Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Johnston (1790–1820)

by A. T. Yarwood

This article was published:

George Johnston (1790-1820), farmer, was baptized on 4 March 1790 at Sydney, the eldest child of George Johnston and Esther Julian, later Johnston. His early ideas of a military life gave way to farming and the civil service. From Governor Philip Gidley King he received his first land grant of 500 acres (202 ha) at Bankstown on 23 April 1804. His father, while lieutenant-governor, made George a conditional grant of 2000 acres (809 ha) on the Nepean; Governor Lachlan Macquarie rejected this as 'inadmissible', but restored the 100-acre (40 ha) grant, 'Foveaux's Gift', in December 1813, and added 600 acres (243 ha) at Cabramatta on 10 June 1815 and 650 acres (263 ha) at Bankstown on 31 August 1819. Between 1814 and 1816 George and his father supplied a large part of the government's beef requirements, but in 1817 Johnston complained that Commissary David Allan was rejecting his tenders, and he strongly criticized Allan's appointment of his own son as a commissariat clerk. Johnston himself held a similar clerkship from April 1814 to June 1818, but when the commissary-general in London refused to confirm it, Macquarie appointed him to the more lucrative posts of deputy provost-marshal on 6 March 1819 and superintendent of government flocks and herds on 17 July.

George Johnston took charge of the work of yarding, driving and taming the wild cattle descended from the seven which had strayed in 1788. They had defied all attempts to control them and were a public nuisance, sustaining bushrangers and occupying, at a time of growing pressure on coastal land, a sanctuary of thirty-miles (48 km) river frontage. It is not known whether he received or used the 'machine for taming immediately the most vicious bull' that had been promised by Lord Percy, his father's patron, in April 1816, but by July 1820 some 230 head and in 1823 another 972 had been incorporated in the same herd by means of a plan initiated by George and carried out after his death by his younger brother and successor, David.

George died from a riding accident at the Macarthurs' Camden home on 19 February 1820, unmarried, childless and intestate and 'universally regretted and lamented'. John Macarthur wrote of his death as having 'inexpressibly disturbed us all, for he was a most deserving young person'. Macquarie told the sorrowing father, 'Your son was an honor to his Name, his Family, and the Country that Gave him Birth, of which he was one of the brightest ornaments'. Judging by surviving letters, he was surprisingly literate in spite of the colony's lack of educational facilities, and on 1 March 1819 wrote to William Charles Wentworth a classic statement of the irritation felt by a man of property, notwithstanding favours received, at the commercial restrictions and the despotic form of government experienced by the penal colony.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 8-10
  • Johnston papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under George and David Johnston (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

A. T. Yarwood, 'Johnston, George (1790–1820)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 January, 1790
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


19 February, 1820 (aged 30)
Camden, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

horse riding accident

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