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Joseph Johnston (1814–1892)

by M. Medcalf

This article was published:

Joseph Johnston (1814-1892), Congregational minister, was born on 9 March 1814 at Stamford, Lincolnshire, England, son of John Johnston, businessman. Educated privately and at Stamford Grammar School, he taught for two years at Wisbech and then at Stamford, and became a member of the Congregational Church at Grosvenor Street, Manchester. In 1838 he was accepted by the London Missionary Society and as a 'Normal Schoolmaster' sailed in the Camden by way of Sydney for Tahiti with John Williams. On arrival Johnston began a boarding school at Papara for the sons of chiefs and other youths likely to become useful as schoolmasters or assistants to the missionaries. On 28 December 1840 he married Harriett, daughter of Rev. George Platt, a senior missionary on the Society Islands.

Johnston visited Australia for his health in January 1842 and then sailed for six months among the islands of Western Polynesia intent on starting new missions. Tahiti became a French protectorate that year and trouble began between the natives and the French. The refusal of English missionaries to accept state aid led to much conflict and they left the island in 1850. Weakened in health Johnston returned to England where for three years he travelled and preached for the London Missionary Society.

In 1853 Johnston was sent to Fremantle by the Colonial Missionary Society and arrived in the Sabrina on 13 June. He rented a cottage in Fremantle and held meetings in one of its rooms and then in the court-house until the Congregational Chapel was opened in June 1854. In his pastoral duties he made journeys on horseback between Fremantle and Bunbury and was a conscientious and hard-working cleric. At a time when the Congregational Church in Perth had frequent changes of ministers Johnston was a stabilizing influence to Congregationalism in the colony. He was a mover towards Congregational Union in Western Australia and became its first chairman.

Concerned with the intellectual as well as the spiritual needs of the colonists, Johnston often lectured to the Fremantle Mechanics' Institute and when it showed signs of becoming a 'gentlemen's club' he and Rev. George Bostock were instrumental in founding the Fremantle Workingmen's Association. They won the governor's approval and gained a grant for their purpose. Johnston held various offices on the committee; he effectively worked to achieve the amalgamation of the two institutions and was vice-president when they became the Fremantle Literary Institute in 1868. He retired from active work in 1886 and died on 16 February 1892. He was survived by his wife (d.1896), and by a daughter, Eliza Mary, who had married Samuel J. F. Moore in 1870. His son, Joseph Taylor, had been drowned in 1876 aged 27.

The Congregational Church at Fremantle, completed in 1877, was later named the Johnston Memorial Church in his honour.

Select Bibliography

  • S. H. Cox, Seventy Years History of the Trinity Congregational Church (Perth, 1916)
  • WA Bulletin, 12 May 1888
  • candidates papers, diaries and letters (LMS Archives, Livingstone House, Westminster, microfilm in National Library of Australia)
  • J. Johnston diaries, and CSR, 1863, 1867, 1869 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

M. Medcalf, 'Johnston, Joseph (1814–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 March, 1814
Stamford, Lincolnshire, England


16 February, 1892 (aged 77)

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