- Weston, Bert E.
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I, HMAS Moresby I
- June 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
FROM TIME TO TIME the Naval Historical Review has featured the biography of some officer, living or dead, who had reached high rank and was noted for his service in the Royal Australian Navy.
And it is noteworthy but not remarkable, in view of the comparatively short existence of our navy, that so many of these men came from families having no naval background; from all walks of life they entered naval college where they were inducted into and quickly assimilated the traditions and service demeanour of the British Navy.
However, in one instance at least this has not applied and this refers to the related families of Johnston and Weston whose connection, firstly with the Royal Navy in foreign and Australian waters and then with the RAN, could well establish a record.
And it all stems from one man, George Johnston, born on 18th March 1764 at Annandale, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, son of Captain George Johnston, aide-de-camp to Lord Percy, Duke of Northumberland. Under the patronage of the Duke,young Johnston’s family was able to purchase for him, at the age of twelve, a commission as Second Lieutenant in the 45th company of Marines, dated 16th March 1776, and for the next two years the child officer served with this company in Nova Scotia and New York State during the war against the American Revolutionaries, and was credited with recovering the colours from a wounded ensign at the battle of Bunker Hill, an action in which his father was killed.
After service in America he was promoted to Lieutenant and spent the next two years on recruiting duties in England until being returned to sea duties, and spent the next four years afloat warring against the French until seriously wounded in 1785. Invalided home to England and after a six month convalescence he was appointed to the detachment of Marines sent with the First Fleet in 1788 with convicts to form a settlement at Botany Bay on the east coast of Australia.
On establishment of the settlement finally at Sydney Cove, Governor Phillip appointed Johnston as his aide and when in 1790 the Marines were relieved and returned to England he, now a Captain Lieutenant, was chosen by Phillip as being the most suitable officer to raise a Company composed of Marines who wished to stay in the colony and to be merged with the three incoming companies of the NSW Corps.
In conjunction with his military duties Captain Johnston took up and farmed a grant of several hundred acres in what is now the Sydney suburb of Annandale where in 1800 he built ‘Annandale House’; he was assigned the largest team of convict servants held by any individual in Sydney Town. Promoted Major in that year he fell foul of his commanding officer, Colonel Paterson, who charged him with ‘illegally paying a Sergeant with rum as part of his pay’. He protested against being court-martialled in Sydney and this was upheld by Governor Hunter, who sent him in HMS Buffalo to face trial in England. Because of lack of witnesses or evidence the trial was cancelled and Johnston returned to Sydney and rejoined his regiment.
He became a popular hero in 1804 when he led a detachment of soldiers which confronted a much larger body of mutineering convicts in the Hills district west of Sydney. Mainly Irishmen, they had broken out of their stockades, raided settlers’ homes for food and arms and intended to march on Sydney and there seize ships in which to sail off to Asia.
A volley from the small party of trained troops killed fifteen mutineers while return fire killed two of Johnston’s men. He, in best naval tradition, left several of the convict leaders dancing on air before the day ended, others were similarly hoisted or else flogged some days later.
As a reward the Governor, Captain Gidley King, RN, gave Major Johnston a grant of 2,000 acres at Prospect near Parramatta which he named ‘King’s Gift’.
Later in 1804 he was made Commandant of the NSW Regiment, known as the Rum Corps from its officers’ monopoly in the trafficking and usage of rum as a medium of exchange and purchase. The next Governor, Captain Bligh, RN, became most unpopular with the citizens and the military for his clampdown on land grants and the rum trade, and in 1808 Johnston acted on the urgings of his officers and some of the leading civilians, arrested Bligh and assumed the reins of Government and the title of Lieutenant-Governor.