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I never solved this. but did find a very crude workaround. Here it is in case anyone has a similar problem .
The reason I needed visualVM was to profile some slow running code within the DB. The best I could do in the end was to use jconsole and repeatedly use the EmitStackTrace mbean option. Using this it is possible to build a picture of which methods the JVM is spending most of its time in.
The problem by the way was that one method was not being compiled by the JIT compiler, so it was always being interpreted. Fortunately that method wasn't essential to the process and by avoiding it, performance improved to the same, (actually very slightly faster) than the standard JVM /JRE.