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James Graham Goodenough (1830–1875)

by John M. Ward

This article was published:

James Graham Goodenough (1830-1875), by unknown engraver, 1875

James Graham Goodenough (1830-1875), by unknown engraver, 1875

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, A/S04/09/75/100

James Graham Goodenough (1830-1875), naval officer, was born on 3 December 1830 at Stoke Hill, near Guildford, Surrey, England, son of Edmund Goodenough, dean of Wells, and his wife Frances, née Cockerell. Educated at Westminster School, he entered the navy at 14. He served first in the Pacific in the Collingwood, then in the Cyclops off the African coast in 1848-49 and then returned to England to study for his lieutenant's commission. In 1851 he joined the Centaur off the east coast of South America and in 1854-55 was in the Baltic during the Crimean war. On the China station in 1856-61 he was present at the capture of Canton in December 1857. For the sake of his health he was allowed to return to England and served in the Channel squadron until 1863 when, as a captain and with an established reputation as a gunnery expert, he was sent to North America as an observer in the American civil war. In 1871, after further service in the Mediterranean, he became a member of the Admiralty's committee on warship design. For about a year he was naval attaché in several European embassies where his professional abilities, grave, reserved manners and linguistic talents all commanded respect.

In May 1873 Goodenough was appointed captain of H.M.S. Pearl and commodore of the Australian station. Before leaving England Goodenough, with Edgar L. Layard, the new consul in Fiji, was selected by the government to inquire into the question of annexing or establishing a British protectorate there. He arrived in Fiji on 16 November ahead of Layard and of the papers prepared in the Colonial Office for his information. He soon decided that the local government, which he had been instructed to recognize de facto, was maintained only by the presence of the navy and that its relations with the British settlers were hostile. He sided with the settlers and in December reported to the Admiralty, and in February 1874 to the Colonial Office, that Fiji ought to be annexed. With Layard he helped to undermine the existing government and worked for a voluntary cession. By April when the Colonial Office received his report he and Layard had already exceeded their authority by accepting the cession on terms, and in London Gladstone and Kimberley had given way to Disraeli and Carnarvon. Dissatisfied with the fait accompli the new ministers sent Sir Hercules Robinson, governor of New South Wales, to negotiate an unconditional cession. Despite Robinson's praise of his work, Goodenough was bitterly disappointed by adverse criticism in Britain and wrote in his journal: 'I share the usual fate of the naval officer, viz., to be broyé on the wheel of difficulty for a civilian to … pick my brain afterwards'.

As senior officer on the Australian station Goodenough was well known and well liked. He was a keen race-goer and had strong charitable interests, especially among seamen. His duties included the maintenance of law and order among British subjects in the Pacific and control of their relations with indigenous peoples. On 12 August 1875 while trying to conciliate natives on Carlisle Bay in the Santa Cruz Islands he and others of his party were wounded by poisoned arrows. He refused 'to allow a single life to be taken in retaliation', although some huts were burnt. Tetanus set in and, after gallantly bidding farewell to the ship's company, Goodenough died on 20 August in the Pearl, 500 miles (805 km) from Sydney.

He was buried in the cemetery of St Thomas's Church of England, North Sydney, between two of his men. He was survived by his wife Victoria, daughter of William Hamilton, whom he had married in England on 31 May 1864, and by two sons. One son, William Edmund, became an admiral. His widow published uncontroversial parts of his journal and became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. In 1876 Goodenough Royal Naval House was established in Sydney by public charity to continue his welfare work for naval men. A bay and island on the Papuan coast were named after him. A stained glass window in his memory is in St Thomas's, North Sydney, a bust by Prince Victor of Hohenloe is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich and another by Achille Simonetti is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • V. H. Goodenough (ed), Journal of Commodore Goodenough, R.N., C.B., C.M.G., During his Last Command as Senior Officer on the Australian Station, 1873-1875 (Lond, 1876)
  • J. D. Legge, Britain in Fiji, 1858-1880 (Lond, 1958)
  • W. P. Morrell, Britain in the Pacific Islands (Oxford, 1960)
  • W. D. McIntyre, ‘New Light on Commodore Goodenough's Mission to Fiji 1873-74’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, vol 10, no 39, Nov 1962, pp 270-88
  • D. Scarr, ‘John Bates Thurston, Commodore J. G. Goodenough, and Rampant Anglo-Saxons in Fiji’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, vol 11, no 43, Oct 1964, pp 361-82
  • Goodenough papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John M. Ward, 'Goodenough, James Graham (1830–1875)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Graham Goodenough (1830-1875), by unknown engraver, 1875

James Graham Goodenough (1830-1875), by unknown engraver, 1875

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, A/S04/09/75/100

Life Summary [details]


3 December, 1830
Guildford, Surrey, England


20 August, 1875 (aged 44)
at sea

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.