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Elizabeth Mary Goodlet (1854–1926)

by Joan Mansfield

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Ann Alison Goodlet

Ann Alison Goodlet (c.1824-1903) and Elizabeth Mary Goodlet (1854-1926), church workers and philanthropists, were the first and second wives of John Hay Goodlet, a wealthy Sydney merchant. Ann was born in Edinburgh, eldest daughter of William Panton. She was a governess when she married John Dickson, a bank clerk, on 20 June 1853 at St Cuthbert's Episcopal Church, Edinburgh. In 1855 they came to Sydney, where Dickson died of phthisis in 1859. His widow married Goodlet on 3 May 1860 at Redfern with Presbyterian forms.

The couple supported hospitals, schools and charitable institutions, and were active in the Presbyterian Church at Ashfield. Ann was president of the first Australian branch of the Young Women's Christian Association from 1880 to 1903, and served on the State Children Relief Board and the boards of the Benevolent Society, the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind, the Queen's Jubilee Fund and the Sydney Female Refuge Society—where 'unfortunate females' were sheltered and 'where washing and needlework are done for the public on very reasonable terms'. She was sometime secretary of this refuge and also president of the ladies' auxiliary of the Young Men's Christian Association.

Her other great interest was the mission work of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. Ann Goodlet was one of a small band of women who established in 1867 a ladies' association to support the Church's New Hebrides Mission. She was its first and only president until 1891 when it was amalgamated with the new Presbyterian Women's Missionary Association, established to support the Zenana mission work of the Church of Scotland at Madras, India. This provided education for girls and women of different castes, in schools or in their homes. Ann became the W.M.A.'s first president, and continued in that role until her death. A small photograph of her showed a strong but gentle face in harmony with the descriptions of her wisdom and kindness. She had no children. She died on 3 January 1903 at Canterbury and was buried in Rookwood cemetery with Presbyterian forms.

On 3 February 1904 at Ashfield the widower married Elizabeth Mary Forbes. She had been born in 1854 at Singleton, daughter of Alexander Leith Forbes, inspector of schools, formerly a Free Church minister in Scotland, and his wife Jean, née Clark. In 1877 the Forbes family moved from Richmond to Ashfield and Elizabeth became an enthusiastic and loyal member of the Presbyterian Church there. She later recalled that her parents had dedicated her as a baby to God, and that as a child she prayed that God would carry on his work in her even though it should be by suffering. This memory motivated her in her philanthropic interests. She was a Sunday School teacher for many years and was interested in all aspects of the Church's work, particularly foreign missions.

When the W.M.A. was formed in 1891 under the presidency of Ann Goodlet, Elizabeth Forbes was elected honorary secretary, a position she occupied until 1912. She fulfilled the role with enormous drive, for some years travelling to found branches in congregations throughout New South Wales. By 1902 there were fifty branches and the annual report declared that the original aim of helping foreign missions 'has developed into our being the organization authorized by the General Assembly for collecting the revenue both for its Home and its Foreign Missions'. One of her initiatives was the formation of Young People's Mission Bands, which had a long life in many Presbyterian congregations. Overseas trips in 1894 brought her personal contact with the Aberdeen W.M.A. in Scotland and with American mission work in Cairo, and in 1910 she attended the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh.

After their marriage in 1904, Elizabeth and her husband provided funds to build a hospital at Sholingur, India, and she developed a detailed knowledge of mission work and contact with missionaries by a voluminous correspondence and hospitality during their furloughs. Her personal interest was reflected in her report of 1894 of the stimulus the W.M.A. provided for women to bestir themselves in the Church's work. In 1912 she was elected president of the W.M.A., which she led with characteristic energy and enthusiasm. She was also active in the support of the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind, Y.W.C.A., Queen Victoria Homes for Consumptives, Sydney Female Refuge and the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Following John's death in 1914 his widow continued his financial support of charities and of the Presbyterian Church. She had no children. Elizabeth died on 26 July 1926 at Goodlet Street, Canterbury, and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. The serious face and determined chin shown in a photograph confirmed the words of an obituarist: 'Naturally of a shy and retiring disposition, she conquered all feelings of reserve when it was necessary to show a firm front for whatever she thought was right'. Memorial windows to both Mrs Goodlets are in the Presbyterian Church, Ashfield.

Select Bibliography

  • James Cameron, Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales (Syd, 1905), pp 111-14
  • B. Dickey (ed), Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography (Syd, 1994)
  • Woollahra Messenger, January 1893, p 168
  • The Messenger, 16 January 1903, p 346
  • Ministering Women (magazine of the New South Wales Women’s Missionary Association) Jan 1898, p 1, Apr 1903, p 4, July 1912, p 2, Aug 1926, pp 1-3
  • New South Wales Presbyterian, 2 Sept 1926, p 10, 10 Oct 1929, p 82
  • Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales 1894, p 65, 1902, p 84.

Citation details

Joan Mansfield, 'Goodlet, Elizabeth Mary (1854–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Forbes, Elizabeth

Singleton, New South Wales, Australia


26 July, 1926 (aged ~ 72)
Canterbury, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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