The Poisoned Arrows Fired in the South Pacific that came to Land in Cromer Street…


The name of the Anglican Parish in Kings Cross, London, "Holy Cross", sounds plain enough, but translate it into Spanish and you have "Santa Cruz", the more exotic sounding name that inspired its creation.


On the 12th August 1875 the Royal Navy's ship HMS Pearl under the command of James Goodenough, Commodore of the British Empire's Australia Station, was anchored in Carlisle Bay on the north coast of Santa Cruz Island. It is known today as Nendo, a dot in the Pacific Ocean 250 miles southeast of the Solomon Islands, and more than 9000 miles from London and the heart of Empire.


The Pearl was on a tour of inspection of the Australian Station and one of its orders was to make friendly and peaceful contact with the Pacific islanders after disastrous recent clashes.


By this time the British Empire had matured from its early swash-buckling origins of fast-buck profiteering. This was followed by a frenetic intermediate stage where almost anywhere the Royal Navy landed was gobbled up to keep the French and the Dutch at bay.

By the 1870's the British controlled all the sea routes, including the Suez Canal, and held all efficient lines of communication. But this was not enough. The British wanted, to bring their enlightened" superiority, their to 'lesser' cultures.


The Anglican Bishop of Melanesia, John Patteson, an Anglican Saint, wanted converts to Christianity, but, like many of his contemporaries, saw his work as a noble and real attempt to equip the indigenous peoples with skills to survive in a rapidly changing world. Bishop Patteson had a habit of swimming from his ship to hostile shores wearing little more than his top hat which he filled with presents to help make friends with the natives. He did this successfully many times. He tried it again in September 1871 with the islanders of Nukapu in the Solomon Islands. But this time It didn't work. The islanders murdered him and pushed his body back out to sea in a palm-fronded canoe.


In the 1840s, slaver's ships known as "blackbirders" had been kidnapping young men from across the south Pacific to work for life in Australian plantations. Just days before Bishop Patterson's murder, five people had been kidnapped from Nukapu. White missionaries often coaxed young men away for training in faraway missionary centres. It's doubtful if the islanders saw more than a marginal distinction between the two sets of white men, Christians and slavers. Both stole their children away.


Royal Navy ships like HMS Sandfly (a few months earlier before HMS Pearl's visit), were sent out to suppress the "blackbirding" trade, but often blundered into similar misunderstandings and would then took brutal punitive action such as shelling and burning villages, and their inhabitants, which only deepened the existing hatred and distrust.


Into this uneasy background, Commodore James Goodenough and the company of HMS Pearl landed on Santa Cruz to an initially friendly reception in August of 1875. They declined to follow their hosts to a more distant village out of sight of their ship and instead returned to their boats. But they were then suddenly ambushed on the shore where 6 of them were hit with poisoned arrows. After a desperate escape, Commodore Goodenough refused to let his men take their desired revenge and instead ordered blanks from the ship's cannons to be fired to frighten the villagers away before the village was later destroyed, without apparent loss of life.


At first the arrow strikes produced little more than scratches but within 3 days Goodenough and two others were confirmed to have tetanus and 8 days later all three men were dead.


The Reverend Algernon Stanley, was a good friend of Commodore Goodenough and uncle to Goodenough's brother's wife. Stanley had been an assistant to the vicar of an inner London parish and had actually resigned his position in order to accompany his friend on the voyage, possibly as chaplain. After his return to England, Stanley was offered the position of Vicar of a newly created parish in King's Cross, and in remembrance of his friend he persuaded the Church Commissioner to name it 'Holy Cross'.


In 1876 Stanley had opened a temporary church and a "Ragged School" (so called because children were allowed in, no matter how poorly they were dressed) in Dutton Street (now Tankerton Street). The Lucas sisters who owned the local estate, of which Cromer Street (formerly called Lucas Street) was a part, were persuaded to sell the land for the proposed new church and funds were raised from rich and poor alike, the latter at a rate of a penny per brick. Stanley was later to become a Roman Catholic and eventually bishop and domestic Chaplain to Pope Leo XIII. His portrait by the distinguished artist Laszo, can be seen to this day at The Venerable English College in Rome.


The Holy Cross church bell, rung to call people to the services to this day, is the actual ship's bell from HMS Pearl. Its sound was probably one of the last things the dying Commodore ever heard…


Below see a photo of James Goodenough, his memorial cross at Carlisle Bay off Sydney, and his ship, HMS Pearl and finally the small and simple brass plaque dedicated to the Commodore James Goodenough next to the font at Holy Cross Church.


Holy Cross Church, Cromer Street is proud of its association with the Goodenough family, and this history comes alive in our close ties of friendship with nearby Goodenough College in Mecklenburg Square, Bloomsbury. The College, home to international students, was founded by Commodore Goodenough's Grandson, William Goodenough. Each year, the church holds a Carol Service which brings together the College and church communities in the one act of Christmas praise. The little brass plaque is eloquent testimony to the founding enduring histories of both Church and College.



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