Gooch, Sir William


One of the great losses in St. Nicholas’ Church following the 1942 incendiary bombing during the Second World War, were the memorials. In 1840, we are told that there were 500 memorials and gravestones inside the church. Wandering around before the Second World War, one would have been reminded of the history of Great Yarmouth and the important people, who once lived here. One such person was Sir William Gooch, who was born in a house at the north-west corner of Queen Street, Great Yarmouth and who had a splendid memorial in the church. By the age of 15 years, both parents had died and his elder brother, Thomas, supervised his education. Thomas became successively Bishop of Bristol, Norwich, and Ely.

William Gooch had planned to enter Oxford University, but instead purchased a commission in the Army. In 1727, through Gooch's connections with the politically powerful the Duke of Newcastle, King George I appointed him Governor of Virginia and he served there until 1749. He was one of Virginia's ablest and most successful chief executives. One of his greatest success was the passage of the Tobacco Inspection Act of 1730, which called for the inspection and regulation of Virginia’s tobacco; its most important crop. Tobacco planters were required to transport their crop to public warehouses, where it was inspected and stored. The Act raised the quality of Virginia’s tobacco and reduced fraud and this greatly increased the demand for its tobacco in Europe. Gooch’s military policy focused on protecting the western territory from native Indian and French encroachment. Western expansion was fraught by repeated Indian invasions. Gooch decided to broker peace to end the warfare. His resignation, because of failing health, was profoundly regretted by the Virginians and he returned to England in 1749. Gooch named part of the colony, Goochland County (population in 2020 was 24,727 and has an area of 290 square miles).

Gooch had an interesting military career. He fought under John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough in the Low Countries, including the important victory at the Battle of Blenheim (1704). In 1715, he served with the English, who repelled the Jacobite uprising in Scotland. Gooch served in the expedition against Cartagena, now in Columbia in South America, as part of the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Gooch was wounded in both ankles by a cannon ball in the attack in 1740, which left him a cripple. He subsequently suffered poor health for the rest of his life, probably due to malaria.

In about 1744, Gooch declined the appointment of being in charge of the army raised to invade Canada.

Gooch was created a baronet in 1746 and a Major General in 1747. He was a staunch member of the Church of England and condemned all religious groups apart from the established church. He focused on what he perceived as threats from new Protestant denominations such as the Methodists and the Baptists. However, in 1738, Gooch had given a group of Presbyterians the right to settle new territory in America.

He visited Bath several times in the hope of improving his health, but without success. Gooch died in 1751 and was buried in St. Nicholas’ Church in his native town of Great Yarmouth, where his widow erected an elaborate funerary monument in white marble on the wall of the north aisle. This displayed the highlights of his career. A residence hall at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia is named in his honour.