vote she was a member of the Queensland Women’s Electoral League.

One cause close to her heart was the need for safe areas where children of the inner suburbs of Brisbane could play. She joined forces with a local minister, the Reverend Loyal Lincoln Wirt, to set up the Brisbane Institute of Social Service in 1906 in an abandoned tobacco factory on the corner of Brunswick and Ivory streets. Inside was established a crèche, kindergarten and boys and girls clubs. The following year Bedford was instrumental in the formation of the Creche and Kindergarten Association (now C & K, a Queensland wide organisation). By 1911 the C & K Association was independent of the Institute and four centres were operating in Brisbane.

Bedford focused her attention on the area of ‘supervised play’. As a result of the educational aspects of her tours in America and Europe ‘on furlough’ with Cooper, Bedford was instrumental in establishing the Playground Association in 1913.

With the declaration of war in 1914 Bedford and Cooper signed up with the Scottish Women’s Hospital for Foreign Service. By this time both women were aged in their fifties. They served high up in the mountains of Ostrovo in Serbian Macedonia between 1916 and 1917, under the command of Dr Agnes Bennett. While Dr Cooper worked to stabilise casualties just behind the Serbian front, either in field hospital tents or in abandoned buildings, Bedford, who became known as ‘Miss Spare Parts’, was head of the ambulance service ferrying the injured to safety. Both worked close to the battlefield. It was winter and it was cold and wet. Tracks were muddy and slippery. The drivers had icicles clinging to their faces and one ambulance was lost over the side of the road. Some ambulance drivers were killed.

Bedford and Cooper moved to Dubrovnik to an advance dressing station where Dr. Cooper, operated on any patient presented, including enemy patients. She received a decoration from Russia for this work, and in 1917 the King of Serbia awarded her the 4th Order of St Sava. Miss Bedford was awarded the 5th Order of St. Sava. Both women also served with the French Red Cross.  In 1918 they returned to Brisbane in time to continue their community welfare efforts and fight the Spanish flu epidemic that had returned with the servicemen.

Returning to her work with the Playground Association, Josephine Bedford was connected with the first playground established, in Paddington in 1918, as well as East Street Fortitude Valley in 1922 and Spring Hill in 1927. The Playground Association and the Creche and Kindergarten Association were successful in achieving local and state government sponsorship and funding, as well as money from various national philanthropic trust funds. The success of these two organisations can be attributed in part to the tireless and strategic work of Josephine Bedford. Throughout her life, Bedford worked toward alleviating the stress and poverty afflicting urban dwellers.

Josephine Bedford died on the 22 December, 1955. She had remained active in the Playground Association until her death. It is clear through her extensive letter writing, evident in archival files on both organisations, that they achieved their successes. Dr Lilian Cooper had died in 1947, leaving all her assets to Josephine. To commemorate the work of Queensland’s first female medical practitioner and her lifelong companion, Josephine Bedford donated their historic home, Old St Mary’s at Kangaroo Point, to the Sisters of Charity on the proviso that it be used to build a hospice for the sick and dying. Today’s St Vincent’s Private Hospital is located on the site.

On the 22 March 1956 a tree was planted in memory of Bedford, an honorary life member of the Queensland Women’s Historical Association, in the grounds of Newstead House.  The tree and memorial plaque still stand today.  In 1959 the Brisbane City Council agreed to the suggestion of the Playground and Recreation Association that the Spring Hill Playground be renamed the Bedford Playground in memory of Mary Josephine Bedford.

Australian Women’s Register

Bedford Playground

A childcare centre closes in the Valley

Friends of Bedford Park


Queenslander, 23 May 1891, p. 967.

Telegraph, 11 July 1918.

Additional Reading

Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Lilian Cooper

Additional images