Goyder was born in Liverpool, England to Sarah and David George Goyder, the latter a Swedenborgian minister and physician. He moved to Glasgow with his family where he worked with an engineering firm and studied surveying. In 1848, at the age of 22, Goyder followed his sister and brother-in-law, George Galbraith McLachlan, to Sydney, New South Wales. He spent time working with an auctioneering firm and moved to Adelaide in 1851, obtaining work as a civil service draftsman.
His rose rapidly in the civil service, becoming Assistant Surveyor-General by 1856 and Surveyor-General by 1861. He is remembered today for Goyder's Line of rainfall, a line used in South Australia to demarcate land climatically suitable for arable farming from that suitable only for light grazing. However, Goyder was an avid researcher into the lands of South Australia (including the present-day Northern Territory) and made recommendations to a great number of settlers in the newly developing colony, especially to those exploiting the newly discovered mineral resources of the state.
He married Frances Mary Smith on 10 December 1851 at Christ Church, North Adelaide, and had nine children with her. Frances died on 8 April 1870 and George married her sister Ellen Priscilla Smith, who had been looking after the children, on 20 November 1871. With Ellen, George had three children, a son and twin daughters. Goyder led an austere and disciplined life, and this was reflected in his strict treatment of subordinates – though he was always regarded as fair to those he advised in spite of many complaints by farmers and graziers. By the late 1880s, however, Goyder's health was declining and, with no improvement in sight, he resigned the post of Surveyor-General at the end of 1893. He died in the Adelaide hills his home "Warrakilla", at Mylor near Aldgate on 2 November 1898 and is buried in the Stirling District Cemetery.
Assistant and then Surveyor-General
In his period as Assistant Surveyor-General Goyder made many expeditions into the outback regions of South Australia, thinking that the water in lakes he saw at the time was fresh and permanent, rather than exceedingly erratic. He wrote many letters to newly established pastoralists who had moved into the arid regions for the state's north, and also surveyed the newly establishing mining industry in the Flinders Ranges.
His early years as Surveyor-General were very difficult, especially his efforts to help establish settlement in the Northern Territory by supervising the establishment of the pastoral leaseholds that continue to the present day. Pastoralists were hit by a major drought in the middle of the decade and complained severely, with many forced to move even relatives away from their cattle stations by the end of 1865. Goyder was also faced with the despair of his wife, Frances Mary Smith, who suffered the loss of twins at birth during George's long travels in the outback.
Goyder's Line Of Rainfall
Before the drought of the mid-1860s, wheat and barley growing had been spreading rapidly further north and the erroneous belief that rain would "follow the plow" led to the idea of cereal crops spreading up to the Northern Territory border.
However, the 1864–65 drought put paid, at least temporarily, to these ambitions. Goyder was, in the midst of his work in the pastoral zone, asked to do a report on the problem and his response was to find out how far south crop failure had been general. The northernmost point at which crops had not failed was marked as "Goyder's Line of Rainfall" and corresponds approximately to the 300-millimetre (12 inch) annual isohyet (figures vary from 250 to 350 millimetres in different publications).
Goyder recommended that farmers not attempt to farm cereal crops anywhere north of this line. The idea was quite contrary to beliefs widespread at the time and seen as ridiculous by many people in high places,[specify] yet it has been proven to be very wise by the many major droughts in the 140 years since, which have led to major losses by all graingrowers near to, or north of, the line.
Goyder's Line was first accepted significantly after a number of dry years in 1881–1882 and 1884–1886, though improved cultivation practices have allowed some expansion in the 1980s and 1990s, despite a couple of very severe droughts.
Goyder is otherwise remembered for the siting, planning and initial development of Darwin, the Northern Territory capital and principal population centre. The site was chosen for its exceptionally good water supply, and potential for easy communication with the rest of the continent through land or sea transportation. The site was chosen after Finniss's choice at Escape Cliffs had been rejected.
Goyder was sent by the government of South Australia, (of which the Territory was then a part) to lay out the street plans for a capital to be named Palmerston. He and his team of around 128 men left Port Adelaide on the Moonta late in 1868 and dropped anchor in Darwin Harbour on 5 February 1869. He selected the site on Fort Point near Port Darwin, and nearby townships to be named Daly, Southport and Virginia. They began the work in 1869, completing all four in 18 months. Goyder returned on the Gulnare to Adelaide in October 1870 with the greater part of his party, though many (Dr. Robert Peel, George MacLachlan, John Packard, Alfred and Frederick Schultze included) remained to fill positions in the town. Others, including Dan Daly and Paul Foelsche, were to return within a few years. The Overland Telegraph was landed there from England (via present-day Indonesia) soon afterwards, and commenced operation in 1872. In 1911 Palmerston was renamed Darwin, but the name Palmerston was resurrected around 1980 for Darwin's satellite city to the south. Goyder Road in Darwin is named for him, and many others of the party are similarly honoured. Also named for him are a large river in Arnhem Land and electorates in both the Northern Territory and South Australia. Mount Woodroffe, the highest peak in South Australia at 1435 metres is named after him (George Woodroffe Goyder)
Use of Goyder name
Goyder's name has also been given to a district council, an electorate, the new pavilion at the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds, several streets, a park and the Goyder Institute for Water Research.
Named after Goyder:
- Regional Council of Goyder
- Electoral district of Goyder
- Electoral division of Goyder
- Goyder Lagoon
- Goyder crater
- Goyder Highway (State B64), South Australia
- Goyder River East Arnhemland, Northern Territory
- Goyder Institute for Water Research
- "Goyder, George Woodroffe (1826–1898)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. 1972. Retrieved 2007-01-29.
- Klaassen, Nic (1 August 2006). "George W. Goyder". Retrieved 2007-01-29.
- Goyder Kerr, Margaret The Surveyors Rigby, Adelaide 1971 ISBN 978-0-85179-287-3 (Mrs Kerr was a grand-daughter of George Woodroffe Goyder).
- Australian Dictionary of Biography
- George W. Goyder
- Goyder Subject guide at Northern Territory Library