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The Consumptive Home

In the colony of NSW during the late 1870s, tuberculosis was a considerable health problem and was perhaps the single greatest cause of death in that period.[1] In September 1877, the Sydney timber merchant and philanthropist John and his wife Ann Goodlet[2] together began their work of caring for consumptives. They leased a property in Picton which was called ‘Florence Villa’,[3] and in September 1886 expanded the charity with a new purpose-built facility in Thirlmere.  These facilities were not hospitals but, as their name implied, a home to which sufferers could go for care and shelter. They were more sanitaria than hospital except that, unlike their overseas equivalent, they were not for the wealthy who could pay often considerable sums, but for the poor who could not afford such amenities.[4]  This institution was the only one in the colony of NSW dedicated to those who suffered from this disease until St Joseph’s hospital was opened in July 1886 in Parramatta.[5] These institutions remained the only ones dedicated to the care of consumptives until April 1897 when Lady Hampden decided, as a way to mark Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, to raise funds in order to build a Queen Victoria Home for Consumptives.[6]

The Consumptive Home

In one of his few recorded speeches, John Goodlet put on record the reasons for the Home, and they underline the charitable motivation of caring for those in need and providing relief to sufferers:

It was only those who came in contact with the sufferers of consumption who could realise how much it [the Home] was needed. Many of the patients had contracted the disease here, but many were also arrivals [from] oversea[s]. Many poor creatures when they learned that no more could be done for them at home took the voyage out in hopes of being benefited, but as often as not they arrived in the colony in such a state of health that they could not work, and were without the means of living. He had often thought that the Government should take some steps to warn people on the other side from coming here. The unfortunate persons could hardly be blamed. They asked their doctors if coming to Australia would do them any good, and it was their last resource. There was no room for them in the general hospitals, where incurables were not admitted, and unless there was someplace where they could stay permanently, they were compelled to go out into the world to die. No one could say to one of them: ‘You have been here a month, and although you are no more able to earn your living than when you came, you must leave here.’ No one with any feelings could do that.[7]

Although there was a clear need for a charitable institution for consumptives, given the popularity of the colony as a destination for those seeking relief, nineteenth-century NSW also had many other pressing problems which could have engaged the Goodlets’ charitable attention, but it is probable that there was a personal dimension to their motivation. The Goodlets were no strangers to consumption as Ann Goodlet and her first husband, John Dickson, had come to the colony of NSW in 1855, and they probably came as John had been suffering from consumption for many years. It was this disease that eventually took his life in 1859 after six years of marriage when he was only 36 years old. Also, from September 1876, some 12 months prior to the opening of the home, the four Copeland children were living with and being raised by the Goodlets as their mother, Elizabeth, had tragically died from consumption on the mission field. It is also likely that through their existing charitable work the Goodlets, and particularly Ann, were acutely aware of the plight of the poor consumptive immigrant.[8] It would appear that the Goodlets had this matter under consideration for some time for John, at a meeting of the Royal Society in 1868 to discuss the provision of hospitals for the colony, was asking questions about consumption and suitable places to site such institutions. On that occasion Dr Cox said

a consumptive hospital was much needed in this colony … the distressing state of consumptive persons in New South Wales was most alarming. The whole present hospital accommodation would at once be taken up by patients of this class, and therefore the directors were compelled to refuse to admit this and other classes of incurable as well as a contagious disease. He hoped that this subject would be seriously thought of and that a remedy would soon be provided.[9]

Ann Goodlet

When this work is recalled nowadays, it is John who receives most of the credit for the provision of a Home to meet this need. It is Ann, however, who appears to have been the more prominent figure in the building and maintenance of the Home.[10] John’s wealth may have provided the resources, but it was Ann who was a driving force in its success. This may be seen from comments made in various contemporary reports where she is specifically mentioned as being involved in erecting and designing the Home.[11] John Auld, the Goodlet family minister, commented at Ann’s funeral that

the Consumptive Home at Thirlmere is itself an enduring monument of her Christian compassion for sufferers; but the time she devoted to the interests of the patients in that Home, and the thought and anxiety its efficient management cost her, is known only to a few.[12]

The first Home, opened in 1877 by the Goodlets, could accommodate 18 patients and in its nine years of operation ‘400 men and women found shelter there in their direst need’.[13] Admission to this Home, and later to the purpose-built one, was based on the fact that patients were not only consumptive but that they were ‘poor’, and no questions were asked as to the patient’s creed. Residents were not required to contribute to their support, but were housed free of charge.[14] Moreover, the charity that was extended was of the highest quality as one journalist noted, ‘What a visitor can notice in passing in and out of the rooms that every article, as far as the labels can show it, is of the best. The same consideration for the inmates prevails throughout the home’.[15] Dr Camac Wilkinson,[16] who said he had had the opportunity to see the results of the Goodlets’ work, noted that the institution sheltered persons who were absolutely unfit for any hospital, and who would otherwise be left to die of the terrible disease in the streets.[17] In this respect the Home was different from those in Europe which were for the financially well-off middle classes.

Patients were permitted to stay as long as their complaint lasted, one patient having been resident for six years. In the period 1877 to 1886, death claimed approximately 25% of the patients admitted while the remaining 75% of the patients either improved and left or left to die elsewhere. The discharge rate of those admitted is not able to be calculated, but it was suggested that ‘a good many left greatly improved in health’.[18] There was some general medical supervision by the visiting physician, but as the Home offered no curative treatment other than the provision of fresh air, good diet and care, those discharged were often greatly improved in general health but were not cured of the disease. The Home was not a hospital as such, but rather a combination of hospice and convalescent refuge.[19]

For the 17 years that the Goodlets ran the Home it was managed by a Matron called Mrs Isabella Price, for whom the Goodlets had nothing but praise, and she was aided by a sub-matron, a cook, a wardsman and a man described as ‘a generally useful’.[20] The inmates were not required to do any work and were encouraged to treat the place as their home. The Home was not just about physical healing as there was a spiritual dimension to the philanthropy and ‘many got healing to the soul as well to the body.’ Religious services were held within the Home each Sunday by visiting clergy such as the Anglican Samuel Fox and the various Presbyterian clergy of the district as well as other visitors.[21] Patients of a Roman Catholic persuasion were not permitted the ministration of a priest within the Home, but those who wished were taken on the Sabbath ‘in a vehicle of the Home to the Roman Catholic service’.[22] Cardinal Moran was later to unfairly and inaccurately accuse Goodlet of not recognising the Consumptive Home’s ‘Catholic patients as entitled to freedom of conscience’.[23] Goodlet strongly refuted these claims by publishing the facts of the instances Moran had raised and challenged Moran to publicly justify his allegations. Moran was unable to do so and was silenced.[24] Goodlet’s refutation of Moran was restrained but firm. The press were not so restrained, criticising Moran’s institution-building and lack of effort in assisting the needy of his flock saying of Roman Catholicism that

they have been liberal enough of late in building churches and schools, but it is the universal testimony with all those engaged in the distribution of charity that three-fourths of what is given to alleviate Roman Catholic distress comes out of Protestant pockets. If anyone builds a private hospital he must, of course be left to conduct it as he pleases; and if Cardinal Moran does not like the terms he should persuade some rich Roman Catholic to start a rival institution.[25]

The popularity of the first Home became such that it was unable to cope with the number of requests for admission, so the Goodlets decided to erect a larger and better building in the district. In 1882, Goodlet purchased a property of 327 acres of land between Picton and Thirlmere for £1,000 and which they called ‘Harmony’.[26] Goodlet engaged Albert Bond of Sydney as an Architect who, in consultation with Ann Goodlet, designed the building to house 40 patients and it was opened on September 20, 1886. The Home was so designed that, as a contemporary account said, ‘there is the most convincing evidence that very careful study has been given to secure the best means for the promotion of the inmates’ health, their convenience, and comfort.’[27] So committed were the Goodlets to this work that, ignoring the common prejudice of residing near those suffering from consumption, a country residence for them was also constructed on the site of the Home,[28] and there was a farm attached which supplied milk, meat, eggs and vegetables.[29]

High hopes were held for a cure for tuberculosis. In March 1882, the German scientist Dr Robert Koch, demonstrated that the cause of tuberculosis was the tubercule bacillus, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. He later claimed in 1890 that ‘tuberculine’, a product of the tubercule grown in an artificial medium, had shown much promise in effecting such cures of consumption in its early stages.[30] The various Australian colonial governments sent envoys to Berlin to study these claims. The result of these studies was a cautious acceptance, with a significant number of caveats, that ‘the fluid is probably a valuable remedial agent’.[31] Dr Camac Wilkinson, who had studied for a time under Koch, received a quantity of ‘tuberculine’ and was confident it would be effective. Wilkinson indicated he would conduct trials at Sydney Hospital[32] however the Sydney Hospital did not share Wilkinson’s confidence and quickly issued a denial that such trials would be run there.[33] Goodlet approached Wilkinson with the suggestion that the ‘cure’ be trialled at his Home,[34] but the initiative shown by Goodlet was not rewarded with a significant medical cure as Wilkinson was later to report:

My own experience in 1891 told me that in tuberculin we possessed a specific remedy of great value in suitable cases. My first experiments were made upon patients who were living in a country sanatorium, and were free from fever. But the general wave of condemnation overwhelmed me in its flood, and it was practically impossible to persuade anyone to undergo specific treatment – at any rate, until all other method and remedies had hopelessly failed. Then unfortunately the stage for tuberculin treatment had long passed.[35]

By 1893, Goodlet had come to the conclusion that he could no longer afford to fund the Consumptive Home as his personal charity. A provisional committee was formed to see if there was sufficient public support to continue the Home as a public institution,[36] and Goodlet indicated that he was only keeping the Home open until the result of the appeal was known.[37] The provisional committee wanted a swift answer for only three weeks were given in which to raise a sufficient level of subscriptions to warrant keeping the Home open[38] and it was estimated that £1,100 per annum was required. The matter was widely advertised and supported through numerous newspaper articles, and a special appeal was made to Scottish Presbyterians. Such appeals were successful, financial support was promised, and the provisional committee decided to proceed. Goodlet had hoped that such support would only be needed for three years, so he gave the provisional committee a three-year lease at a rental of one shilling per annum. He was hoping that at the end of the lease he would be able to resume the operation of his private charity.

By 1896, when the lease to the committee expired, Goodlet’s business interests had not yet recovered their former strength and Ann, the driving force behind the running of the Home, was now 74 and soon to begin the long decline in health which led to her death. Financial support for the Home was also in decline and subscriptions were less than half what was required to keep the Home open, so once again the Home was in danger of closure.

The committee approached the Government with the proposal that it should purchase the property for some £5,000 and endow the Home pound for pound on the amount received by the public. [39] The Government did support the Home but with only £300, and a more lasting solution was needed to keep it in operation. To exacerbate the situation, Lady Hampden started a fund to establish another Home in order to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year. So actively was the whole colony canvassed for this fund that money rained in from all directions as subscribers transferred their benevolence, dealing a near-fatal blow to the Consumptive Home at Thirlmere. Many of those involved in encouraging the Queen Victoria Jubilee fund had been concerned with consumption well before Lady Hampden took up the cause, and had been involved with or deeply appreciated the work of Goodlet. It was through their influence that part of the Jubilee Fund was used to support the Home at Thirlmere.

In 1903 Ann Goodlet died, and in 1904 Goodlet remarried and gave the Home and the grounds surrounding it to the Queen Victoria Home (QVH) and he offered the rest of his Thirlmere estate to them for sale. The estate, consisting of a substantial brick cottage on 320 acres of land, was purchased in September 1905 by the QVH for a substantially discounted price of £3,000.[40] Goodlet’s connection with the Home and with the area was greatly diminished, but he continued as a member of the QVH committee for some time and continued to agitate publicly for the government to be more active in providing for and dealing with the issue of consumption. He said of government and community inaction on consumption, in language borrowed from his military service, that

a great battle or a prolonged siege could not be more destructive, but the process is gradual, the victims are silent, and we seem to have tacitly agreed to keep the unpleasant subject in the background as far as may be possible … we dealt firmly with the plague, but consumption, which is far more disastrous goes unchecked.[41]

Claims about the Consumptive Home[42]

There was no cure available for tuberculosis in the nineteenth century. Rest, fresh air and a good diet was thought to be beneficial and this was what the Home sought to provide. Numerous claims were made about the Home concerning its admission policy, the number of patients admitted and discharged, and the number of deaths that occurred. It was claimed that the Home admitted 960 patients in the period 1877 to 1893 and that 700 were discharged either having benefitted or been cured whereas 226 had died.[43] At the opening of the new Home in 1886, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that given the ‘insidious nature of the disease, the percentage of lives saved is high’. It further commented that this appeared to be due to the careful nursing and excellent climate.[44] The admission policy of the Home was that those admitted

were unfortunate and poor. No questions were asked as to their creed, neither were they solicited to contribute towards their support. They were housed and fed free of expense.[45]

Were these figures and claims quoted in the press of the day accurate or were they exaggerated to bolster the appeal of the Home and admiration for its administrators? The records of the Home are not extant, but various statements were made in the newspapers and death records are available.[46] A detailed examination of them has been carried out which sheds considerable light on the veracity of the claims concerning the Consumptive Home opened and managed by the Goodlets.[47]

It would appear that as far as the claims made for the Home can be tested they were accurate. It catered for the consumptive who was poor and in need, irrespective of race or ability to pay. It was not possible to test the claim that there was no religious discrimination in terms of the Goodlets’ admission policy. The number of deaths that occurred at the Home closely matches those that were published and so there is the confidence that the patient numbers, which cannot be verified, are also accurate. There was no attempt to exaggerate the Home’s claims in order to enhance its appeal nor to increase admiration for its administrators, John and Ann Goodlet. The Home was in many respects, despite the many who left having obtained a benefit from their time, a hospice and it was correctly said of the work that

The Home is sheltering consumptives who have no hope in this life, but who are calmly and patiently waiting for the end. There is no other place for them to pass the few remaining months of their earthly existence, and therefore the institution is one in which a work of a most beneficial character is being carried out.[48]

The Consumptive Home commenced and run by the Goodlets was an innovative, generous and self-effacing attempt by John and Ann Goodlet to assist consumptive persons in need of shelter and care. The Goodlets were involved in many philanthropic activities but this example of philanthropy as the relief of suffering was their most costly in terms of money and effort and certainly their most remarkable achievement in philanthropy.

Dr Paul F Cooper

Research Fellow Christ College, Sydney

The appropriate way to cite this article is as follows:

Paul F Cooper. The Consumptive Home Available at

[1] J.B. Trivett, Tuberculosis in NSW. A statistical analysis of the Mortality from Tubercular Disease during the last thirty three years (Sydney: William Applegate Gullick, Government Printer, 1909).  For works on the Colonial incidence see Robin Walker, ‘The struggle against pulmonary tuberculosis in Australia, 1788-1950’ , Australian Historical Studies 20:80, 439-461. A.J. Proust (ed) History of Tuberculosis in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea (Canberra: Brolga Press, 1991); F.B. Smith, Illness in Colonial Australia (Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2011).

[2] A summary of the Goodlets’ lives can be found in articles by Paul F Cooper; ;

[3] Goodlet first took out a lease on a property called ‘Florence Villa’ in 1877 it had prior to this been the Terminus Hotel.  J. Steel, ‘Early days of Picton: 2,’ Journal Royal Historical Society, IX, 1904, 172. The property was not renamed by Goodlet ‘Florence Villa’ (contra Jan Ross District Reporter April 6, 2001) nor was it named after Goodlet’s sister Florence who died of Consumption as Goodlet had no such sister (contra Jan Ross Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital (nd) 2 and contra John Pearn ‘The Queen Victoria Home for Consumptives Fund – a history of its origins, functions, and achievements’ Third National Conference on Medical History and Health in Australia Adelaide, South Australia, 1986.  H. Attwood & G. Kenny (editors). Parkville, Vic.: Medical History Unit, University of Melbourne and Medical History Society, AMA (Victorian Branch), c1987, 252. ‘Florence Villa’ was the property’s name when Goodlet leased it. Sydney Morning Herald (hereafter SMH), May 7, 1877. The building consisted of 14 rooms with a large room. The Goodlets also had a country residence in Picton near Windmill Hill from which farm produce was supplied to the Picton Home. SMH, January 19, 1878.

[4] Thomas Dormandy, The White Death, A History of Tuberculosis  (New York: New York University Press, 2000),  147-159  helpfully traces the nineteen-century European movement of ‘rest and fresh air’ in the sanatoria movement and the English equivalent is found in F.B. Smith, The Retreat of Tuberculosis 1850-1950 (London: Croom Helm, 1988), 97-135.

[5] A.J. Proust ‘Evolution of Treatment’ in A.J. Proust (ed) History of Tuberculosis in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea (Canberra: Brolga Press, 1991), 148-9. Freeman’s Journal, June 19, 1886.

[6] A preliminary meeting was held at Government House on April 28, 1897 and John Goodlet was in attendance. SMH, April 29, 1897.

[7] The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), September 23, 1893. Alison Bashford. ‘Tuberculosis & Economy: Public Health & Labour in the Early Welfare State,’ Health and History 4, 2, (2002), 19-40.  [accessed March 30, 2022] notes that in the twentieth-century Tuberculosis was not seen in terms of a problem of immigration. It was, however, so seen in the nineteenth century, as Goodlet’s comments show.  Progressively there was less justification for this view as the disease took hold in the colonial born later in the century.

[8] Much later James Rae Dickson, a relative of Mrs Goodlet by her first marriage, who suffered from Consumption was nursed at Canterbury House, the Sydney residence of the Goodlets. He died October 6, 1889 and was buried in the Goodlet family grave.

[9] SMH, August 17, 1868.

[10] The location of the Home in the Picton district may be due to Ann as she had grown up there on her fathers’ farm from 1823-1835.

[11] The author of the report of the opening is not named but it most likely was Joseph Copeland, the editor of The Presbyterian and Australian Witness, who was one of the few present at the occasion. SMH, September 20, 1886; The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), September 25, 1886. See also The Sydney City Mission Herald, January 15, 1903.

[12] The Messenger of the Presbyterian Church in NSW (Sydney, NSW), January 16, 1903.

[13] The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), September 25, 1886.

[14] The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), September 25, 1886.

[15] The Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), August 26, 1893.

[16] Dr William Camac Wilkinson (1858 – 1946), was educated at the University of Sydney (BA 1877) and the University of London (MB 1882, MD 1884); studied at Strasbourg and Vienna. He was a physician in the throat, ear and skin departments of Sydney Hospitals. MLA in NSW from 1885-1889. Lecturer in principles and practice of medicine at the University of Sydney from 1901. Honorary physician of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He campaigned for registration and compulsory notification of tuberculosis. Went to London in 1910 and set up as a consultant in Harley Street. He championed ‘tubuculine’ as a cure for consumption. [accessed March 30, 2022].

[17] SMH, September 15, 1893.

[18] The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), September 25, 1886.

[19] The observation of Catherine O’Carrigan that St Joseph’s was a hospital for the treatment of salvageable tuberculosis patients and the Thirlmere Home a hospice for incurable advanced cases is a helpful distinction.  A.J. Proust, History of Tuberculosis in New South Wales, 149.

[20] The Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), August 26, 1893. See Paul F Cooper, for the background of Isabella Price.

[21] The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), August 13, 1881; September 27, 1885.

[22] The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), December 11, 1886.

[23] SMH, December 6, 1886.

[24] SMH, December 11, 1886.

[25] The Argus (Melbourne, Vic), December 14, 1886. The article is somewhat unfair towards Moran and Roman Catholicism for on July 2, 1886 some six months earlier St Joseph’s home for consumptives had been opened in Parramatta by the Sisters of Charity.

[26] It was purchased on January 16, 1882 from Septimus Alfred Stephen. Land Records of the Queen Victoria Hospital – courtesy of Jan Ross, Thirlmere. The cost of purchase of £1,000 for 327 acres. SMH, December 3, 1881.

[27] The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), September 25, 1886.

[28] Albert Bond also designed this country residence for the Goodlets to be called ‘Harmony’.

[29] It was run by John’s nephew, David Clark. The name of the farm from 1894 onwards was ‘Malleny’ after a place in Scotland where Goodlet had once lived. The Queanbeyan Age (Queanbeyan, NSW), June 27, 1882.

[30] Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch 1843-1910, his life and contribution is summarised in Thomas M Daniel, Pioneers of Medicine and their Impact on Tuberculosis (New York: University of Rochester  Press, 2000), 62-97.

[31] Australasian Medical Gazette (Sydney, NSW), March 15, 1891.

[32] The Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), February 21, 1891.

[33] Australasian Medical Gazette (Sydney, NSW), March 15, 1891.

[34] The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), March 28, 1891. The trials began about a week after the Sydney Hospital had declined to be involved.

[35] W. Camac Wilkinson, ‘Tuberculin as a specific Remedy for Pulmonary Tuberculosis,’ in Transactions of the Sixth Session of the Intercolonial Medical Congress of Australia, Hobart, Tasmania, (February 1902): 128. For an assessment of both Koch and Wilkinson’s work see A.J. Proust, ‘Tuberculin and Some other Therapies used in the Treatment of Tuberculosis’ in A.J. Proust, The History of Tuberculosis, 154-157.

[36] Letter Rev. James Cosh and Senator J.T. Walker to J. Walker, July 28, 1893. Walker Papers Ferguson Library.

[37] The Presbyterian and Australian Witness (Sydney, NSW), August 19, 1893.

[38] Notice of Meeting of Provisional Committee, August 31, 1893. Walker Papers Ferguson Library.

[39] The Advertiser (Ashfield, NSW), September 26, 1896.

[40] Jan Ross, A History of Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, 1877-1994 (Picton, N.S.W.: Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, [1994]), 5; SMH, December 16, 1907 gives the date as 1904. A letter from the Secretary of the Queen Victorian Sanatorium Thirlmere and Wentworth Falls supports the date being in 1905. Goulburn Evening Penny Post,  May 6, 1905

[41] SMH, December 22, 1905.

[42] Jan Ross, a local historian, graciously made available some of her research on the patients in the hospital and the NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages granted access to the death records of the Picton District which allowed the collation of more detailed personal information on those who died in the Consumptive Home in the time of the Goodlets. It is upon these two sources that this analysis is based.

[43] The Advertiser (Ashfield, NSW), August 19, 1893.

[44] SMH, September 20, 1886.

[45] SMH, September 20, 1886.

[46] Death certificate details are from the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

[47] Paul F Cooper John and Ann Goodlet, a study in Colonial Christian Philanthropy (PhD, Macquarie University, 2013), 369-382.

[48] The Advertiser (Ashfield, NSW), March 5, 1898.

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