|Largo Kirk (photo by James Denham CC-by-SA)|
|The Pulpit at Largo Kirk|
Surely one factor may have been the emotional toll of the preceding years, years which saw the deaths of John Goodsir (1782-1848) as well as the energetic Archie, youngest of the brothers. Harry's fate was yet unknown, though what news had reached home -- such as the discovery of the graves on Beechey Island (by a party that included Robert Goodsir) -- was not encouraging. But there also seems to have been a certain bent of mind among all the Goodsirs: a laser-sharp intellect paired with an almost-obsessive energy, so much so that nervous exhaustion was often the result. For Harry, this became a fascination with natural history, an enthusiasm which - by the account of his shipmates -- was both congenial and contagious. For John, it meant long hours in the laboratory and dissecting-rooms, combined with teaching duties. For Joseph, it seems to have meant an extensive study of scripture, and a series of theological tracts critical of the established church, which eventually led him out of the pulpit entirely. It seems significant that none of the Goodsir brothers ever married -- they all seem to have been too busy for such engagements.
Joseph ended up a man without a real profession; his sister Jane looked after him. Increasingly troubled by fits of melancholy, he was twice admitted to the Royal Edinburgh Asylum (in 1856 and 1858). His closest relationship in these years was with his brother John; the two travelled together to Berlin and later to Rome. John's death in 1867 was a heavy blow, but Joseph managed to fight off the shadows by throwing himself into organizing his brother's scientific papers for publication. For a time, it seemed as though this work had re-invigorated him; in 1868 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
The remainder of his life was largely a story of a very gradual decline, punctuated with additional bouts of melancholia; though he purchased a small cottage, attended some lectures, and took up projects such as making scrap-books, none of these activities seemed to lift his spirits. Finally, on 29 April 1881, he was again admitted to the Asylum for melancholia and suicidal thoughts; he would never leave again. He died there on 27 April, 1893.
With my deepest thanks to Mike Tracy, whose research on his Goodsir relations provided the basis for this post.