As noted in our last post, Dr William Comely Speece was the first doctor to settle in the local area. The first resident General Practitioner was Dr Robert Kane, appointed in the same year as Will Speece died – 1907.
Will Speece had been in the district for only nine years. He came to Australia in December 1885 as an unassisted saloon passenger on the Zealandia.
He immediately sought to be legally registered in New South Wales:
Not long after, Dr Speece attracted an imposter: Sidney Herbert a.k.a. Herbert Saunders, a.k.a. Lardner, a.k.a. Dr Spence. The names Lardner and Spence may possibly be a journalist’s misprint. Which was his real name? The only one we know with any certainty was that he was not William Speece.
He was arrested as Herbert Saunders, and was known to police:
Before he had even crossed paths with Dr Speece, this person did four years of hard labour on a road gang.
Interestingly, his release information mentions that he had travelled on the Zealandia – the same ship on which Dr Speece migrated, although in a different year. This postal service ship first arrived in Australia in 1876 from England. Its passage was acknowledged as notable for the shortened time travel:
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.”
Will Comely Speece was an American surgeon with a degree from Starling Medical College in Columbus, Ohio, his home state. He graduated in 1883. 
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 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:
Some commentary is no longer appropriate, but he did want the best for his fellow man.
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…
 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.
It is not a new phenomenon for a shire council to receive complaints about the condition of local roads. But it is uncommon for the situation to inspire poetry.
In April 1918, an intrepid Minister for Local Government made a journey to several towns on the North Coast. His itinerary was carefully detailed in the newspaper of the day:
The unusual part of this itinerary was the mention of a particular street in a particular town: the Jetty Road in Coffs Harbour. It was heavily used as the main thoroughfare for all traffic to and from the Jetty.
A few years before the Ministerial visit, there was some competition for road space and the concern about the condition of the road continued. So the opportunity to highlight the issue was eagerly grasped by the newspapers of the day, in both longform and poetry.
Fitzgerald remained as Minister, and the state of the Jetty Road remained for some years.
Patriotism takes many forms – restoration and placement of the artefacts of war across Australia, monuments and memorials to the sacrificed, poetry and music filled with bravado, and special days for remembering.
The most gentle form of patriotic fervour must be lace-making, a skill adapted to show support and raise funds for soldiers at war.
This activity took place during both World Wars, but spread nationally during World War I.
The making of these delicate pieces was inspired by the context of the lives of their makers; for those in the collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, it was the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp. The recent discovery of four fine crocheted shapes required further investigation.
As The Maitland Daily Mercury explained in November 1915:
Mrs. L. A. Cavalier wrote asking the [School of Arts] committee's acceptance for placing on view in the library two samples of crochet work executed by her from designs taken from publications in the reading room. The designs are artistic and unique, and represent a large amount of labour and patience. One represents the "British Lion,", and the other gives the words "Dardanelles 1915, Our Heroes," with a warship in the centre. Mrs. Cavalier's object in undertaking the work was to arouse interest among other lady members, who might be able to improve on the designs, and so foster a work which might be a means of raising some small amounts to help the patriotic funds. Mrs. Cavalier was very heartily thanked for her thoughtfulness and her request acceded to.
Cordial was one of the treats inspiring early businesses to develop in Coffs Harbour. Cordials manufacturing was usually developed to disguise the poor taste and quality of water.  To quench the thirst of the local community, the Glynn Brothers – John and William – had established a cordial factory near the Coffs Harbour jetty by 1912.
The business was formally registered on 17 July 1917. John assumed full responsibility for it in 1921. As it grew, the factory had to deal with some location issues:
John Glynn decided to rebuild in a new location; so a new construction plan was devised and the business moved to Collingwood Street.
The site prior to construction is shown in this land sale poster:
The business continued into the late 1940s. Its artefacts live on in the collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.
Research is an essential part of writing a good memoir or non-fiction book. My second book will explore my O’Neill family history and the indigenous population they unsettled when they “pioneered and settled” the Karangi and Orara area in the 1880s. But where to get accurate information? We’d had a family reunion twenty-odd years ago and there was a booklet put together about the O’Neills but what about the Gumbaynggirr people? I wasn’t getting very far with my desktop research so I contacted the librarians at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum and Libraries.
What a good choice that was! After clarifying what I was interested in, Debbie Campbell connected me with Coffs Collections, a digitised treasure chest of photos and documents from the Museum’s collection, sent me other documents on file and links to relevant information, and also put me in touch with Richard Widders, the Aboriginal Planner and Liaison Officer, who gave me the contact details of a number of Aboriginal elders and people with local knowledge.
I live in Sydney and was very excited to be travelling up the Pacific Highway to pursue these leads. I met with Debbie Campbell at the Museum and she laid out books and articles that contained information about the O’Neills and also took me to the Museum archives where Nerida Little, Digital Cultural Collections Specialist, presented a fascinating little black book on Karangi, with notes on the area written by William Maston in 1929. One of those notes was about my grandfather, “First store built early in 1927 for Alf O’Neill (opp. Orara Rd. turnoff). Later bought by George Kelly.”
I really appreciated the professional knowledge and skills of those I met and their enthusiasm, helpfulness and expertise in uncovering useful information. So, wherever you might be up to with your research, really, just ask a librarian!
A comment from Coffs Collections’ staff
Since we launched the new Coffs Collections service six months ago, we’ve added more than 3,000 items to our repository of 15,000 resources relating to the history of the region. These are the raw materials which we have made available for everyone to explore, to be inspired by, to uncover their heritage in.
When an artist, or a student with an assignment, or an author comes along, and is able to publish their story or develop a new idea after tapping into these resources, we know we have achieved success. We’ve helped to create something bigger from the collections assembled over many many years.
The Museum recently digitised a collection of photographs of Woolgoolga Adventure Village in the 1980s. A tourist attraction aimed at children, it contained miniature houses from fairy tales, a working miniature railway, a lake and a large park.
When we shared the images, we received a reply from someone who remembered that every Woopi kid had their birthday party there at some point. Not only that, but her parents now lived on the site where the Woolgoolga Adventure Village once stood. Here at the Museum it definitely pays to ‘know someone who knows someone’!
The residents of the area kindly gave permission for our staff to visit the site and take photos of what the Village looked like now. Here are some standouts!
Miniature cottage, 1980s
Miniature cottage, 2020
This miniature cottage had a new coat of paint, a brightly decorated front door and a great big tree tucked into its roof!
Model Sepik village, 1980s
Remains of hut, 2020
Anything in the Village made of wood was destroyed by termites. Residents were forced to remove the damaged houses, but cleverly repurposed what remained. The remaining section of a Sepik hut has been repurposed into a chicken coop.
Miniature castle, 1980s
Miniature castle, 2020
The mini castle has been repainted and is still used by the residents’ grandchildren to play in.
Tree stump house, or ‘The Fort’, 1980s
Tree stump house, or ‘The Fort’, 2020
The tree stump house still has its original paintwork, including the bright red front door. Our correspondent said both her and her own children liked to play on this, and almost all of them fell off it at one stage.
It was heartening to see the spirit of preservation shared by the residents living on the site of the former Woolgoolga Adventure Village. Rather than knock the buildings down, they were lovingly refurbished and repurposed.
The site is now privately owned and is not open to the public. We received special permission to visit and photograph the area. You can still enjoy the trip down memory lane by viewing the entire collection of images from then and now for free on Coffs Collections.
I would like to thank the residents who live on the site of the former Woolgoolga Adventure Village for letting me traipse around taking photographs. Thanks also to the original lender of the 1980s images. You have all made our collections and local knowledge richer!
This is a guest post of the memories of Ken Morley, contributed by Marie Davey.
T.S. Vendetta is a Naval training school for young people 14 to 18 years interested in a possible future career in the Navy. There is no commitment. The T.S. stands for “Training Ship” and it was started to encourage young people who were interested in Navy affairs.
The Royal Australian Navy decided many years ago, sometime around early 1950s, to further develop what was known as “Sea Scouts” – the equivalent of “Boy Scouts” – into a better organised, navy-backed youth group nurturing an interest in all things nautical and to show young men (and later on young women) that there is an interesting career and a solid future in ultimately joining the RAN.
It was begun pre 1972 and its first leader was Douglas Grange Drysdale who was appointed Lieutenant Commander.
Ex Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy personnel were co-opted to organise, set up and instruct these Naval Cadets as they became known with the RAN providing training, information, uniforms, equipment etc including a few small sailing boats and a once annually ten day posting to a RAN Base in each state. (In New South Wales it is to the Navy Base HMAS Watson at Sydney South Head).
These ex-Navy personnel took on the responsibility of training the cadets in Navy routine, seamanship, correct military terminology, sportsmanship and training the cadets to assist their shipmates when necessary. They also learned how to handle sailing boats, power boats, navigation, signalling and other skills.
The whole idea took off so quickly and became so popular that almost every large town and city in every state had its own unit, particularly places on the coast or adjacent to big rivers.
The ex-Naval personnel running and maintaining these units were given rank and uniform as well as training by the RAN. The head of the unit is made a Lieutenant Commander and his uniform sleeve has two thick and one thin gold stripe on the lower sleeve. His 2nd in Charge is a Lieutenant and he has two thick stripes. The 3rd in Charge is a Sub-Lieutenant who has one thick stripe. Under these there is a Chief Petty Officer who has brass buttons on the lower sleeve and one or two Petty Officers who have crossed anchors on the upper sleeve.
When a Group go on their Annual Posting to a Navy Base, it is customary for one or two Officers, plus one or two Petty Officers to go with the Cadets for the 10 days or so of the posting.
Each unit is named after the Royal Australian Navy Ship and that is why Coffs Harbour is T.S. VENDETTA named after a destroyer. Other units around the State are T.S. TOBRUK, T.S. ANZAC, T.S. ARUNTA, T.S. VAMPIRE and T.S. SYDNEY.
Other items no longer required by the RAN were offered to various cadet units in case they had a use for them.
Lieutenant Ken Morley who spent 5 years with the T.S. Vendetta from 1973 was second in command of the unit. This is the way things were done during his time in the unit. Whilst it is still organised and provided for by the RAN, regulations are somewhat firmer now especially with regard to provision of unwanted ex-Navy equipment. There were no female cadets in his time and the male cadets were challenged to take a few risks, which at this time it is no longer encouraged to do.
Lieutenant Ken Morley personally knew quite a few cadets who then joined the RAN and have gone on to achieve great things saying it was the best thing they have done in their lives.
In the 1970s the Cadet Units were encouraged to obtain boats, which were 27 ft sailing whalers and power-driven 2 cylinder diesel engines, and take them out on the ocean. Several trips were made to the lighthouse on South Solitary Island. These were made always under the direction of a Senior Instructor. All the Instructors were ex-Regular Navy personnel. It is now considered too dangerous and the cadets are only allowed small canoes used within the harbour and not out at sea.
The Flag Mast at the unit was given to them by the Lighthouse Keepers of the South Solitary Island. The personnel took the 27ft motor-driven whaler with cadets onboard to pick it up and they towed it back to the unit where it was repaired, painted and installed. It is still there today.
After his time in Coffs Harbour Lieutenant Ken Morley was transferred by the Bureau of Meteorology to Brisbane Airport and was attached to a cadet unit there for a time. It was a larger unit and not quite the same relaxed group as was the one in Coffs Harbour. After this he was transferred to OIC of a new station at Cobar which did not have a cadet unit. When he returned to Coffs Harbour Doug Drysdale had died and so he didn’t take up the cadets again.
The Museum collection holds some beautiful objects, and these embroidered postcards are such an example.
Known as ‘French silks’, they were handmade by Frenchwomen during World War 1. Early on, the embroidery would be done at home and then taken to factories where they were glued to cards.
Their imagery were often heroic or romantic, sending messages of patriotism and victory, or love and fidelity.
Their bright colours and delicate designs must have served as a sight for sore eyes for weary soldiers, surrounded by khaki and mud. They may have served as reminders of their own womenfolk waiting for them at home, and the promise of domestic comforts.
See more embroidered postcards at Coffs Collections, and have a safe and happy holidays on behalf of everyone at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.
Museums are full of stories. They are told through collection objects, photographs, and documentary records. Some stories tell of innovation and past glories; some relate to hardship and deprivation; and some reflect the humour and warmth of people long gone. With the happier stories, it is easy to lapse into nostalgic visions of a simpler past as a balm for the heartaches and struggles of the present day. In at least one arena, that nostalgia would be misplaced: medicine.
The Museum recently digitised two Undertaker’s Indexes, which are available in full and for free on Coffs Collections. These indexes are lists compiled by members of the Coffs Harbour & District Historical Society from the records of local undertakers. They list the names, dates of death and ages at death of people in the local area. The entries often include biographical details such as names of parents or partner’s name, occupations, cause of death and the attending doctor. They are a fantastic family history resource, and often show how far we’ve come in treating injuries and illness that were fatal in earlier eras.
When processing the photographs of the Undertaker’s Indexes, one young man’s story caught our eye. His name was Alfred Garland, and he died by suicide when he was 25 years old. Two articles were published in the Coffs Harbour Advocate that can give us clues as to what happened to Alfred. The first was published in 1931, and recounts an incident involving Alfred’s admittance to hospital. At the time he was suffering from amnesia, and became violent. The article also mentions that Alfred was known to violently shake his head and had regular seizures that resulted in memory loss. It also notes a possible cause – when Alfred was younger, he was kicked in the head by a horse.
If this happened to Alfred today, what he suffered from may have been given a name: acquired brain injury. All of Alfred’s symptoms are outlined by the Brain Foundation’s description of ABI. If this had happened today, he would have access to support groups and organisations that advocated for him and funded research into better treatments. He might have had access to medicines to help control his symptoms, or therapies to help him cope with everyday life.
Learning about history can make us feel nostalgic for what we interpret to be happier and simpler times. It is also a reason to reflect and feel grateful for the things we have now that our ancestors did not.
If this article has raised any issues for you, please contact:
Mental Health Line – 1800 011 511
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Mensline – 1300 789 978
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636
For more information on Acquired Brain Injury, please contact: