Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Godley, John Robert

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GODLEY, JOHN ROBERT (1814–1861), politician, eldest son of John Godley of Killegar, co. Leitrim, was born in 1814. He was educated at Harrow, and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he proceeded B.A. 27 Oct. 1836. He was afterwards called to the English bar, but practised little, if at all. He travelled a good deal. ‘Letters from America’ (2 vols. 1844) described the impressions produced on him by a visit to that country. He early turned his attention to colonisation, proposing to partially relieve the distress which the impending Irish famine was soon to bring on, by the emigration of one million of the population to Canada. The means were to be provided by Ireland. The ministry rejected the plan. Godley acted as magistrate, grand juror, and poor law guardian in his native county, for which he stood in the tory interest, but unsuccessfully, in 1847. Godley now became intimate with Edward Gibbon Wakefield, in whose ‘Theory of Colonisation’ he cordially concurred. This intimacy led to the founding of Canterbury, New Zealand, on a plan elaborated by Godley, 'which required that ample funds should be provided out of the proceeds of the land sales for the religious and educational wants of the community about to be established.'

In December 1849, the state of his health forcing him to leave England, he went to New Zealand, where he at once became interested in colonial politics and in the by no means flourishing affairs of Canterbury. Amidst many difficulties, but with clear hope for the future, he guided for some years its 'infant fortunes.' His view of colonial management he stated thus briefly and emphatically: 'I would rather be governed by a Nero on the spot than by a board of angels in London, because we could, if the worst came to the worst, cut off Nero's head, but we could not get at the board in London at all' (Memoir, p. 18). He left for England 22 Dec. 1852. On his return he was appointed to a commissionership of income tax in Ireland. Thence he went to the war office, and was assistant under-secretary at war under the secretaryships of Lord Panmure, General Peel, and Lord Herbert. He died at Gloucester Place, Portman Square, 17 Nov. 1861. He married Charlotte, daughter of C. G. Nynne, esq., of Vodas, Denbighshire. His eldest son, John Arthur Godley, became permanent under-secretary of state for India in 1883.

Besides the work mentioned Godley wrote: 'Observations on an Irish Poor Law' (Dublin, 1847). A selection from his writings and speeches, with a portrait and memoir, edited by J. E. Fitzgerald, was published at Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1863.

[Memoir above referred to; Cat. of Oxford Graduates, 1659-1856, p. 262; Gent. Mag. December 1861, p. 698; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

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