JOHNSTON, George (c. 1760-1823)


JOHNSTON, George (c. 1760-1823)
lieutenant-governor of New South Wales
is stated to have been born at Annandale, Dunfrieshire, Scotland, on 19 March 1764 (H.R. of A., vol. VI, p. xxx). This may possibly have been a misprint, as he is also stated to have obtained a commission as second lieutenant of marines in 1776, and to have been promoted lieutenant in 1778. After service in America and the East Indies he went to New South Wales as lieutenant of marines with the first fleet. He acted as adjutant to Governor Phillip (q.v.), was sent to Norfolk Island in 1790, and transferred to the New South Wales Corps, of which he became a captain, in September 1792. In September 1796 he was appointed aide-de-camp to Governor Hunter (q.v.), and in 1800 received his brevet rank as major. In the same year he was put under arrest by Lieut.-colonel Paterson (q.v.) on charges of "paying spirits to a sergeant as part of his pay—and disobedience of orders". He 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 he took temporary command of the New South Wales Corps during the illness of Paterson, and became involved in the conflict between King (q.v.) and the military. In March 1804 he acted with decision when in command of the military sent against some convicts who had mutinied at Castle Hill. When Paterson was sent to Port Dalrymple Johnston became commander of the New South Wales Corps. On 26 January 1808 he led the troops that deposed Governor Bligh (q.v.), assumed the title of lieutenant-governor, and suspended the judge-advocate and other officials. This was quite illegal, the administration of justice became farcical, and there were signs of strong discontent among the settlers. Johnston was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 25 April 1808, and was superseded by his senior officer Foveaux on 28 July. He sailed for England with Macarthur in March 1809, and was tried by court-martial in May 1811. Found guilty of mutiny he was sentenced to be cashiered. This extremely mild sentence in the circumstances could only have been imposed by a court convinced that he had been the tool of other people. He returned to New South Wales as a private individual and lived on his land near Sydney. He died much respected on 5 January 1823, leaving a large family.
Johnston was a just and good officer who was personally popular and respected. But he was not strong enough to stand up against the turbulent spirits of his period, and it is generally considered that during his period of government Macarthur was the real administrator.
Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. I to VIII; Sydney Gazette, 9 January 1823 (for date of death).

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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