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George Johnston

(1764—1823) army officer and agriculturist in Australia


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(19 March 1764–5 January 1823). Born in Scotland, Johnston joined the 45th Company of Marines in 1776, serving in North America and the East Indies before sailing for New South Wales with the marine detachment in the First Fleet. When the marines returned to Britain in 1790, Johnston was selected by Governor Phillip to raise a company in the colony which would join the incoming New South Wales Corps. He went on to hold a number of responsible positions in the colony and earned popular admiration by suppressing the convict rebellion at Castle Hill in 1804, but he quarrelled with governors King and Bligh over what he saw as their intrusion into military administration. In 1800 he was arrested for breaches of liquor regulations and was sent for trial to England, where the trial was cancelled due to lack of evidence. In 1808, however, he risked more serious charges when on 26 January he arrested Governor Bligh and assumed the lieutenant-governorship. Claiming a popular mandate for his actions, Johnston declared martial law. The causes of the rebellion are complex and unclear, but it seems to have been largely the result of a power struggle. Bligh's reforms in such areas as land grants and the liquor trade threatened the wealth of an influential clique of landowners and officers whose most prominent member was John MacArthur. Johnston was relieved as lieutenant-governor in July and, with MacArthur, travelled to London where he hoped that an investigation could be organised and his conduct vindicated. Instead he was court-martialled in June 1811, found guilty and dismissed from the Army. Johnston returned to New South Wales, arriving in May 1813. He went on to become a substantial landowner, a successful farmer and a well-respected colonist.

From The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Military History.


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