Story: Goffin, Henry Charles

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Goffin, Henry Charles

1885–1973

Salvation Army officer, bandmaster and musical organiser

This biography was written by C. R. Bradwell and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Henry Charles Goffin was born at Plymouth, England, on 8 March 1885, the son of Harriet Amelia Bickle and her husband, Henry Goffin, a barge owner. His father had been converted when the Salvation Army first arrived in Plymouth and his mother was one of the town's pioneer Army officers. Henry was educated at the Catholic Holy Cross Boys' School, where he showed outstanding musical ability, and at 15 became bandmaster of the Plymouth 2 Salvation Army Band.

Responding to a call to full-time Salvation Army service, Goffin entered the Clapton training garrison in 1903 and in November that year was commissioned as a lieutenant and appointed to Islington in London. Following a subsequent appointment to Aberdeen, he was promoted to captain and sent to Rothesay in the west of Scotland. There he met Catherine McLean Ferguson, who was also a captain in the Salvation Army. The couple were married on 26 April 1909 at Kilmarnock. There would be six children of the marriage.

A dispute with their superior officers over what they regarded as a matter of principle led to the Goffins giving up their officerships. Henry then worked as an insurance agent, although he and Catherine remained active in the Salvation Army's Rothesay Corps. His musical talents were well known within the Army, and in 1913 he and his family were sponsored as immigrants to New Zealand by the Wellington City Corps. Henry became the bandmaster to the corps and quickly raised its band to a remarkable standard of efficiency.

In 1918 the Salvation Army re-accepted the Goffins as officers, and for the next 17 years they provided leadership to congregations at Foxton, Invercargill, Auckland, Dunedin, Wellington, Christchurch and Napier. Both Henry and Catherine were outstanding platform personalities, with a creative capacity for evangelical leadership and a deep commitment to pastoral and social concerns. Henry's musical compositions were published internationally by the Salvation Army, and his reputation in brass band and choral music spread throughout New Zealand.

The Goffins spent several months in Britain in 1931, fulfilling many musical and evangelical engagements. They were accompanied by their son John Dean Goffin, who was later prominent in the Salvation Army. On their return they served for 3½ years at Napier, where they worked to rebuild the Napier Corps and assisted in the rehabilitation of the city after the devastation of the 1931 earthquake. As in other centres, they also converted a number of 'disreputable characters' to Salvationism.

In July 1935 Henry Goffin, by then a major, was placed in charge of all Salvation Army musical activities in New Zealand. His enterprising and dynamic leadership resulted in a significant raising of standards. From 1942 to 1946, with the rank of brigadier, he commanded the Army's work in the southern half of the South Island, and then held executive responsibilities in Wellington. For some months in 1949 he was seconded to Australia where he led musical and evangelical meetings in all the main cities. After officially retiring in May 1950, he carried out a series of engagements in Britain. He was returning to New Zealand as chaplain on the immigrant ship Atlantis when news arrived that his wife was ill and dying. He left the ship at the Suez Canal and flew home. Catherine Goffin died on 1 January 1951.

In retirement Goffin also undertook lengthy relieving duties at Oamaru and at Kilbirnie in Wellington. In the Queen's Birthday honours list of 1961 he was made an MBE. The following year, on 27 December, at Hastings, he married Lily Rita Wilson, a Salvation Army major. He died at Wellington on 3 March 1973, survived by his second wife and five children of his first marriage. Henry Goffin was a flamboyant and unorthodox character whose musical and evangelical gifts were well known in New Zealand and overseas, far beyond the confines of the Salvation Army.