George Johnston (British Marines officer)

George Johnston

Lt. Col. George Johnston, 1810 watercolour portrait by R. Dighton: State Library of NSW
Born 19 March 1764
Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
Died 5 January 1823
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Years of service 1776–1811
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Commands held New South Wales Corps

Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston (19 March 1764 – 5 January 1823)[1] was briefly Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, Australia after leading the rebellion later known as the Rum Rebellion.

Early life and military career

Johnston was born at Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, the son of Captain George Johnston, aide-de-camp to Lord Percy, later Duke of Northumberland. Percy obtained a commission for the young Johnston as second lieutenant of marines on 6 March 1776.[1]

Johnston went to America with his regiment, and took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill, where he distinguished himself by seizing the colours and carrying them into action after the standard-bearer had been mortally wounded. During the fight, his father received a chest wound, from which he subsequently died. The Duke of Northumberland, who had held Johnston's father in high regard, became Johnston's guardian, and throughout his life the nobleman retained a keen personal interest in his fortunes.

The young officer subsequently served aboard HMS Sultan in the East Indies in 1781, suffering a severe wound in action against the French.[2] Returned to garrison duty in Portsmouth, he volunteered to join the New South Wales Marine Corps, which would accompany the First Fleet to New South Wales. He sailed for Australia aboard the convict transport Lady Penrhyn in 1788.[2][3]

New South Wales

On arrival in New South Wales, Johnston served as adjutant to Governor Arthur Phillip, and was promoted in 1789 to the rank of Captain-Lieutenant of Marines. He transferred from the New South Wales Marine Corps to the locally raised New South Wales Corps in 1791 with the rank of captain.[2][4]

Johnston received extensive land grants in areas of modern Petersham, Bankstown and Cabramatta. Johnston's other grants included land which is now the suburb of Annandale, named for his property that was in turn named after the place of his birth. He and Esther Abrahams farmed and lived on Annandale with their children.

In September 1796, Johnston was appointed aide-de-camp to Governor John Hunter, and in 1800 received his brevet rank as major. In the same year Johnston was put under arrest by Lieutenant Governor William Paterson on charges of "paying spirits to a sergeant as part of his pay—and disobedience of orders". Johnston objected to trial by court-martial in the colony, and Hunter sent him to England. There the difficulties of conducting a trial with witnesses in Australia led to the proceedings being dropped, and Johnston returned to New South Wales in 1802. In 1803 Johnston took temporary command of the New South Wales Corps during the illness of Paterson, and became involved in the conflict between King and the military. In March 1804 he acted with decision when in command of the military sent against some convicts who had rebelled at Castle Hill. When Paterson was sent to Port Dalrymple, Johnston became commander of the New South Wales Corps.[4]

On 26 January 1808, Johnston played a key role in the only successful armed takeover of a government in Australia's recorded history, the Rum Rebellion, working closely with John Macarthur. Johnston led the troops that deposed Governor William Bligh, assumed the title of lieutenant-governor, and illegally suspended the judge-advocate and other officials. The administration of justice became farcical, and there were signs of strong discontent among the settlers.[4]

Johnston was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel on 25 April 1808, and was superseded by his senior officer Joseph Foveaux, who was Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island, on 28 July. Johnston sailed for England with John Macarthur in March 1809 (and Henry Fulton as a witness) and was tried by court-martial in May 1811. Found guilty of mutiny he was sentenced to be cashiered. This lenience of the sentence imposed in the circumstances presumably indicates that the court was convinced that he had been the tool of other people.[4]

Later life

Johnstons Creek pedestrian bridge

Johnston returned to New South Wales as a private individual and lived on his land at Annandale, Sydney. He died much respected on 5 January 1823, leaving a large family. He was first interred in a private mausoleum on his Annandale property, until its subdivision to become an inner city suburb. His remains were moved to a new mausoleum at Waverley Cemetery in 1904.[4]

The suburb of Georges Hall is named after the farmhouse of the same name on land grants Johnston received near the junction of the Georges River and Prospect Creek. This building still exists and is now one of Australia's oldest houses. Johnston and Esther Abrahams farmed and lived on Annandale with their children until the 1870s when it was sold and sub-divided for residential development. The main street of Annandale is named Johnston and the gates of their property now stand in the grounds of Annandale Public School.[4]


  1. 1 2 Yarwood, A. T. (1967). "Johnston, George (1764–1823)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. MUP. pp. 20–22. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 Campbell 1987, pp. 296–97
  3. "Annandale House—An Historic Residence, Now Being Demolished.". Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW: 1870–1907). NSW: National Library of Australia. 19 April 1905. p. 20. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Serle, Percival (1949). "Johnston, George". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 18 August 2009.


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