Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Seccombe, William (1796–1864)

by J. Bruce Hamilton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

William Seccombe (1796?-1864), surgeon, was born at Plymouth, England, the son of a surgeon. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1818 and next year a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries.

In May 1824 he arrived in Hobart Town in the Adrian as surgeon to Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur and his suite and was immediately appointed assistant surgeon at Pittwater with the privilege of attending the Colonial Hospital, Hobart. Next year he attended the military garrison. He took leave of absence in April 1829, caring for military invalids travelling with him to Chatham in the Mermaid. In England he had his leave extended to assist his father in a cholera epidemic in Plymouth and in 1833 received a presentation from Plymouth for his help.

On return to the colony he took charge of the Colonial Hospital in Launceston where, despite heavy responsibilities with the penitentiary, factory, house of correction and the military, he was allowed private practice as well. It was as head of this hospital that he was first criticized for neglect of duty when a prisoner died of pneumonia. Seccombe's evidence only incriminated himself and his assistant was cleared of the charge of manslaughter. Much indignation was felt therefore when Seccombe sat as judge that year in the Court of Quarter Sessions.

After this episode Seccombe was transferred to the Hobart Town Hospital in 1840. Because the salary was inadequate he applied next year for appointment as immigration and health officer for the port of Hobart, but was unsuccessful. He was therefore relieved when the lieutenant-governor supported his right to charge for professional attendance to the family of a half-pay officer, Major Welman, who had challenged his account. In 1842 he joined colleagues in appealing for larger salaries since the increase in convict department duties no longer permitted supplementary private practice. They won improved standing and, with sixteen years service, Seccombe's salary was increased from 10s. to 15s. a day.

Encouraged by this success and temporary appointment as principal medical officer in 1844, he asked that his title be changed from assistant colonial surgeon to colonial surgeon. His request met no encouragement. An application for the position of Hobart Town coroner at this time was equally unsuccessful. In June he was appointed to the Court of Medical Examiners. A squabble in 1845 with a fellow surgeon, Cornelius Gavin Casey who, egged on by two malicious women patients, reported Seccombe's neglect and later denied it, was investigated by a board. Seccombe was cleared of the charge, but ill feeling continued. In April insolvency added to his worries.

From July 1846 to September 1851 he was surgeon to the gaol and police in Hobart, but another charge of neglect and irregular performance of duty, this time from the principal medical officer, led to his transfer as medical officer to the Impression Bay convict station. There misunderstandings arose with the superintendent of the station, and in March 1853 Seccombe was brought back to the Hobart Town Hospital. He was appointed to the Commission of the Peace, coroner and then senior colonial surgeon; in 1855 he was sent to Port Arthur as resident medical officer.

After his marriage in March 1827 to Sophia, the second daughter of Anthony Fenn Kemp and his second wife Elizabeth, née Riley, Seccombe received land in Hobart and built Tremayne in Macquarie Street. He had acquired 2000 acres (809 ha) at Melton Mowbray, but it was to Hobart that he retired, and in Hobart that he died on 6 November 1864. His wife predeceased him in July 1860. Of their family, Fanny Maria married Sir Valentine Fleming as his second wife, and Ella Georgina married the Rev. F. B. Sharland.

That he should have continued in the government service for forty years, despite a lack of responsibility and an unco-operative nature, surely supports his obituarist's high estimation of his surgical skill.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file under Seccombe (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

J. Bruce Hamilton, 'Seccombe, William (1796–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seccombe-william-2647/text3689, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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