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John Hay Goodlet (1835–1914)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published:

John Hay Goodlet (1835-1914), timber merchant and philanthropist, was born on 22 March 1835 at Leith, Scotland, son of George Goodlet, merchant, and his wife Mary, née Hay. In June 1852 he arrived in Melbourne where he was employed by C. & J. Smith, builders. In 1855 he went to Sydney with a shipload of American doors, sold them profitably, began importing timber from Jervis Bay and set up a sawmill in Erskine Street with his own wharf. About 1862 James Smith became his partner and by 1881 they were sawing over 100,000 ft (30,500 m) a week and had two other coastal mills, brickworks at Granville producing 200,000 bricks a week and a pottery in Surry Hills making drain and sewage pipes, tiles, terra cotta and chimney pots and stoneware. In 1866-88 Goodlet was a director and twice chairman of the Australian Mutual Provident Society. He was a commissioner for the London Exhibition in 1872 and for the Sydney city railway in 1890-91. He was active in the volunteer corps and became a lieutenant-colonel of the second infantry regiment.

Goodlet suffered severely in the bank crash of 1893 but soon recovered. As managing director of a limited company he began to make Portland cement at the Granville works, expanded his other branches and prospered greatly. He gave generous help to such charitable institutions as the Thirlmere Home for chronic consumptives at Picton, the Sydney Hospital, Benevolent Society, Royal Hospital for Women at Paddington, the New South Wales Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind and the Sydney City Mission. Goodlet's major interest was the Presbyterian Church. He was an active convener of the finance committee of the General Assembly of Australia and a member of many other committees. In May 1910 he represented New South Wales at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Churches and at a World Missionary Conference in Scotland. Chairman of directors of the Presbyterian, he guaranteed the loan which founded the new Messenger in 1901 and by 1909 had paid off the overdraft. For many years he was Sunday school superintendent at Ashfield where in 1913 he opened the Goodlet institute. In 1870-1914 he served on the Council of St Andrew's College, University of Sydney, and helped to secure its finances, giving 2000 shares in his firm to found the Goodlet scholarships for the students for the Presbyterian ministry. In 1883-92 he was a trustee of Cooerwull Academy near Lithgow and in 1888 helped to found the Presbyterian Ladies' College at Croydon. In 1878-80 he had guaranteed half the stipend of three bush missionaries in New South Wales. At Sholinghur, India, he built a hospital after control of the mission there was transferred from Scotland to Sydney.

On 3 May 1860 Goodlet had married Ann Alison Dickson, née Panton (1827-1903); she supported all her husband's charities, was president of the first Australian branch of the Young Women's Christian Association in 1880-1903 and won a place on the State Children's Relief Board in 1887. On 3 February 1904 he married Elizabeth Mary Forbes (1865-1926), who devoted most of her time to missions. Goodlet died on 13 January 1914. He had no children and left most of his estate of £92,910 to the Presbyterian Church with 30 per cent for foreign missions.

A portrait is in St Andrew's College and memorial windows to him and his wives are in the Ashfield Church.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Richards (ed), New South Wales in 1881 (Syd, 1882)
  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine Centennial History of New South Wales, vol 2 (Syd, 1888)
  • A. D. Gilchrist (ed), John Dunmore Lang (Melb, 1951)
  • Messenger of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales, 16 Jan 1903, 23 Jan 1914, 6, 13 Aug 1926
  • Aurora Australis (Ashfield), Mar 1914
  • Australasian Builder and Contractor's News, 28 May 1887
  • Prices Current (Goodlet & Smith, Ltd), Oct 1904, Feb 1906, Feb 1907
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14, 15 Jan 1914
  • The Industrial Progress of N.S.W. (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Walker papers (Presbyterian Library, Assembly Hall, Sydney)
  • General Assembly minutes (Presbyterian Library, Assembly Hall, Sydney).

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Goodlet, John Hay (1835–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 March, 1835
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


13 January, 1914 (aged 78)
Ashfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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