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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The son of which Auckland photographer wrote the iconic Australian bush poem “While the Billy Boils”?

John James Goodchild (1826-1895)

John James Goodchild opened the Auckland School of Photography next door to the Wheatsheaf Inn in Upper Queen Street in August 1863. A recent arrival with his wife, their 3 children and a servant on the War Spirit, Goodchild styled his studio after Samuel Prout Newcombe's London School of Photography where he had trained the previous year.

Goodchild's background was in commerce. Born in Shoreditch in 1826, he was the son of a ham merchant, and made his money in cotton. In May 1862 he was robbed of a £100 note during a transaction at Masterman’s Bank, Nicholas Lane, London. It was probably this event more than anything that prompted him to switch careers and undertake the arduous voyage to New Zealand.

At first his new venture did well. The studio benefited from the build-up of troops in Auckland in advance of the invasion of the Waikato, and the corresponding influx of settlers from outlying districts. But gradually the business succumbed to the economic downturn that accompanied the end of the Waikato War and the transfer of the capital to Wellington. Financial pressures were compounded by the birth of a second son, Henry Humphrey in December 1864. The family managed to eke out a living for another year, but on 1 March 1866 Mr & Mrs Goodchild and their four children left Auckland on the Prince Alfred bound for Sydney.

In Australia, the Goodchilds settled at Echuca, a small town at a ferry crossing on the Victoria side of the Murray River. Before the year was out their lives had been devastated by the deaths of their two youngest children, 1 year-old Henry and 8 year-old Edith. Despite the tragedy the family continued to live in the area, although it is unclear how Goodchild made a living. At the time of his death on 10 February 1895, he was Secretary of the Echuca Mechanics Institute, a position he may have held from its opening in 1876.

History remembers Keighley Goodchild rather than his father. Born John Keighley Goodchild in 1851, and educated as a boarder at the Schoolhouse in Leyton, east London, Keighley worked as a compositor on the Riverine Herald, and as editor of the Echuca & Moama Advertiser. He was also a bush poet, the author of "While the Billy Boils", part of a collection of verse published under the title "Who are you?" at Echuca in 1883. When he died on 4 April 1888, aged just 37, of the four Goodchild children who had come to Australia with their parents in 1866, only his sister Florence Annie Goodchild now remained alive. In 1892 Florence married a widower, James Denny. The following year she and James named their first son Keighley John Denny in memory of Florence's poet brother.

In Auckland's formative years Upper Queen Street generally referred to that section of Queen Street running uphill from Grey Street (in the centre of the photograph). But such usage was not fixed: the Wheatsheaf Inn, which the Auckland School of Photography abutted, was actually in the block bounded by Wellesley and Wakefield Streets. Could the bulbous glass structure in the extreme right of this photograph (taken in 1865) be the studio ceiling of Goodchild's Auckland School of Photography? (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. 4-1015)

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