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Siberian visitors honour Museum co-founder

THREE Russians have travelled more than 3,000 miles to pay homage to a woman once vilified in Bexhill but still venerated in Siberia.

Kate Marsden is remembered today as co-founder of Bexhill Museum with the Rev J.C. Thompson.

But in her day she was dogged by controversy.

She was lauded for a campaigning speech to the all-male Bexhill Commercial Association in 1913. Six weeks later she was ousted from the museum appeal committee after an enemy sent Borough Mayor Daniel Mayer details of accusations that she had misappropriated funds raised for her expedition to Siberia 20 years before.

A nurse, Kate went to seek a fern said to be a cure for leprosy. The claim proved false. Instead she founded a leper hospital. As last Wednesday’s visitors to Bexhill explained, the people of Viliusk where her statue stands and where a street is named after her, honour her memory to this day.

Explorer, teacher, film-maker and speaker Jacki Hill-Murphy has retraced by modern means the journey Kate wrote about in 1893 in On Sledge and Horseback to the Outcast Siberian Lepers. Kate’s journey was made during the eight-month Siberian winter when temperatures are often minus 40 Centigrade. Jacki wisely went in summer.

Like Jacki, Kate was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society but was accused of falsifying her story.

Jacki specialises in re-tracing the steps of courageous women explorers and bringing their stories alive

She brought with her copies of her newly-published The Extraordinary Tale of Kate Marsden and My Journey across Siberia in Her Footsteps.

She also brought with her Russian Geographical Society member Ulyana Vasileva; Venera Tikhonova,  deputy head of social politics at Viliusk Municipal District Council, and Edward Vladimirovich Surov who established the first Wikipedia site on Kate Marsden in Russian.

The visitors were greeted by museum chairman John Betts, curator Julian Porter and members of the museum board together with Town Mayor Cllr Tom Graham and Rother services manager Brenda Mason.

As part of a conducted tour of the museum led by the curator the visitors were shown where Kate Marsden’s photograph is displayed. Ironically, it is alongside a portrait of the Rev Thompson who refused to accept a photograph of Kate after her death in 1931. They later looked at Kate Marsden’s former homes in Bedford Avenue, Dorset Road and Cooden Drive.

A digital slide show featuring illustrations from Jacki’s book together with documents and other archive material about Kate Marsden was screened as the group discussed the co-founder over a buffet lunch.

The museum chairman presented each guest with a museum gift bag containing his history of the museum, the museum oral history book Bexhill Voices and a current edition of the museum newsletter.

Venera presented the chairman with a mounted plate bearing Kate Marsden’s photo and the legend: “In good memory of Kate Marsden from grateful people of Viliusk, Yakutia, Russia” together with a cup used for the drinking of the traditional Siberian fermented mare’s milk.


The visitors invited museum representatives to Viliusk and nearby Sosnovka to see Kate’s leper hospital (now a psychiatric hospital) and a museum in her memory as the possible start of a link with Bexhill.

*Jacki’s book is now available from the Egerton Road museum at £9.99.

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