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Goble, Joseph Hunter (1863–1932)

by John Lack

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Joseph Hunter Goble (1863-1932), Baptist pastor, was born on 17 February 1863 at Rosebrook, near Belfast (Port Fairy), Victoria, son of Joseph Goble and Maria Anne Ballentine. His English father arrived in Belfast in the 1850s, prospered as a mill engineer and flour-miller, and was a borough councillor in 1883-89. His Irish mother disembarked at Geelong in 1856 as a domestic servant.

Joseph Hunter Goble appears to have moved to Melbourne with his mother in the mid-1870s. They lived in poverty at Sandridge, Emerald Hill and Fitzroy. Joseph left school and worked in factories and on the railways. Finally he served an apprenticeship as a compositor. From 1885 he was a member of the Melbourne Typographical Society; in 1889 he was elected to its board of management, from 1894 to 1896 he was a vice-president, and in 1897 he became president.

Goble had become a devout Christian in his mid-teens, and ascribed his conversion to the kindly reception accorded him at the Seamen's Bethel at Fishermen's Bend. Beginning as a cleaner and bell-ringer, he became a Sunday School teacher and open-air worker, then in 1884 student pastor at the Baptist church in Footscray. His ministry was successful, but his health collapsed and in 1886 he had to withdraw. On 17 August he married Mary Adelaide Wouldham, a mission worker, in Holy Trinity Church of England, Port Melbourne, and a son was born in 1888. The Gobles were received into the fellowship of the Albert Park Baptist Church in 1892, and when the Baptist cause began at Port Melbourne in 1894, Joseph was one of the first Sunday school teachers. The following year a deputation from Footscray waited on him at his workplace and implored him to come as their preacher. On 3 March 1895 he began his remarkable pastorate. His wife died from typhoid fever in 1897; he never remarried. He resumed his studies and was ordained in 1900.

Joe Goble's rapport with working men and women made his ministry one of the most outstanding in Australia. By 1902 the local membership roll had trebled to over 200, the Paisley Street church had been twice enlarged, and the Sunday school was the largest in the denomination. Evening services held in the Federal Hall attracted congregations in excess of 2000. A red-brick church was built in 1904 to seat 700. Baptist services began at Yarraville in 1903, and a branch church at Footscray seated 250 in 1909, and 500 in 1914.

Goble was a stirring preacher—simple, direct, at times dramatic, and above all conveying his immense sincerity, honesty and affection. Reverent but possessing a sense of fun, serious but incapable of pomposity, he was widely revered, even among workers indifferent to religion. Despite his opposition to strong drink Goble was never labelled a 'wowser'. He was a keen supporter of the Footscray Football Club, and was prominent in local Masonic circles. He was a great visitor of the troubled and the poor, churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike, and championed the right of ordinary people to a decent standard of living. Before World War I he denounced the existence of unemployment as a national disgrace, and attacked jingoism, the arms race and compulsory military training.

Goble refused to accept a stipend greater than the average working wage, and gave most of his money to the needy. An imposing man—6 ft 4 ins (193 cm) and large of frame—he became a familiar figure on his specially reinforced bicycle and by the 1920s he was identified widely as 'Goble of Footscray'. His steadfast loyalty was vital to a district with a fragile sense of its worth.

In Baptist circles his duties were extensive: examiner at the training college, member of council, vice-president and president of the Union, country visitor for the Home and Foreign Mission, chairman for many years of the Baptist Foreign Missionary Society and subsequently of the Australian Board of Baptist Foreign Mission, and from 1913 chairman of the advisory board of the Union. In 1926-29 Goble was first president of the Baptist Union of Australia. He laid the foundation stone of the Canberra Baptist Church, and presided at the dedication. While no theologian, his plain evangelism inspired many, including his son, to enter the ministry.

By 1930-31 Goble was an exhausted man. Following his death on 31 January 1932, thousands lined the route of the funeral to the Footscray cemetery. The Baptist Union erected a Goble Memorial Hall in East Melbourne, the Footscray congregation unveiled in the Paisley Street church a mosaic tablet bearing his portrait and a stained glass window of the Good Samaritan, and the citizens of Footscray erected on the Geelong Road an elevated, life-size statue in marble.

Select Bibliography

  • J. McDonald Martin, The Life of a Great and Worthy Freemason (Melb, 1937)
  • F. J. Wilkin, Baptists in Victoria: Our First Century, 1838-1938 (Melb, 1939)
  • Southern Baptist, 1 Jan 1905, 3 Dec 1907, 1 Dec 1908
  • Australian Baptist, 31 Aug 1926, 27 Mar 1928, 26 Feb 1929, 9 Feb 1932
  • Propagandist, 5 Mar, 5 Apr 1930
  • Victorian Baptist Witness, 5 Mar 1932
  • Footscray Advertiser, 21, 28 Apr 1900, 1 Mar, 25 Oct 1902, 1 Aug 1903, 13 Aug 1904, 21 Nov 1908, 1 July 1911, 11 Mar, 4 Nov 1916, 26 Jan 1929, 6, 13 Feb 1932.

Citation details

John Lack, 'Goble, Joseph Hunter (1863–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/goble-joseph-hunter-6406/text10951, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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