Rev. Joseph Goble (1863 – 1932) Baptist pastor
The Mail, Footscray, Saturday 6 February 1932 said of Rev Joseph Hunter Goble, “His life was a period of delightful ingenuousness, touching kindness and healing sympathy. His heart was overflowing with love and good cheer.” Goble practised a personal socialism. He limited his consumption, took a minimal stipend and discreetly distributed most of his money to the poor.
“His life was a period of delightful ingenuousness, touching kindness and healing sympathy. His heart was overflowing with love and good cheer.” – The Mail, Footscray, Saturday 6 February 1932.
When 240 delegates met at the Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle in Sydney on 25 August 1926 to form the Baptist Union of Australia, they unanimously elected Joseph Hunter Goble as the first President of the Union. He was the Minister of the Footscray Baptist Church and initially, along with Dr F W Norwood and later Rev Peter Fleming, he had played a major role in forging Baptist federation.
It was the Baptist Union of Australia (BUA), under Rev Coble’s leadership, that negotiated with the Commonwealth Government for a grant of land on which to build the first Baptist Church in the new federal capital. The BUA appointed Dr Waldock, who was to become the church’s first Minister, to select the site and raise the funds to build the church and the manse.
Rev Goble unveiled the church’s foundation stone on 21 March 1928 and later officiated at the Canberra Baptist Church’s opening ceremonies on the weekend of 23-24 February 1929. It is likely that few people who pause to read the foundation stone today will be aware of the remarkable and saintly man whose name is recorded thereon.
No stranger to poverty
On Sunday 3 March 1895, Rev Goble was to preach his first sermon at Footscray Baptist Church as its new Minister. He intended to make an impression, but a burglar stole the new outfit he had bought for the occasion and he preached to his congregation in “his shabby old suit”. It seems to me that this incident foretold the type of ministry he was to have among the people of Footscray for the next 3 7 years. He was not to be aloof from them. He was to live at their level, experiencing their hardships, their sadness and their joys. He was to share fully in the day-to-day reality of their lives. And as a result there was to emerge a rare and mutual love and respect between Goble and Footscray’s people.
Joseph Hunter Goble was born in Belfast, Port Fairy, Victoria, on 18 February 1862, the son of a prosperous flourmill owner, who apparently abandoned Goble’s mother, Maria Ballantine, and her two children. Goble lived in poverty at Port Melbourne and Fitzroy and had to leave school at a young age to work in factories and on the railways. In his early years unemployment, poverty and charity handouts were very much a part of his personal experience.
In the 1880s he obtained an apprenticeship as a compositor andjoined the Printers Union, later rising to the position of President of the Printers Union.
A true democratic socialist
For fifty years from 1891 onwards, unemployment and poverty were inseparable parts of Australian working class experience. These were Goble’s times. John Lack, in his History of Footscray, says of him:
“He brought with him a worker’s and staunch trade unionist’s ideals of the dignity of labour and the brotherhood of man, and a Christian’s ideal of practical Christianity derived from the example of the Good Samaritan.”
Goble practised a personal socialism. He limited his consumption, took a minimal stipend and discreetly distributed most of his money to the poor. He openly supported the Labor movement’s reform programs and struck a remarkable chord among working men and women, many of whom, during the depression years, associated Christianity with social respectability, demeaning charity and political conservatism. The ideals and brotherhood of unionism remained with him all his life, but neither union office nor the enticement of a political career with the Labor Party could draw him away from his primary calling – Christian ministry.
Converted to Christianity at age 15
Goble was converted to Christianity at the age of 15 years as a result of kindly treatment he had received at the Port Melbourne Seamen’s bethel. He began preaching in Baptist Churches at a young age and built up a reputation as a preacher. He began his pastorate at the Paisley Street Baptist Church in Footscray on 3 March 1895. The congregation soon outgrew the church, and during his 37 years there it had to be extended twice. By the early 1900s he was attracting a congregation of 2,000. In its heyday the Paisley Street Church had an orchestra of 20 people and a large choir. Apparently if the faithful did not get to the church by 6.30 at night for the 7.00 pm service they did not get in to the evening service.
A stirring and dramatic preacher
He was described as a “stirring and dramatic preacher totally devoid of self importance” and he attracted workers normally indifferent to formal religion. Dr J F Wilkin, in a tribute in the Australian Baptist of 9 February 1932, said of him:
Not in abstruse speculations, not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, but in simple forceful words he urged on the notice of men the unchanging truths of divine love, and of the sacrifice of the Cross. Because he loved the saviour he loved men for whom the saviour died.
Another of his contemporaries, Rev Robert Helmore (who “lost [his] faith in the war” and who Goble later nevertheless convinced to go to Whitley College) described Goble as “a big man, about 18 stone … a magnificent man”.
Rev C J Tinsley wrote of the first sermon he heard Goble preach:
Mr Goble’s text was Hebrews 7:25 and [it] was a rich, warm-hearted, gripping exposition of the Gospel he loved, that went home to the hearts of the congregation. It revealed the qualities that have endeared him to the people of Footscray and made his ministry there so successful. Whenever I have thought of him it has been with the background of that sermon in my mind.
Goble of Footscray
His name became synonymous with self-denial, charity and good hum our. He loved Footscray and its people and was an avid supporter of the Footscray Football Club. He said that when they opened up his heart there would be engraved on it the word “Footscray” and he was referred to locally as “Goble of Footscray”. In some circles he was called the “Bishop of Footscray”.
Although he had suffered much during his life, those who knew him say that he was always cheerful and uncomplaining.
By the early 1930s he was an exhausted man, having given himself fully to his calling, and an accident accelerated his physical decline. His death on 31 January 1932 shocked both Footscray and Baptist circles and his funeral was the biggest seen in Footscray. The local newspaper reported that the city of Footscray “was immediately plunged into mourning and “Flags were flown at half mast throughout the district”. The newspaper went on to say: “The body laid in the church from 10 am on Tuesday, and all day there was a constant stream of citizens paying homage to a great and loving man. The Mayor and councillors were the first to pay their respects, and from then on folk from every church, from every public and semi-public body and from all sections of the business and sporting life of the city paid their last tributes”.
Hundreds of returned soldiers led the hearse followed by hundreds of cars. Thousands lined the route, including a thousand from Paisley Street Sunday School. The list of pallbearers at his funeral provides evidence of the esteem in which he was held in the wider community. They were the Commonwealth Postmaster-General (Mr Fenton), State Education Minister (Mr Lemmon), Mr Prendergast MLA, the Mayor of Footscray (Cr. E. Hanmer), Mr J Hicks (Church Secretary), Mr W Ellingworth (Baptist Home Mission Committee) and Mr A C Joyce (Vice-President of the Baptist Union of Victoria). The last named provides another link between Rev Goble and Canberra Baptist.
Footscray raised a monument to Rev Goble, financed by public donations, and placed it near his home and church. The statue remains today and is located on the side of Geelong Road close to the intersection with Barkly Street in Middle Footscray.
Rev. Joseph Goble funeral notices : http://ndpbeta.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/4426524
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