In my search for forgotten Australian women writers, I have come across several authors listed in the Australian Newspaper Fiction Database whose names have yet to be entered on the AustLit database. Finding anything about the lives of many of these authors would barely be possible without the newspaper records provided by Trove, but sometimes luck also happens when genealogical information for the author’s family history is found, provided by a descendant. These sources combined allow us to create a sketch of the author’s life and family background, such as the one that follows for South Australian author, Jessie Maria Goldney.

Jessie Maria Goldney was born in Adelaide in 1849 and grew up on her father’s farm in Gawler. She was the eldest of 14 children, not all of whom survived from infancy. She trained as a teacher and had various postings, including at least one as “head teacher”. In the jubilee celebrations of the school at Erith, near to where her father came to own a property, she was named as having been the school’s first teacher. She lived till 1923 at which time she was living with her sister, Mrs Sarah Isabella Day. (She must have been 73 or 74 by then, but her death notice erroneously states she died at 72.) It appears she never married.

Jessie’s parents were Henry Goldney and Mary Ann (nee Duke). Henry was born in 1824 at Wandsworth, near London, and came to South Australia by ship as a youth in 1840. His parents, William and Maria (nee Harrow) Goldney, came from English Quaker stock. William was a weaver by trade and, after having become estranged from his family, emigrated to South Australia, paying the family’s passage. In the colony, the couple took up farming on the Gawler River, in an area known as the Buchesfelde.

Jessie’s maternal grandfather was George Duke, by faith a Baptist and by profession a printer, who worked for the Government Printing Office. Mary Ann’s brother, Jessie’s uncle George Duke Junior, ran away to the Victorian goldfields and lost contact with the family. He married an Ann Gaynor and fought in Ballarat at the Eureka Stockade. Ann was one of three women who sewed the Eureka flag, and one of her brother’s hid the stockade’s leader, Peter Lalor, as he recovered from his injuries.

Jessie’s father Henry, too, was attracted to the gold fields. There he prospered and, when he returned to South Australia, he was wealthy enough to purchase 500 acres at Erith, near Balaklava, where Jessie became the local school’s founding teacher. According to a descendant, Henry remained a man of means. He set up his sons in farming and provided dowries for his married daughters. Whether this meant he also supported his unmarried daughters, including Jessie, is open to conjecture, but the fact Jessie went into teaching may have been to do with her own inclinations, rather than simple economic necessity.

The first record in Trove of Jessie’s work as a teacher appears in June 1873, where correspondence with the Education Board suggests she was teaching in a school in Angle Vale, where the girls were learning needlework. It appears she applied formally for her teaching licence a year later in 1874 at Wellington.

Jessie’s output as a writer is modest. She wrote mostly fiction, the majority of stories published in serial form in local newspapers during the late 1870s and early 1880s. Her first story, A Daisy Crushed appeared in Bunyip, a Gawler publication, in April 1876. This was followed by A Woman’s Faith, in July of that year in the same publication. In 1877, her work was taken up by the Southern Argus, and her story, Our Carrie, commissioned by that newspaper, was serialised there in January, 1877. Isabella Randell’s Dream came next, appearing in August, and Like a Dream, was published in September 1879 with the byline, “J M Goldney”.

As well as writing fiction, Goldney published several poems, including “Mother, Heaven and Home” (1876), “Hope” (1876), and “Loneliness” (1877), as well as a historical sketch, “Mary Queen of Scots”. Her serialised story, Esther Vere’s Petition, seems to be her final published work, appearing in April 1880, after which her as a teacher appears to have taken over from her aspirations as a writer.

Her story, “A Daisy Crushed”, will appear here on Friday.


“A Quaker Family Returned to Their Faith”, poster from, with information provided by descendant, Don Goldney ref.
Board of Education”, South Australian Register 22 Sep 1874: 6.
Diamond Jubilee of Erith School A Huge Success”, The Wooroora Producer, 29 Sep 1938: 2.
Education Board”, Adelaide Observer, 28 Jun 1873: 11.
“Henry Goldney: A Sober and Prosperous Wheat Farmer”, poster from, with information provided by descendant, Don Goldney ref.
The Late Mr. Henry Goldney”, Bunyip, 12 Oct 1906: 2 (obituary).