Dr Speece – medical man of mystery – part 1

The Coffs Harbour Regional Museum recently received a treasure in the form of a letter written by Dr Will C. Speece at the turn of the 20th century. The letter was compiled on a typewriter, but that did not hide the tone of the writing: “I warn you that the doctor’s instruction’s [sic] to the crowd in search of grati-fied curiosity is_go to hell or go home_ and you see that you do as I say.

Letter from Dr W Speece to Mr Buchanan family, early 1900s. Coffs Harbour Regional Museum M2021.48.1 [A transcript is available for reading at https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/71704.] The patient in question was a child of the Buchanan family at Karangi.
Will Comely Speece was an American surgeon with a degree from Starling Medical College in Columbus, Ohio, his home state. He graduated in 1883. [1]

He migrated to Australia in 1885 on the Zealandia, practising first in Queensland as a medical insurance agent. He came to this region in 1898 as a doctor for the Bucca Mines, but as he was the only one in town with medical expertise, he also cared for the local population.

Dr Will Speece stands outside his home at Coramba. Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, mus07-4011, https://coffs.recollect.net.au/nodes/view/46616

Dr Speece was also an avid writer of Letters to the Editor. He started soon after arrival in Australia; sending epistles to several newspapers and The Bulletin on topics unrelated to medical matters:

ASIATIC CARRIERS. (1893, November 10). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13926216

Some commentary is no longer appropriate, but he did want the best for his fellow man.

Published after his death, The Bulletin, 28 November 1907, p.11 at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-638238592/view?partId=nla.obj-638272983

Dr Speece died on 10 October 1907, at the relatively early age of 45, after a short bout of pneumonia. His death certificate indicates that he was buried in the Coffs Harbour (Historic) Cemetery, but there is no record of his gravesite. [Source: NSW BDM 12829/1907.]

While investigating the life of Dr Speece, it became apparent that there were two men with the same name and title. After a series of crimes in the late 1870s, Sidney Herbert started using the name in 1891.

Where did their paths cross?

Why did Speece choose this area to settle in?

To be continued…


[1] California, U.S. Occupational Licences, Registers, and Directories, 1876-1969; Annual Physician Directory, 1896


The Coffs Harbour Regional Museum expresses its gratitude to the Coffs Harbour District Family History Society for passing this treasure into its care, for all to read.

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