Mary Josephine Bedford

Mary Josephine Bedford. (State Library of Queensland)

The story of Dr Lilian Cooper (see previous story) is not complete without recognising the achievements and contribution of her life-long partner, Mary Josephine Bedford.

Mary Josephine Bedford was born in England in 1861. She was the niece of Admiral Sir Frederick George Denham Bedford who was Governor of Western Australia from 1903 to 1909.

She met Lilian Cooper in 1888 while they were students in England, Lilian studying medicine and Josephine art. They came out to Brisbane in May 1891 and shortly after Lilian became the first female registered doctor in Brisbane.

Josephine helped her companion Lilian establish herself as the first female surgeon in Queensland and enjoyed taking her to house calls in their sulky. At the same time she pursued her lifelong passion to improve the living conditions of poor women and children, especially those living in the inner-city suburbs of Brisbane. She was the driving force behind setting up the Creche and Kindergarten Association (C & K) and the Playground Association in Brisbane, with a strong focus on providing supervised play for children in poorer areas.

Letter by Mary Josephine Bedford.

Three images of the Bedford Playground at 8 Love Street, Spring Hill,  established in 1927.

At the beginning of World WarI she and Lilian signed up for the 7th Medical Unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service (the Australian Army had rejected them on account of their gender) at Ostrovo, Macedonia, Serbia.

Images from the

They served together in Serbia in cold, mountainous and dangerous conditions. Lilian worked on helping casualties and Josephine took charge of the ambulance service getting patients to safety. After a year in Serbia they moved to Dubrovnik and continued their work with Lilian treating all patients equally, whether friend or foe. Their dedication and compassionate humanitarian work was greatly appreciated by Russia and in 1917 the King of Serbia awarded Lilian the 4th Order of St Sava, and Bedford the 5th Order.

Notification of the Insignia of the Order of St. Sava awarded to Lilian Cooper and Josephone Bedford by the King of Serbia.

In 1918 they returned to Brisbane to continue their welfare work and fight the Spanish flu epidemic brought back by returned soldiers. Josephine went back to work with the C & K Association. Due largely to her persistence, dedication and prolific letter-writing, the Association received Government subsidies, enabling it to set up and run much-needed playgrounds and facilities. The first of these were established in Paddington in 1918, East St, Fortitude Valley in 1922 and Spring Hill in 1927.


As well as the C&K and Playground Associations, Josephine was active in a wide range of community groups including the Queensland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty, the National Council of Women and the Women’s Electoral League and the Women’s Auxiliary for the Hospital for Sick Children.

Old St Mary’s on the cliffs at Kangaroo Point.

From 1926 until Lilian’s death in 1947 Lilian and Josephine lived in their cliff-top house called Old St Mary’s next to St Mary’s Anglican Church in Kangaroo Point.

After Lilian died, Josephine bequeathed their home to the Sisters of Charity to establish a hospice for the aged and dying, especially the poor. In 1954 the foundation stone was laid and in 1957 Mt Olivet Hospital specialising in palliative care opened. In 2008, after major renovations and upgrades the hospital was re-named St Vincent’s Private Hospital. The Education Centre is named after Dr Lilian Cooper and there is a Mary Bedford corner on the cliffs near the small section of stone wall remaining of Old St. Mary’s.

Plaque on the memorial tree in the Bedford Playground at Spring Hill to honour Mary Josephine Bedford.

Mary Josephine Bedford died on 22 December 1955. On 22 March 1956 a memorial tree was planted at the Spring Hill Playground to commemorate her role in establishing playgrounds in Queensland.

In 1959 the Spring Hill Playground was renamed Bedford Park in her honour. On 9 May 1998 Bedford Park was entered on the Queensland State Heritage Register. Images from the State Heritage Register.