Ernest J. Goddard, son of Alfred R. Goddard and his wife Elizabeth J. Cowan, studied at the University of Sydney, where he obtained the degrees Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1904 and Bachelor of Science (BSc), with honours in zoology and palaeontology, in 1906. During his studies for the latter degree in 1905 he visited Fiji as biologist to an expedition sponsored by the Royal Society of New South Wales. He was appointed demonstrater in biology at the University of Sydney in 1906, and in 1910 was awarded the university's first doctorate in zoology. His doctoral research dealt with two groups of animals, the Hirudinea (leeches) and Oligochaeta (earth worms), particularly the significance of their segmentation, and was published as a series of papers in the Journal of the Linnean Society of New South Wales.
In June 1910 Goddard succeeded Robert Broom* as professor zoology and professor of geology and mineralogy at the Victoria College, Stellenbosch (from 1918 the University of Stellenbosch). A separate department of geology was created the next year, so that from July 1911 he continued as professor of zoology only, until he returned to Australia around the end of 1922. Initially he continued research on the South African representatives of the groups of animals that formed the subject of his doctoral studies, which led to the publication of the following papers in the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa (the first three with David E. Malan as co-author): "Contributions to a knowledge of South African Oligochaeta - Part 1: On a Phreodrilid from Stellenbosch Mountain" (1913, Vol. 3, pp. 231-241); "Part 2: Description of a new species of Phreodrilus (Ibid, pp. 242-248); "Contribution to a knowledge of South African Hirudinea: On some points in the anatomy of Marsupiobdella africana" (Ibid, pp. 249-254); "Preliminary note on some Phreodrilidae from the Wellington Mountains, South Africa" (1914/15, Vol. 4, p. 147); and "On the significance of the somitic constitution, body form, and genital apertures in the Hirudinea, in reference to the Arthropoda" (1914/15, Vol. 4, pp. 148-156).
Goddard became a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in 1912 and at its annual congress, held in Port Elizabeth that year, delivered two papers: "Antarctica", in which he stressed the importance of more research on that continent and which was published in the association's Report (1912, pp. 279-287), and "Some Antarctic freshwater annulates" (annimals shaped like a set of rings; with David E. Malan, not published). He had been interested in the Antarctic for several years before his arrival in the Cape Colony. By 1919 he was planning and seeking support for a South African National Antarctic Expedition to study the geography, geology, biology, meteorology, geomagnetism, and oceanography of that part of Antarctica and the surrounding ocean between southern Africa and the south pole. The expedition would consist of two ships and five groups of scientists (one on each ship, two on the Antarctic continent and one on Bouvet Island), and would last three years. The proposed research was expected not only to enhance fundamental scientific knowledge, but to contribute to the development of particularly the fishing industry and agriculture, the latter through a better understanding of weather patterns. Despite wide support from the press the expedition did not materialise, presumably because of a lack of funds.
At the annual congress of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science held at Stellenbosch in 1917 Goddard delivered five unpublished papers, in one of which he advocated greater attention to physiology in the teaching of zoology - a view that was ahead of his time. His other papers dealt with a new genus of Copepoda from a fresh-water fish, the classification and affinities of the Hirudinea, and the taxonomic position of the Hemichordata. In 1918 he served as president of Section D of the association (which included zoology) and was a member of council. He also did much to advance public interest in science. In 1910 he served as moderator (external examiner) in geology and mineralogy for the University of the Cape of Good Hope, and from 1912 to 1916 as examiner in zoology.
Upon leaving South Africa Goddard became professor of biology at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. There he spent much time on problems in economic entomology and agriculture and promoted agricultural research by means of articles in newspapers and public lectures. Largely through his efforts the university created a Faculty of Agriculture in 1926 and appointed him as its first dean - a position he held for the rest of his life. From 1936 to 1939 he was seconded to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock as science coordinating officer. Towards the end of his career he initiated the building of a research station on the Great Barrier Reef, where he planned to do research in his retirement. However, before work could begin he died of a heart attack during a visit to the site.
Goddard was an outstanding lecturer and an eloquent public speaker. He was active in, among others, the Royal Society of Queensland, the Queensland Naturalists' Club, and the Entomological Society of Queensland. In 1910 he married Sarah M. Morris, but they had no children.