Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Naturalist and his ‘Beautiful Islands’

The Naturalist and his ‘Beautiful Islands’: Charles Morris Woodford in the Western Pacific

David Russell Lawrence
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: ANU Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Naturalist and his ‘Beautiful Islands’
    Book Description:

    Charles Morris Woodford devoted his working life to pursuing this dream, becoming the first British Resident Commissioner in 1897 and remaining in office until 1915, establishing the colonial state almost singlehandedly.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-02-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, Environmental Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Note on the text
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    David Lawrence
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In January 1890 the account of three visits to the Solomon Islands made between 1886 and 1889 by the young English naturalist, Charles Morris Woodford, was published in London, to some critical acclaim, by George Philip and Sons. With a typical late-Victorian eye for romance in the exotic, and an appeal to the vogue for tales of adventure and daring, his publisher called the bookA Naturalist Among the Head-hunters(Woodford 1890b). In that same year it was published in three editions, one in London, one in Melbourne, and one in New York. For a young traveller’s account and first...

  6. 1. Charles Morris Woodford: Early life and education
    (pp. 9-24)

    Charles Morris Woodford was born in Milton next Gravesend in Kent on 30 October 1852, the eldest son of five children—three sons and two daughters—of Henry Pack Woodford and his wife Mary. The Woodfords lived at 91 Milton Road opposite a large park and the Gravesend Grammar School. Gravesend is a large and economically important town on the southern banks of the Thames Estuary with a long history as a trading and commercial centre dating back to Roman occupation. Both Gravesend and Milton are recorded in the Domesday Book, that great rural survey made under command of William...

  7. 2. Pacific journeys
    (pp. 25-34)

    In 1881 Woodford abruptly left Gravesend and the family business and took a boat to Suva in Fiji to try to establish himself as a collector of natural history specimens that he might sell to museums and collectors back in England. Heath (1974a: 10) finds the decision that brought Woodford to the Pacific to be somewhat of a puzzle and questions why a young man with a possible career in the family business would begin a wandering rootless life in the South Seas. The stories of Pattisson and Jephson only serve to illustrate that the decisions made by young men...

  8. 3. Commerce, trade and labour
    (pp. 35-62)

    Understanding the history of European contact with the Solomon Islands and the nature of the local peoples’ social, cultural and economic lives is important if we are to appreciate the challenges that faced Charles Woodford, first as a young self-funded naturalist, and later as a colonial administrator. This was a complex, often challenging environment for any outsider.

    The Solomon Islands were first sighted by European explorers when Alvaro de Mendaña de Neira and his company in two ships, the flagship Los Reyes (theCapitana) and the secondary shipTodos Santos(theAlmiranta), sighted Santa Ysabel (Isabel) Island in February 1568....

  9. 4. A naturalist in the Solomon Islands
    (pp. 63-138)

    It was into this complex, rather dangerous, but undeniably exciting region that Charles Morris Woodford ventured in 1885. He was intent on making a comprehensive collection of zoological and entomological specimens for possible sale to the British Museum of Natural History. On 23 October 1885, armed with collecting equipment, personal gear including a rifle and revolver, and survey instruments lent from the Royal Geographical Society, which included a 6 inch sextant (RGS no 970), a George’s artificial horizon (RGS no 66), a prismatic compass (RGS no 13), a hydrometrical apparatus and two thermometers (RGS nos 8039, 8121 and 2154), an...

  10. 5. Liberalism, Imperialism and colonial expansion
    (pp. 139-168)

    Of all the colonies in the Pacific Ocean, only Fiji, where the labour trade was also active, was seen to be of much interest to the Imperial government (Ward 1948: 261). This had not always been so. In 1855, Seru Ebenezer Cakobau, warrior chief (Vunivalu) of Bau, had been held responsible by the United States Government for the payment of compensation to the government totalling US$45,000 as a result of a fire that had begun by accident. Cakobau was seen by the Americans to be the ‘King of Fiji’ and as a result of this demand he turned to the...

  11. 6. The British Solomon Islands Protectorate: Colonialism without capital
    (pp. 169-196)

    Thurston made a visit of inspection to Tonga, Samoa and the Gilbert Islands in 1893 on the corvette HMSRapid. On 17 September, Wilfred Collet, Secretary to the High Commissioner, formally announced that the provisions of the High Commissioner’s court and the consolidated Pacific Orders in Council were extended over the southern Solomon Islands (The Pacific Order, no. 78, 1893; Woodford papers PMB 1290 Item 8/4/1,The Queenslander30 December 1893: 1253). The southern Solomons, while officially a protectorate since June, still had no administrative staff to enforce British law and order (WPHC 8/III Items 27 & 28). Thurston reported...

  12. 7. Expansion of the Protectorate 1898–1900
    (pp. 197-216)

    In the early colonial period, economic and social disparities became apparent even if colonial rule brought some measure of peace and security to troubled areas. The ‘lack of economic and educational opportunities, the alien and sometimes repressive nature of British administration and the failure of both government, and the Melanesian Mission, as the dominant mission of the area, despite taxes and church collections, to give them [the people] in return the means of achieving the economic, political and social equality with Europeans which they had been encouraged to expect’ served to accentuate social inequality and island based disparities (Hilliard 1974:...

  13. 8. The new social order
    (pp. 217-242)

    Colonial rule is often seen as both coherent and hegemonic but encounters between indigenous peoples and settlers, traders, planters, missionaries and police were marked not only by tension and struggle but also by mutual misrepresentation and misunderstanding. Colonial administration in the Solomon Islands, and in Papua to the west, attempted to impose law and order—through pacification—by using forms of violence adopted from the very societies it sought to transform (Maclean 1998). The process of civilisation was made imperfect by imperfect agents. Many settlers, traders and even many missionaries had only a superficial understanding of their own culture and...

  14. 9. The plantation economy
    (pp. 243-286)

    The State Library of Victoria holds a small but interesting archive of papers from W. Stawell—possibly William Stawell a prominent lawyer in Melbourne and senior partner in the firm Stawell and Nankivell (Stawell 1910, MS 9273). These papers provide some idea of the investment potential of plantations in the Solomon Islands in the first decade of the 20th century. Stawell made enquires of a stockbroker, John Goodall, with offices at 99 Queens Street in Melbourne. Stawell approached the firm with an enquiry about investing in plantation development in the Solomon Islands in 1910 when copra prices were high. From...

  15. 10. The critical question of labour
    (pp. 287-308)

    Between 1863 and 1906 more than 60,000 Melanesian labourers were recruited for plantation labour in Queensland. Some 20,000 were recruited for work in Fiji between 1864 and 1914 and about 6,000 for work in Samoa between 1885 and 1913 (Newbury 1981: 6; Giles and Scarr 1968: 2). Of the 62,475 recruited for Queensland, 18,217 came from the southern and central Solomon Islands and Santa Cruz areas (Price and Baker 1976: 110–111 Table 1). The largest component of Solomon Islands recruitment was 17,033 from the southern islands of Malaita, some parts of Guadalcanal, the Florida Islands and Makira (Price and...

  16. 11. Woodford and the Western Pacific High Commission
    (pp. 309-342)

    In his 18 years as Resident Commissioner, Woodford served under six High Commissioners and three acting High Commissioners (Heath 1974a: 94). These relationships were mostly cordial. Given the distance from Suva and the inadequate communication of the day, he was largely left to manage the Protectorate independently. But the Western Pacific High Commission was a complex political institution and distant Resident Commissioners had to maintain good relations not only with the High Commissioner but also with his official Secretary. Woodford had trouble with two senior officials who served at the same time and who both served in their powerful positions...

  17. Conclusion
    (pp. 343-350)

    When Woodford died at ‘Bramley’, his home in Goring Road, Steyning, on 4 October 1927, he was 75. He had sold his large country house ‘The Grinstead’ in the same year and moved to the nearby town. He was buried at St Peter’s Church, Cowfold on 8 October. His headstone reads:


    First Resident Commissioner of the

    British Solomon Islands

    Loved husband of Florence Margaret

    Died October 4th1927

    Aged 75 years.

    His estate was valued at £5,245 (£750,000 in current values). His two sons were educated at Tonbridge School and in 1914 they enlisted in the...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 351-420)