William D. Gooch was a Brittish engineer who had settled in Durban by 1868. During that year he attended the preliminary meetings of the Natural History Association of Natal and was elected as its first honorary secretary. At the association's first exhibition on 6 April 1868 he exhibited a collection of beetles. He served as a member of council again in 1874. During the latter year he presented information in the Transactions of the Entomological Society of London (Proceedings, pp. ii-iii, vii, xiv-xvii) on the longhorn beetle Anthores leuconotus (now Monochamus leuconotus, Family Lamiinae), or coffee borer of Natal, describing its habits and the destruction it causes. Some years later he published "Notes on the Lepidoptera of Natal" in The Entomologist (1880, Vol. 13, pp. 226-231; 1881, Vol. 14, pp. 1-7, 35-40). His notebook covering the years 1873-1878, with descriptions of the larvae and pupae of Natal Lepidoptera, and with additions by R. Trimen*, is housed with the Trimen papers at the Royal Entomological Society of London. Trimen, in the preface to his book South African butterflies... (1887-1889), thanked Gooch for sending him many Natal butterflies, with excellent drawings of their early developmental stages and useful observations and descriptions.
In 1878 Gooch joined the newly founded Natal Microscopical Society in Durban and on 3 December that year addressed its members on "Local fields of microscopic investigation". In May the next year he was elected a corresponding member of the South African Philosophical Society. Around this time he left Durban for England, for in the list of voters for Durban in 1880 his place of abode is given as England, though he qualified as a voter on the basis of property ownership.
Gooch used the opportunities offered by his work to study the prehistoric stone artefacts of South Africa. A preliminary note on his observations appeared in the Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science for 1880 (pp. 622-623). His more comprehensive paper on "The stone age of South Africa", published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute (Vol. 11, pp. 124-182) in 1881/2, was one of the first general syntheses of South African prehistory, the other being by J.C. Rickard*. Gooch's paper described mainly his own finds and observations, but he related these to the finds of other field-workers and the contents of museum collections. His finds included pierced shells, beads, a stone armring, rings of indurated shale, bored stones, stone handaxes and other stone artefacts. He noted the wide distribution of kitchen middens and described a variety of archaeological sites and deposits. Dividing South Africa into five archaeological regions, he compared the artefact types found in them. Meanwhile he had written "Notes on the occurrence of stone implements in South Russia", presumably after a visit to that country, which appeared in the same journal (1881, Vol. 10, pp. 352-357).