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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Woods, Roger Henry

by J. R. Morris

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

Roger Henry Woods (flourished 1829-1831), public servant, was a brother of James Dominick Woods, barrister and journalist, one of whose sons, Julian E. Tenison Woods, served as a Roman Catholic priest in Australia in 1856-87. R. H. Woods was appointed principal superintendent of convicts, which had become vacant upon the death of John Lakeland in 1828. Woods claimed to have been an associate of Sir John Hulloch (1767-1829), a judge on the Northern Circuit, and he was recommended by several members of parliament, including Horace Twiss, under-secretary of state for the colonies. Woods arrived in Van Diemen's Land from London in the Bussorah Merchant on 18 January 1830. He was accompanied by his wife Ann, five children, his wife's mother, Mrs Margaret Fenton, and brother Richard.

Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur had stressed the need for an officer with a wide knowledge of local affairs, and he must have been distressed to learn from P. A. Mulgrave, who had known Woods in England, of the habits of his new appointee. It was clear that Woods was an incorrigible tippler although he claimed that rheumatism in the head sometimes made him appear far from sober. He had imbibed heavily on the ship and continued to do so in the colony. His salary was to be £300 and he had been advanced £310 in London. Arthur offered him a position of assistant police magistrate at the same salary, and when he declined Arthur wrote to London in March officially complaining that Woods did not appear fully qualified for his post, and in a personal letter to Twiss listed his doubts about Woods more candidly. Meanwhile Woods proceeded to carry out his duties in a state of confusion which brought the Convict Department close to chaos. He convicted offenders wrongly, abused a magistrate in open court, left work undone, and employed absconded convicts in his own garden. His aberrations were listed by the colonial secretary, John Burnett, in the form of thirteen charges, and in September 1830 he was called before the Executive Council to answer them. He failed to attend and was promptly suspended from duty.

In a long letter Woods attempted to refute the charges, but in November Arthur reported the suspension and requested confirmation by the Colonial Office. Woods loudly protested his innocence and in December was finally permitted to defend himself before the Executive Council. The case dragged on for thirteen days until 4 January, when a letter arrived from the Colonial Office giving Arthur authority to replace him as he thought fit. Woods was then formally dismissed and his salary ceased. Out of sympathy for his family Arthur offered him the post of under-sheriff. Woods refused and his persistent demands for a free passage to London to defend himself at the Colonial Office became so insulting that Arthur declined to correspond with him.

Soon afterwards Woods left the colony, and although only £86 of his salary advance had been repaid Arthur recorded: 'It was utterly impossible for the Government to call upon Mr Woods for the balance before his departure as it was evident that he had no money'. Woods left his family behind, and about a year later his wife went to Sydney, allegedly eloping with an overseer, leaving four children to be brought up in the King's Orphan School.

Woods was undoubtedly one of the worst cases of patronage from Downing Street that Arthur had to contend with. His connexions in England must have been the principal reason for the Executive Council devoting so much time to his case, but changes of control at the Colonial Office seem to have dissipated any interest in his career.

Select Bibliography

  • CO 280/31.

Citation details

J. R. Morris, 'Woods, Roger Henry ', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 10 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

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