12 August, 1874: leader of British squadron, of warships, Commodore Goodenough mortally wounded with poisoned arrow at Santa Cruz

“Commodore Goodenough was in command of the squadron employed in the Pacific, of which the headquarters are at Sydney. He had taken Sir Arthur Gordon, the new governor, to Fiji, and had afterwards gone on a cruise among the islands in her Majesty’s ship Pearl. Lying in a curve running east and south-east from New Guinea are first the Solomon Islands, then the Santa Cruz group, and nearly south of them the New Hebrides. The inhabitants of all these are as yet but little known, are very savage, and are supposed to be cannibals.

Settlement of European traders and cotton growers on Santa Cruz: “[On] one of these—at Vate, or Sandwich, among the New Hebrides—there is a settlement of white people, chiefly English or speakers of English, who grow a little cotton, and are probably concerned in the exportation of labour to New Caledonia. In the course of last year (1874) a small vessel from our squadron visited this place, with the direct object, no doubt, of repressing illegal traffic.

Lust of conquest or lust of gain: “Afterwards another vessel, the Sandfly, went up north among the Santa Cruz Islands, with the intention of getting general information about these islanders, and of doing any good that might be done to them. Where our men-of-war have gone, or any of the small craft which accompanies them, the object has never been, of late years, either lust of conquest or lust of gain. So much, I think, may be said with certainty.

Expedition of the Sandfly was not fortunate: “The idea has been to do some good if any good was possible. But this expedition of the Sandfly was not fortunate. Either the islanders did not understand us, or we did not understand them. They endeavoured to force their way on board. An arrow was fired, and they were repulsed. None of our men were hurt, and the Sandfly went away.

Carlisle Bay, on the northern shore of the island Santa Cruz: “On the 12th of August last, the month in which I am now writing, the commodore landed on the spot off which this misfortune had taken place. It was at Carlisle Bay, on the northern shore of the island Santa Cruz, in the Santa Cruz group. He says, in a letter written to his wife on that day, “I am going on shore to the spot where the Sandfly was attacked, to see if I cannot make friends with the unfortunates. They seem most friendly, and anxious to be civil, coming out to us in canoes, and looking as if they wished for peace.” On the Tuesday following, going on with the same letter, he says, “But I was mistaken.”

Trollope’s conversations with Commodore Goodenough: “It seems that he could not endure the idea that there should be among these islands any people who should have reason to think that he or any of those under him were their enemies. The philanthropy of the man was of so warm a nature that he could not bring himself to believe evil even of them. In discussing their condition with myself, when I have, I confess, expressed doubt as to their aptitude for lessons of a high order, he has rebuked my hardness with a tenderness which was peculiar to him—with a courtesy which I think never could have forsaken him—and he has told me that his experience taught him to think that they were fit recipients for any good tidings which might be brought to them.

Commodore Goodenough’s log: “Well, on the 12th of August, in latitude about 10 south, longitude 166 east, he landed on the beach near a little village containing eight or nine huts, taking the solitary precaution of being himself the first to jump out of the boat. He had with him his secretary and five men, and was followed by a large boat with eight or ten officers and a dozen men. He had determined to go unarmed, but had allowed two men in the second boat to carry pistols with them. As he approached the shore he signalled to the ship that a third boat should be sent with arms, and this was done.

Beads and blankets: He had probably observed that the natives whom he saw clustering on the beach were not accompanied by their women and children, and, from his knowledge of the habits of the people, had taken this as betokening a want of amity. When he landed he made presents to the savages, and the usual bartering began—the exchange of cloth and hatchets for beads and teeth, and what are generallly called “curios.”

Instinct all was not well: “Then came a sharp shower of rain, and they were invited to take shelter under a shed and beneath the trees, which came close down to the shore, almost overhanging the water. Then he was invited to walk on to a larger village, about a mile distant, and started, accompanied by his secretary; but when he had gone a short distance he seemed to fear the separation between himself and his party, and returned. It is impossible to avoid feeling that he had determined to trust the islanders, with a conviction—though not quite a thorough conviction—that by doing so he might make them trustworthy, and that he had then remembered how great was his responsibility on behalf of others. He came back to the men whom he had left, and whom he had ordered not to leave the beach, and gave directions that they should go down to the boats. One or two were still bartering with natives, and in collecting them there was some little delay.

Commodore Goodenough shot with an arrow: “When the commodore had turned for the last time—or, rather, as he was turning—he saw a savage raise his bow to his hip, and in that position let fly an arrow. This struck him on his side, and as he pulled it out he renewed his orders for the men to hurry down.

Bowmen hidden in trees shoot cascade of arrows: “Then there was a flight of arrows, most of them coming from natives hidden high in the branches among the trees. Five sailors were wounded besides the commodore, and by the return fire from our men two natives were shot, and probably killed. It seems that there were about 40 or 50 of these islanders collected, and that they were all armed with bows and arrows, with the exception of one man. It was thought that the wounds received would hardly be serious unless the arrows were poisoned. While the men were in the boats the punctures were sucked, and when they had been on board for a day or two in the hands of the surgeons there was not at first much to fear.

Village burned by Goodenough’s crew: “The question of course arose whether punishment should be exacted, and, if so, what punishment. The commodore was inclined to leave them without any display of his power, remembering that the poor wretches were savages upon whom intrusion had been made, who could not know but that they had to deal with enemies who had come there to take away their young men and to steal their produce. Among those with him there was, of course, a first feeling to exact a bloody revenge for the treachery of the attack. Then he took a middle course, and ordered that the huts of the small village should be burned, giving special orders that neither a life should be taken nor a man hurt. A volley of blank cartridges was fired to frighten away the natives, and then a boat went ashore, and the huts were burned.

Wounded begin to die of tetanus: “All this happened on a Thursday, and it was not till the next Tuesday that danger was feared. Then symptoms set in from which the doctors began to perceive that the arrows had probably been poisoned. Whether they were poisoned or not is still a question; but, as three of the six men wounded died of tetanus about the eighth or ninth day, it is probable that such was the case.

Commodore Goodenough died 20 August: “Among the officers the commodore was wounded, and he was struck twice. Five sailors were struck, of whom two died, the other three regaining their health. The conduct of the gallant leader of these men, when he was told that he was to die, was perhaps more interesting to those who were with him and to those who loved him than it can be made to your readers; but perhaps I may be permitted to say that it was of a piece with the life he had lived. He had himself carried on deck, and then spoke to his men such language as I do not dare to repeat here—words that were as beautiful as they were full of hope and contentment. And he sent messages of love to his wife and children, and gave directions how the sad tidings should be broken to her before her heart should have been elated by hearing that his ship was coming into harbour. On Friday, August 20, he died; and they brought him on shore, and we buried him with his two shipmates upon the hill, on the north shore, over Sydney harbour, in one of the loveliest spots ever formed by nature. She was there, the broken-hearted widow with her two children, the knowledge of whose loss was yet hardly more than twenty-four hours old—a sight never to be forgotten.

His intentions were good says Trollope: “And we all of us had to remember that in this futile attempt to make friends with the few natives of a little island, England had lost one of her best seamen—a man tender as he was brave, a man of science, full of the highest aspirations, fit for any great work—such a one as no nation can afford to lose lightly.

Strong public feeling on need for action: “And now the question recurs with which I began this letter—what are we to do with the South Sea Islands? There will probably be a strong feeling at home that, because one of our great officers has been murdered in the execution of his duty, some vengeance should be taken; and yet can we fairly say that these islanders were to blame, acting as they did according to their lights?

Trollope – Do we need ships of war in the Pacific? “The island is theirs, and when we first went among them we exacted heavy retribution because they did not submit themselves to the overtures of peace which we were making to them. Probably there had been former visits under other flags—perhaps under our own—which had left behind them nothing but a sense of injury. It is certain that we do not mean to take possession of those lands for our own purposes—as we have done in Australia and New Zealand, in which, though our coming has exterminated, or will soon exterminate, the natives, even so sad a result as that is justified to our consciences by the opening of new homes to men of higher races. If we had all the islands lying within the tropics we could not find in them a fitting domicile for a single working European. If we look round the world within the tropics we must come to that conclusion as to the centre belt. And certainly we do not want an extended dominion over black subjects. The missionary tells us we may make Christians of them.

Trollope asks if missionaries need military backup: “I will not contradict the missionary, whose work is entitled to our loving respect. But I cannot but see that hitherto his success has hardly been sufficient to justify the assistance of our ships of war. At present it seems that we do not quite know what to do, and that we drift into the possession of undesirable so-called colonies. Perhaps the unfortunate loss which I have just recorded may lead to some fixed and definite policy in the matter.
Trollope, Anthony. The Tireless Traveler: Twenty Letters to the Liverpool Mercury. Berkeley: University of California Press, The articles, which bear Trollope’s signature, can be found on page five every Saturday from July 3, 1875, through November 13, 1875. [1978,c1941] 1978. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1d5nb0hv/


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