Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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THE FAKE DR. BARBER was an English mountebank named Harry Virtue — or if that was not his real name, it works as well as any of the many others he adopted during his colorful career. He was the same age as Dr. Jean — born in Manchester in 1865 — and, like the Barbers, emigrated to the U.S., where he practiced (without a license) as a veterinary surgeon in various places. He moved around a lot; his success was hampered by his lack of actual medical training, and by his sticky fingers — once he even stole a horse and buggy from an employer.
One of the places Virtue briefly worked was Oregon, and while there, he met Richard. And when word of Richard’s death reached him — doubtless he read one of the glowing accounts of the country doctor’s heroic end — he saw his opportunity. Booking passage back to England, he sent that letter off to the medical authorities, dusted off his shingle, and went into practice as “Dr. Richard Barber.”
The problem was, the personality traits that had gotten him into trouble as an unlicensed veterinarian had not disappeared. And now he was in a civilized country rather than a rough-sawn frontier community. When he burned a bridge as “Dr. Richard Barber,” he couldn’t just cross a state line and get a fresh start under a new name somewhere else, like he’d been able to do in the American West.
He got by at first by taking positions as an assistant to actual competent, trained physicians, and not staying with any one doctor for long enough for suspicions to form. But eventually, he got cocky, and set up his own practice in Treeton in South Yorkshire, hiring an MD assistant of his own: Dr. Henry Bond.
After a time, Dr. Bond realized that his boss was avoiding medical topics in conversations with him, and was relying on him, Dr. Bond, for all the complicated surgeries that came their way. He started wondering if “Dr. Barber” was actually competent. And he reported his suspicions to the medical authorities — who responded with a letter to “Dr. Barber” asking for some information about his Oregon practice.
And so it was that, on one late summer day, “Dr. Barber” opened this letter and knew the jig was up. He slipped away that very night; Dr. Bond never saw him again.
But he couldn’t just change his name and open a new practice somewhere else. This wasn’t Oregon, and he wasn’t a vet any more. This was England, and the only name that he’d be allowed to practice under was Richard Barber’s. So he had another crack at it, hanging out his shingle in Liverpool — but the cops were ready for him, and he soon found himself in their custody.
And that’s when they telegraphed for Dr. Jean Barber to come and “identify” him.
HARRY VIRTUE DIDN'T go down easy. He made a last-minute attempt to sign onto a freighter bound for Brazil as “Dr. Charles Thompson,” apparently hoping to continue his itinerant quack-doctor lifestyle in another far-flung frontier community; but the police were just a little too quick for him, and he was once again nicked. He made an almost-successful attempt to leap from the train and escape, but with the help of some bloodhounds and local residents who couldn’t help but notice the handcuff locked around his wrist, he was recaptured, tried, and sentenced to nine months in prison.
After the First World War broke out, Virtue took advantage of the tumult to hop back into the fake-doctoring racket, renaming himself Dr. Harry Siddons, forging a captain’s commission, and wangling his way onto the Birkenhead Military Medical Board, where he got busy taking bribes in exchange for military medical deferments and other favors until 1917, when he was once again caught with his hand in the till. And on the eve of his trial for these new charges, Virtue committed suicide by cutting his own throat with a doctor’s scalpel — dying, one might say, as he had lived.
As for Dr. Jean Barber, she returned home to Gardiner and resumed her life of healing the sick and saving the lives of the injured. She died in 1927.